Friday, December 13, 2013

On The Road With A Powerocks Magicstick Extended Battery

Highly Recommended
Just back from a quickie business trip – my first with a Powerocks Magicstick 2800 universal extended battery for my phone. When I travel I’ve always been careful about phone use just in case I need to make an emergency call, check for an important email, text etc.  I never seem to be able to find an electrical outlet when I need one. The Magicstick eliminates these worries. 

I’ve been reading Leander Kahney latest book on Jonathan Ive, the head of Industrial Design at Apple. It’s really opened my eyes to intuitive design, simplicity and absence in clutter. The Magicstick has that Jony Ive / Apple feel. It comes in a bunch of different colors (mine is black) and includes a micro-USB-to-USB cable for charging up the Magicstick and a nice little bag to keep it in. 

It’s a small (sort of reminds me of a BIC cigarette lighter at 3.5” long, and 7/8” in diameter) 2800mAh portable battery that you pre-charge using an included micro-USB-to-USB cable. When it comes time to charging the Magicstick you just plug the charging cable in and charge it up. When you want to charge your phone or other portable device you just plug the cable that came with the phone or other device into the Magicstick standard USB port. On the opposite end of the Magicstick there is a smart push-button LED that shows charge status. Blue light = 70% - 100% full, Green light = 30% - 70% full, Red light = 1% - 30% full. 

I was able to get two charges on my old iPhone 3GS (from approx. 20% to 100% and yes I still have an old iPhone) with one fully charged up Magicstick. It will charge Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, Blackberry, etc, etc, etc devices - basically anything that will charge using a USB connection.  Simple.

A nice little stocking stuffer, grab bag, office swap gift, birthday present, etc - The Captain and I give it our highest rating of 5 out of 5 Gordoccinos 

You can get more info on the Powerocks website

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Online Tracking, Consumer Profiling, Data Collection and You

Well - it's the holidays when we're using the web along with those credit cards a lot more frequently. Ever wondered who's watching you online?  And who the heck you are giving your personal card info to when making online purchases? Ever also wondered if there was anything you could do to protect yourself a little more? Well, others have too.

Abine, a Massachusetts company spun out of MIT in 2008, has developed some pretty nice tools that allow web users more control over their personal data. These accessible tools allow you to choose when you want to share your information, control your personal data, and provide the ability to protect your online privacy. Before we get to the products - here's some interesting tidbits from an Abine fact sheet:

Online tracking, consumer profiling, and data collection are happening wherever consumers go on the web, usually without their knowledge or approval. Consumers are the product being sold. Social networks, ad networks, and e-commerce sites collect every last byte of personal information they can, combining consumers’ online activity with their offline lives. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real: lost job opportunities, higher prices, more spam, lower credit scores, identity theft, and more. Let's look at some tracking info and stats:
A tracker is a connection that your browser makes when it loads a webpage that’s intended to record, profile, or share your online activity. Usually these connections are made to entirely different companies than the website you’re actually visiting. The most common types of trackers are:
  • Javascript: 43% 
  • Images, such as 1-pixels: 14% 
  • iFrames: 14% 
  • Flash cookies: 5% 
Abine collaborates with the UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology on a recurring Web Privacy Census. The most recent Census found:
  • The use of third-party tracking cookies on the 100 most popular websites increased by 11% from May to October 2012. 
If present trends continue, the amount of online tracking will double on about 2.5 years. 
  • Google has a presence on 712 of the top 1,000 websites 
  • 26.3% of what your browser does when you load a website is respond to requests for your personal information, leaving the remaining 73.7% for things you actually want your browser doing, like loading videos, articles, and photos.
  • Google makes 20.28% of all tracking requests on the web 
  • Facebook makes 18.84% of all tracking requests on the web 
5% of the top 1,000 websites use social networking code that can match users’ online identities with their web browsing activities, and nearly 25% of the web’s 70 most popular sites shared personal data, like name and email address, with third-party companies (Wall Street Journal, 12/2012).
So... how do you protect yourself?
Abine has just rolled out DoNotTrackMe 3.0, a browser extension that stops online trackers from finding your contact and credit card info.  Here's a DoNotTrackMe sample screen shot.

In addition, the company is giving out unlimited Masked Cards through December 26. The Masked Cards work with any credit or debit cards you have, allowing you to create disposable credit card numbers for each online purchase you make, preventing having to give out your real card info. 

The company also makes a product called MaskMe which keeps you private as you browse and shop the web, and creates and manages secure passwords and DeleteMe which removes your public profile, contact and personal info, and photos of you from leading data sites. 

Cool stuff. Check them all out.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What is Bitcoin and how does it work?

You may have heard last week that a single Bitcoin unit reached a value of $1000. Lots of people have been asking lately about them. So.... what are they and how do they work? Here's some details snagged from, a site that was put together and went up last week from Mt. Gox.
What is Bitcoin? Bitcoin is a digital currency you can use for personal transactions or business at high speed and low cost. 
How are Bitcoins created?
Instead of being made on a printing press or by a central authority, Bitcoins are created through software available to anyone. Individuals and groups willing to dedicate computer processing power to support the Bitcoin network are rewarded with Bitcoins for their work. This process is known as mining. Most Bitcoin users do not mine, but purchase or trade for their Bitcoins. Mining doesn't affect the average Bitcoin user much, but is still a very important part of the Bitcoin ecosystem.

How are Bitcoins secured?All newly mined Bitcoins, along with every transaction, are publicly recorded. This record is known as the blockchain. While the blockchain records transaction details, it does not record any personal identifying information about the senders or recipients. The blockchain is a critical feature to maintain the transparency of the Bitcoin system, and make counterfeiting or double spending impossible.  
How do you use Bitcoins?Let's look at a step-by-step example. Say you want to give some Bitcoins to a friend to pay for gas on a roadtrip. You’ve both got the bitcoin app on your mobile devices and have internet connectivity. 
  1. Find out your friends wallet address by typing, pasting, or scanning it. You can then save the address to use later if you want. 
  2. Convert your desired currency amount into Bitcoin.Verify the desired payment amount and send.  
  3. The amount in Bitcoin is now deducted from your balance, and entered into the blockchain as a transaction so they cannot be spent twice.  
  4. Your friend immediately sees the unverified transaction. 
  5. The transaction is verified on the network, and then deposited into your friends wallet.
Be sure to check out the along with the Mt Gox site for more details.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Google "Glass Explorer"

"Humanity pending confirmation; to date, no real persons have ever been known to wear and/or enjoy Google Glass." 

- from a post at Seattlish.

Well..... sort of...... key phrase here is to date. If you follow tech at all you've heard about the self proclaimed  "Glass Explorer" who got kicked out of the Seattle Lost Lake Cafe for refusing to either remove or turn off his Google Glass headset or leave the restaurant. Well, the "Explorer" ended up leaving and then posting a Facebook note complaint requesting 
“an explanation, apology, clarification, and if the staff member was in the wrong and lost the owner money last night and also future income as well, that this income be deducted from her pay or her termination.”
As much as I enjoy new technology - I really don't see the need in a public restaurant to keep your Glass going. Can I see a use for a Glass type product - of course - lots. Would love to have a pair on while fishing for example. But sitting in a restaurant wearing one..... nah. Don't even want to think about someone walking into a public restroom with one on. 

We all carry phones with cameras now. If you want to take a picture or video of your food in a restaurant use your phone.

Looking forward to my next Seattle visit and dining at the Glass free Lost Lake.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Checking Available Disk Space on a Mac

I get asked this question lots - here's how to check your available space step-by-step when running Apple Operating System  OSX 10.7 or greater.

Step 1
Click the Apple icon in the upper left hand corner of your screen and this drop-down menu will appear.

Step 2
Click About This Mac from the drop-down menu. The following dialog box will appear.

If you are not sure which OS version you are running you can see it here. Notice I'm currently running OS X Version 10.8.4

Step 3
Click the More Info... button and the following will appear (note: I've covered up my serial number).

Step 4
Click the Storage (top of dialog box between Displays and Memory) option for the following.

There you have it broken down nicely into Audio, Movies, Photos, Apps and Other categories.

So..... this is a little embarrassing..... I've only got a little over 1.7 GB free..... looks like I need to do a little drive housekeeping or I'm going to be out of space soon :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Talking and Surfing Same Time Yet? The Verizon iPhone 5s and 5c

Most of us have taken a peak at the exterior and reviewed major specs for Apple’s two latest phones. If you are a Verizon Wireless customer there is one technical detail you may have missed. The new Apple phones are still not supporting SVLTE and SVDO. What’s SVLTE and SVDO? Here’s some details on these two protocols / technical standards:

Simultaneous Voice and LTE (Long Term Evolution)
Referred to as SVLTE, allows a mobile phone to use both voice and data networks at the same time – specifically when the voice network is CDMA 1xRTT (what Verizon uses) and the data network is LTE (what providers are calling 4G. By not using SVLTE, Verizon’s 4G data network is not available while on a voice call.
Simultaneous Voice and Data Only
Referred to as SVDO, this is the older standard for 3G networks. If you have an iPhone 4 or older, you have a 3G phone. Later iPhone (5 and on) have both a 4G and 3G radio and the device will fall back to 3G-mode when not in 4G coverage areas.  Similar to SVLTE, when the voice network is CDMA 1xRTT and the data network is CDMA 3G (also referred to as CDMA 1xEV-DO) the data network is not available while on a voice call.
Is this significant? Yes and No. The lack of SVLTE should not matter once VoLTE (Voice over LTE) launches on a large scale, allowing both voice and data to operate seamlessly on one Verizon Wireless 4G network.

What’s really interesting is Verizon Wireless has required their handset manufacturers to support both of these technical standards – that is - all manufactures except Apple.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

DOJ Rejects Transparency Request by Microsoft, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the primary federal criminal investigation and enforcement agency in the U.S., rejected a request made by Microsoft, Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to be allowed to share more details on what data the companies are providing to the U.S. government. The rejection was made in the name of national security and filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISCA).

The DOJ's petition to FISCA claims:

The companies’ contemplated disclosures risk significant harm to national security by revealing the nature and scope of the government’s intelligence collection on a company-by-company basis throughout the country. 
Such information would be invaluable to our adversaries, who could thereby derive a clear picture of where the government’s surveillance efforts are directed and how its surveillance activities change over time. If our adversaries know which platforms the government does not surveil, they can communicate over those platforms when, for example, planning a terrorist attack or the theft of state secrets.
FISCA now needs to rule on this.

There is more - other tech people (Twitter, Apple, Tumblr, Yahoo, etc) are getting involved with 72 companies and non-profit organizations signing a letter on September 20, 2013 to the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary Committee chairs supporting two surveillance bills (S. 1452 and H.R. 3035) currently moving though the Senate and the House of Representatives. Here's the full titles of those bills:
S.1452To permit periodic public reporting by electronic communications providers and remote computer service providers of certain estimates pertaining to requests or demands by Federal agencies under the provisions of certain surveillance laws where disclosure of such estimates is, or may be, otherwise prohibited by law. 
H.R. 3035 - To permit periodic public reporting by electronic communications providers and remote computer service providers of certain estimates pertaining to requests or demands by Federal agencies under the provisions of certain surveillance laws where disclosure of such estimates is, or may be, otherwise prohibited by law.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Google Hummingbird - the Beginning of Latent Search

Most of us have had a chance to experiment with Siri on an iPhone or some of the Voice Assistants on an Android mobile device. You may not have experimented with something Google rolled over the past few weeks code named Humingbird though. It's a major new core algorithm for Google that allows users to use conversational speech for searching. I'm amazed at how under the radar this has been. Different terms are being tossed around for this including "latent", "conversational" and "abstract" - here's a quick 2 minute video I recorded demonstrating how it works.

We're so used to searching on keywords it's second nature. Larry Kim from Wordstream refers to keyword searches as "Caveman English".  Hummingbird is probably the biggest change in Google's search technology since 2001. It's similar to Facebook's Graph Search, allowing users to use more abstract or latent language when searching - the same kinds of things we do when having a conversation with another person.

It's also something Google has to do to stay competitive. Both Facebook and Siri use Microsoft's Bing for searching with Apple just switching from Google to Bing with iOS7. Current estimates put Google's search market share at around 70% with many referring to the company as a search business that also does experiments.

If Apple gets Siri fixed up and Facebook also fixes up Graph Search, Google could pretty rapidly lose search market share. Facebook has to be a huge concern right now - recent comScore reports that analyze Americans’ surfing patterns found people are spending more time on Facebook than Google. If Facebook can get their search act together (it's pretty bad right now) lookout.

Right now, Google's Voice Search sure feels pretty natural to me - grab the latest version of the Chrome browser and give it a try.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Family Without A Phone

I probably should be writing something about iOS7 but.... just a minute..... I gave this assignment the first week in a telecom class I'm teaching this semester. The short student essays (I know, not really technically an essay at 200 words) have just blown me away. It's so different today compared to growing up in the 60/70's. Here's what I asked them to do:
Growing up I had a friend who’s family did not have a telephone. His Mom used to whistle (really distinctively and loudly) when she wanted him to come home. When he was over our house or we were out in the woods playing we were all tuned in, listening for her whistle. Everyone knew what it meant and she was good - to this day I’ve never heard anyone who could whistle like her. 
Times have certainly changed. I’ve had almost instant contact with my two children with text and voice over the past ten years. Most recently we’ve all got smart phones and we’ve been able to add email and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) to our mobile communications tool list along with video applications like Skype and FaceTime. Although some may disagree, the ability to connect or be connected with them no matter where they are in the world has a level of assurance I know my friend’s whistling Mom did not have 45-50 years ago. 
This week, prepare a 200 word (plus or minus 10 words) essay describing how mobile technology has impacted your life.
My friend's family did not have a television either!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

FCC Connect America Fund Phase I Round Two

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted an interactive map (embedded below) showing the locations where new higher-speed broadband may be deployed as the result of the second round of Connect America Phase 1 funding.

Back in 2011, the FCC launched the Connect America Fund (CAF) and it has had limited success. Round one of funding only dispensed $115 million of $300 million in available funds. I'm not sure why the FCC has had difficulty giving this money out - currently the FCC defines broadband as 768 Kbps downstream and 200 Kbps upstream. In this next round the FCC has decided to offer two levels of subsidy in the current round - $775 per location to bring broadband into underserved locations (where broadband does not exist) and an additional $550 per location (where lower speed broadband does exist) to bring broadband speeds up to 3Mbps downstream and 768 Kbps upstream.

Coverage includes over 600,000 homes and businesses in the United States and the map shows the number of homes and businesses along with the amount of subsidy ($775 or $550) for each location.

Four rural telcos are receiving most of the funds:

CenturyLink - $54 million
Frontier Communications - $72 million
AT&T - $100 million
Windstream - $124 million

Interesting that Verizon Landline (with regional sell-offs over past few years) does not appear to be a rural player any more.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Verizon Trimming Some Wireline Limbs

I've been teaching Verizon technicians in a program called NextStep since the mid 1990's. The Next Step Program allows contract qualified Verizon associates who are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in Telecommunications Technology from a participating college. It's been a great opportunity for everyone involved to keep up and learn as the industry has transitioned.

This morning I taught my first class of the fall semester and we had some interesting discussion on where copper based landline services like DSL are going. The other night on Jim Cramer's show, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam opened up a bit on the companies plans. Here's some back and forth from the show posted at  Stop the Cap!:

Jm Cramer, CNBC: “[Under former Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon] took areas that really weren’t growth areas and sold them to Frontier and other players. Would you be able to get rid of some of your underperforming landline businesses to be able to increase [Verizon's] growth even further?”

Lowell McAdam, Verizon
: “That is a possibility. [...] If you talk about opportunities here, now that we have One Verizon, [...] we are going to trim some limbs around the tree here. Things that aren’t performing will not be a part of our portfolio so we can invest in things that will drive the kind of growth we are excited to be able to tap here.”
In New Jersey and New York, Verizon is moving on a wireless landline replacement called Voice Link. It's optional for some customers but many are thinking it will replace copper services in there is approval from the states regulators. Verizon is calling Voice Link an improvement for voice customers dealing with repeated service calls.

Bloomberg estimates the Verizon wireless net worth is around $289 billion while Verizon wireline (landlines, FiOS and business broadband) is worth just $24 billion. Looking at revenue, Bloomberg says Verizon wireline totaled $39.8 billion last year which is down from $50.3 billion in 2007. During the same period, Verizon wireless revenue was up 73% to $75.9 billion.

It's pretty clear where this is all going - at least when it comes to Verizon wireline.

You can read a transcript of the complete McAdam interview linked here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Crowdfunding a Super-Smartphone

Well..... it's been a while since I posted here. I like to think I took a little sabbatical for the past four months. Most of my summer was spent on the road so it feels pretty good to be back at home for at least a little while. Even though I was not posting here I was still keeping up with technology and the business of technology.

Today I wanted to write a bit about a company called Canonical that's run by Mark Shuttleworth. You may not have heard of Mark or Canonical but you probably have heard of a version of the Linux operating system called Ubuntu that Canonical makes. Ubuntu is used on millions of servers around the world - basically big high horsepower computers used to host websites, etc.

Mark has this idea to launch what many call a super-smartphone - basically a tablet computer that has all the functionality of a PC called the Ubuntu Edge.  Now, Mark happens to be a billionaire but decided back in July he wanted to crowdfund the project to the tune on $32 million using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. Well long story short, Mark failed - at least with the crowdfunding idea. Canonical raised a little under $13 million ($12,813,501 to be exact) of the $32 million Mark was looking for.

The phone that was spec'd sounded pretty nice - a multi-core processor (fastest on the market), at least 4GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, a sapphire crystal screen (only a diamond can scratch it), a high capacity silicon anode battery, GPS, gyro, accelerometer, proximity sensor, compass, barometer, HDMI interface for TVs and monitors, dual-LTE, dual band 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4, and near field communications.

I found Mark's crowdfunding approach interesting because with Indiegogo there are two options - an all or nothing approach (that's the one Mark picked) or the second option where the company keeps everything pledged whether the stated goal is met or not.

Why did it fail? Mark may have been asking for too much. Donors that wanted to get one of the first phones made were required to pledge at least $725. Initially the campaign set crowdfunding speed records but in the end stalled once the buzz wore off.

Is it over? For Canonical it may be for now. Mark has said he will not use his own funds for the project. But Mark is not the only one with  super-smartphone desires - on July 16 (when I was in Poland right next door) Alexey Miller, chief executive officer of a Russian natural gas exporter called Gazprom offered to pay $3.7 million to anyone who could come up with one.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

MIT Officer Sean Collier

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) Police Department Lieutenant Shawn de Jong sent the following out via campus email this morning and has given me permission to post. Yesterday with thousands of Police Officers from around the country, she joined the MIT community in honoring fallen MIT Officer Sean Collier who authorities say was gunned down by the Boston marathon bombing suspects

Officer de Jong has given me permission to share her experience -  an extremely moving tribute to a fellow Officer.



At 7:00 Wednesday morning (yesterday), I left campus to attend the memorial service for slain MIT officer Sean Collier as the representative for the STCC Police Department and STCC community at large.  Because the service was restricted to law enforcement, some MIT community members, and Officer Collier’s family, I wanted to share this humbling experience with you.

Although I opted to leave the marked cruisers on campus for our officers, I was in full uniform and in a state vehicle as I headed down the Pike. I knew I would come across a caravan of marked cruisers en route somewhere on the Mass Pike and would be allowed to join in. We were all given a strict deadline of 9:30 by which we had to make it to the South Boston staging area for law enforcement.

As I passed I-290, a caravan of approximately 150 marked cruisers drove down the on ramp with blue lights on. I turned on the emergency flashers in the vehicle I was driving. A Massachusetts State Trooper acknowledged me and let me join in just in front of his cruiser. Together we all made our way eastbound into the city and to the staging area in South Boston for parking. Other travelers on the Pike pulled over on the left and the right shoulders to allow us to pass. As we navigated through intersections in South Boston, I recognized the shoulder patches of police officers from across the state directing traffic to get us through the city without delay, filling in for the Boston Police officers so they could attend the service.

We parked in a secure location that had been searched for explosive devices before we arrived. We exited our cruisers and other vehicles and greeted one another, strangers mostly to each other but who all understand what it is to do what we do every day and most poignantly, why we were all converging on this day.  With that and because of that, we are family and our greetings are warm.

We were all in uniform, many shades of blue, pressed sharp lines in shirts and trousers and polished boots. We climbed into buses that were searched for explosive devices before we boarded. We rode on these buses, shoulder pressed against shoulder, knee against knee, in heavy wool and polyester uniforms stretched over our ballistics vests. I looked around at these officers seated around me. I recognized the collar and epaulet brass signifying chiefs, captains and lieutenants. I saw the shoulder stripes of sergeants and the slick sleeves of the unranked officers. While I was addressed as Lieutenant (I wear my permanent rank on my epaulets) by those around me and I heard others addressed accordingly out of respect, what we wore on our collars or sleeves on this bus ride from South Boston to Cambridge might as well have been the same from officer to officer. I read the shoulder patches of departments from across the state, from Western Massachusetts to the Cape, states, cities, towns, and college and university police departments, departments from New Jersey, Rhode Island, Chicago, Los Angeles, the FBI, Canada, and on and on. Despite our differences in rank and despite our patches, it was clear to me that in our awkward effort to keep things light, laughing here and there to ease the tension while confined during the brief bus ride, we had a common purpose and a deep need to memorialize a young man who was one of all of us. In moments like this, rank falls away and patches blur.  Somehow just being together helped, alone in a bus where we didn’t have to explain anything—especially cryptic language from the law enforcement lexicon--as we might to a civilian.

On Tuesday I had called the Cambridge Police Command Center deployed for this memorial service to inquire about officer safety, transportation, and all things procedural. Law enforcement turns out for these services en mass; although officers themselves would be armed, we were all concerned about an attempt at large-scale violence against us. I was told prohibited access to the area by the public would be strictly enforced and all efforts would be made to ensure a secure site.

As promised, we arrived to find a heavily guarded multi-block section of Cambridge with which I was familiar and of which I have many wonderful memories from my years spent in Boston. The Mass Ave bridge had been closed, no vehicles were allowed in the large, secured section of Cambridge, a no-fly zone had been established overhead, heavily armed tactical forces were in place along both sides of the streets, armored vehicles stood idling and ready. EOD K-9s (bomb dogs) and bomb trucks, search and rescue dogs, and muzzled police K-9s lined the sidewalks.  SWAT teams stood with high-powered firearms and officers in combat gear and with their backs to us faced the alleys and high rises we passed. As we walked from the bus unloading area, down Vassar street, we passed a Disaster Relief vehicle and the American Red Cross station, presumably staged and prepared in the event something similar to the Marathon bombing occurred. The streets were filled from curb to curb with a throng of officers marching in cadence, approximated, I heard, at 7000 in number.

I have attended four funerals of officers killed in the line of duty over the course of my career. Each was tragic and senseless. One never expects it to get easier and it never does. But what I have discovered is that your relationship to it changes as you are tested over time and responsibilities shift.  Vice President Biden made some palpable remarks that I will hold onto for the rest of my career. Although I initially thought at the start of his speech that it was going to be yet another obligatory political address, I eventually heard the sincerity in his words as he spoke about Officer Collier. Biden and the other speakers reminded us over and over how kind Officer Collier was, how loving and caring and giving. Collier’s brother told us funny things about Sean that only a brother can tell. From all of these stories it was apparent that Sean Collier was everything you hope for in a police officer.  And even more than his love for others, he was loved by the MIT community. This was not rhetoric. This was a truth reflected in the shared thoughts and sentiments of the MIT students, faculty and staff submitted online this past week and read by Biden today. It was present in the silence of the crowd as the uniformed stood at attention and in salute of his coffin carried onto the field.  It was present in the muted clapping of 7000 pairs of officers’ hands, the sound hauntingly muffled by our white cotton gloves.  It was present in the tears of the MIT Symphony Orchestra’s first violinist, which she tried to quickly and discretely wipe away. The Prelude and Postlude from the orchestra, the Chaplain’s prayers, the songs from James Taylor, the beautiful Boston Police bagpipes and drum corps, and the final bugle of Taps all rang out across Brigg’s Field in reverence of a fallen officer and friend.

I did not know Sean Collier. I know some of his colleagues at the MIT Police Department just as I know many of the other officers who arrived on Brigg’s Field for this service.  We smiled when we first arrived on the field, and did the hug/cop handshake thing simultaneously. We talked shop, caught up on gossip, talked retirement, and talked about who has already retired. I have worked closely with many of them, serving search warrants together, investigating the same criminals in Boston and beyond, and working horrible and long overtime details together at football games. I know their nicknames, their kids’ names, their serious-get-down-to-business side and their let’s-go-have-a-beer side. I also know their kindness, their toughness, their resilience through tragedy, and their stoicism. And because I know that about all of them, I knew Sean Collier. He was one of us and we are him. And everyone was there to pay tribute to his life and memory and to hope for better things.

The wool was heavy and the ballistics vests unyielding under the sun. Drained physically and emotionally, sweaty and thirsty, we left Brigg’s Field at the closing of the service and reversed our earlier trek, heading down Vassar on foot back to the bus loading area. The heavily armed presence was still there. This time, citizens (whom I suspect were MIT students, faculty and staff) held back by barricades and many layers deep, watched us. Some held signs that said “Collier Strong.” Some took video with Smartphones. Some looked sad, some cried, some smiled, and some waved. It felt as if we were all there together pulling through something hard that challenged and changed our lives more than almost anything else. But we were pushing forward, citizens and uniforms alike, on either side of the barricades, with a renewed--and hopefully not fleeting--sense of trust and kinship. Crossing the barricaded Mass Ave and Vassar St. intersection, for a brief and rare moment it was nearly silent except for the drone of a fleet of waiting nearby buses, swept again by EOD K-9s before we boarded. The paradox of kinship and risk was inescapable and troubling. I want to believe we all held closer to one than worried about the other in that moment.

It was a fast bus ride back to South Boston thanks to all of the visiting officers again in every intersection between Cambridge and South Boston. We piled out of the buses, grabbed a bottle of water, a snack, and bid each other farewell. At 3:00, I climbed into my vehicle and made my way to the Pike, this time on my own. Random police cruisers and SUVs passed me on occasion, certain to have come from the service and now headed westbound like me. I read the names of the towns on the sides of the vehicles and wondered what the officers were thinking and what memories they were left with from today.

I returned to campus depleted after a long day and walked into our police station. I was met by one of my officers who was working a 16 hour shift. He looked tired, having had only a few hours of sleep since he last got off duty. He asked about the service. I could see in his face and hear in his voice that he wasn’t just asking because I had walked in the door and he was standing there. He sincerely wanted to know what it was like. He had attended the service for Springfield Police Officer Kevin Ambrose last summer. This isn’t new to him. But for some reason all of us in police work need to know the details of each slain officer’s service because they are a touchstone for something we don’t really talk about. So I told him what I told you here. Then I pinned the folded program I brought back from the service to the board in our roll call area. It has Officer Collier’s photo on the front—the same one we are all so familiar with now. Another officer came in and asked about the service—with the same undercurrent of need. I repeated the details of the day and pointed him to the program. He took it down and began to read it. I left them to their thoughts and work.

I went to the locker room and removed my uniform shirt and ballistics vest. My black uniform T-shirt was soaked from the heat. I gathered my things, checked in with the officers and left for the day to go home. Later, as I sat in my backyard and thought about the day, I tried to identify the looming tension I felt. There is of course a sense of loss in our law enforcement community that we all feel. There is an uneasiness in knowing our vulnerabilities and the risks in our work. When you are a young officer, your concern is keeping yourself and your partner safe. When you are a sergeant, your concern in keeping yourself and the officers serving under you on the shift safe. When you are a Lieutenant, your concern is keeping yourself and the sergeants and officers serving under you on shift safe. When you are Chief, your concern is keeping them all safe. And here is where my relationship to the tragic death of an officer has changed over time. I am comforted by the eagerness with which my officers need to understand their own vulnerabilities in knowing Officer Collier’s. This eagerness is a complicated and unfortunate necessity in law enforcement.  But it tells me they are paying attention and that alone may help to keep them safe.

I am glad I went today and I hope there are no others to attend, though I know there will be in time. I know my officers felt this loss in varying degrees and we will deal with it amongst ourselves. Last week was horrendous for all, but I know Thursday night was particularly difficult for our police community. What we learn from tragedies such as this is personal. Memorials like the one for Sean Collier today provide opportunities for larger lessons and for genuine hope for something better. I think we all trust that there is much out there that is better. If, as was demonstrated at Mass Ave and Vassar St. today, we can hold onto some measure of kinship in the end, we will have realized something better. Knowing what I now know about Officer Collier, he understood this and lived his life and did his good work at MIT with that in mind. I was pleased to represent STCC today, but I am indeed more honored and humbled to bring Officer Collier to you. And in continuing our work at STCC with that same simple goal of trust and benevolence, we honor him and his life.

Shawn de Jong
Springfield Technical Community College
Police Department


Thank you Lieutenant de Jong.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Open WiFi Networks and (Lack Of) Security

I get asked about open WiFi hotspots and if they are secure lots these days. Examples would be certain hotels, restaurants, etc. My short answer - these days many are not secure and.... regardless.... you should always avoid using them. Here's why. 

Most public WiFi hotspots do not encrypt information going back and forth in the air and are not secure. There's lots of free hacking tools that just about anybody can quickly learn to use to get any information you send back and forth when connected to these networks. Here's some good guidelines originally published by the Federal Trade Commission:
Use these tips to tell if a Wi-Fi network is secure:
  • If a hotspot doesn’t require a password, it’s not secure.
  • If a hotspot asks for a password through the browser simply to grant access, or asks for a password for WEP (wired equivalent privacy) encryption, it’s best to proceed as if it were unsecured.
  • A hotspot is secure only if it asks the user to provide a WPA (wifi protected access) password. WPA2 is even more secure than WPA.
Use these tips for a safer Wi-Fi experience:
  • When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, only log in or send personal information to websites that you know are fully encrypted. The entire visit to each site should be encrypted – from log in until log out. 
  • To determine if a website is encrypted, look for https at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure), and a lock icon at the top or bottom of the browser window. Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of the session isn’t encrypted, the entire account could be vulnerable. Look for https and the lock icon throughout the site, not just at sign in.
  • If you think you’re logged in to an encrypted site but find yourself on an unencrypted page, log out right away.
  • Don’t stay permanently signed in to accounts. After using an account, log out.
  • Do not use the same password on different websites. It could give someone who gains access to one account access to many accounts.
As a general rule of thumb, an encrypted website protects only the information sent to and from that site. A secure wireless network encrypts all the information sent over it. 

How do you get around the connectivity problem? I recommend using a personal WiFi hotspot with security implemented. You can get yourself a dedicated device like the one I have or most smartphones can be used as a hotspot if you pay an additional monthly fee. Here's more information from AT&T on different personal WiFi hotspot options.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some Good Job Search Advice from Austin, Texas

I'm a member of Door 64, an Austin (Texas) High Tech STEM LinkedIn group. A recent college graduate posted the following question to the group a few days ago:

I have been looking for a new job for a few months now with only a few leads. If I could just get an interview I KNOW I would get almost any position. Any advice on job searches? Thanks!
Charles D. came back with a really good reply and he has given the ok to reuse. I wish I could have written something half this good. Here it is: 
Use networking to your advantage and play the numbers game. I was laid off 4 weeks ago and already have had 8 interviews with 2 more this afternoon. You seem to be somewhat knowledgeable about using LinkedIn and super connectors. However, have you created a plan of attack for getting the right career? Don't look for a job, this is your life you are talking about. Focus on a career. Let me break down some of these comments.  
Using networking to your advantage: 
  • Get familiar with LinkedIn Signal apps. It will help out a lot if you use it correctly 
  • Focus on positions with companies that have employees with connections to you 
  • Ask your connections to submit your resume 
  • Ask your connections to be make references for you to employees 
  • Network with other people looking for work. I have two other dear friends that are also recently unemployed. I share information with them and they share it with me. 
Playing the numbers game: 
  • I have applied to over 40 positions in the last 4 weeks. Many of them I was very well qualified for but still received rejection notices, however I manage to turn several of the applications into interviews. 
  • Apply for contract, temp, full-time and positions in industries other than your primary focus. Think outside the box. Check Craigslist. One of my more recent positions was from Craigslist and one of my upcoming interviews is from the same source. 
Planning your attack: 
  • I have created a spreadsheet and list every position I have applied for. I keep notes about dates, where I found the position, who contacted me, when, interviews, who interviewed me and some other notes. I don't have this information just for the fun of it. I use it to follow up, reapply if I have not heard from a company, send thank you letters, etc. 
  • Use your network and follow up. I plan on being at the Doors64 event. I will follow up with anyone I have connected with recently and thank them in person. One super connector I connected with recently sent me a nice thank you letter because I personalized my connection request. He said that less than 1% of requests he gets actually do that. Wow, how amazing is that. People will remember you when you personalize. 
  • Plan your game and game your plan. In other words, make tasks for everyday of the week. Things you will do each day to look for opportunities. Do them. Wake up with a smile and go to sleep with a smile knowing that you did as much as you could that day to find your next position. 
  • Review your resume with others you trust and ask for feedback. Use the good feedback. Trust me, everyone has feedback, but it is not always good. You have to filter out what is good and what isn't by doing some of your own research.  
Finally, this is your career: 
  • If you want a job, I can refer you to a dozen temporary placement companies that will help to get you a job. However, if you want a career, you have to think like that. What is your ideal career? What skills do you need for it? Do you have them? If not, how can you get them? This is your life you are talking about. Manage it with the positive thoughts and images that you believe you already have. 
  • Always be positive, kind and grateful. If you do this with everyone, everywhere, you will find that the karma will be returned to you. 
Hope this information helps you out...... You will get what you want if you want it bad enough, plan well for it, try hard enough and thank everyone along the way who helped you out.  
Anyone who agrees with any of the above comments, feel free to reuse any or all of it in other postings for career searchers. It is not original, not unique, but just old time tested and true strategies and beliefs that may help others.
Excellent advice Charles - thank you!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Displaying Mac Hidden Files

I get the Mac OS hidden files question a lot from friends and thought it would be a good thing to discuss here. This is a pretty typical request:

I recently switched from the Thunderbird email client to Sparrow. When I removed the Thunderbird application from my computer I noticed I only had an additional 96 MB of disk space. What's up? I know I've got a ton of Thunderbird email taking up a ton of space on my hard drive still. I search around using Finder and cannot see any of it. How can I remove it?
Thunderbird (and Sparrow and thousands of other apps) are considered third party apps. When you delete them from the application folder you delete the application but commonly not any of the additional folders and files associated with the application. When removing an application like Thunderbird that means you are not removing the files and folders that contain old emails whcih can consume very large amounts of disk space.

These folders and files are typically hidden by the operating system to prevent users from easily accessing them and messing things up. If you want to get to them, you need to enable hidden files/folders in the Finder window. Here's a step-by-step how to do it with Mountain Lion (10.8.2):

[Note: proceed with caution and use procedure at own risk.]

  1. Open Finder
  2. Open a Terminal window. To open Terminal, click the Spotlight (little spyglass) icon in the upper right corner and search on Terminal. Terminal will be listed as an Application. Click it to open a window like the one shown below.
  3. Copy and paste the following command into terminal and hit the Return key:
  4. defaults write AppleShowAllFiles YES
  5. Hold the alt key down and right click the Finder icon.
  6. Select Relaunch from the drop-down menu and you will now be able to see all the hidden folders and files on your computer.
Be very careful and do not edit/delete/etc anything you are not sure of.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

References on Resumes

It's that time of year again where students in their last year of college start looking pretty seriously for jobs. If you are someone updating your resume be sure you keep it real. A recent Business Week article titled Imaginary Friends listed some interesting stats:

  • CareerBuilder recently surveyed 2,500 hiring managers and discovered that 30 percent regularly find false or misleading references on applicants’ CVs.
  • CareerBuilder estimates 80 percent of employers check reference, often before they call someone in for an interview.
  • The most common mistake applicants make is listing someone as a reference because they’ve got an impressive title—even though they barely know that person. 
Keep it real. keep it honest. Be sure to contact people you list and give them a heads up. Tell them what you are looking for and why. You can also give them some hints on what you would like them to say.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Video: The Cloud, Explained By Kids :)

Good stuff from the folks at Rackspace....... kids describing the cloud. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Goodbye SMS-Based Text Messaging

ASYMCO put up an interesting piece titled What's up with text messaging? yesterday about texting in Spain. Volume is dropping rapidly with Internet Protocol (IP) based message apps like Whatsapp, Apple's iMessage and Facebook messaging replacing a voice network based text protocol called Short Message Service (SMS). SMS has been around since 1982 and has become a real cash cow for wireless providers. 

Here's more from that ASYMCO post:
  • Whatsapp reported that it set a record of 18 billion messages processed over New Year’s Eve. 
  • In October Apple announced that iMessage had delivered 300 billion messages during the preceding 12 months.
  • Globally SMS traffic is still rising. It’s expected to reach 9.6 trillion in 2012, but at least one analyst forecasts  that SMS’s share of global mobile messaging traffic will fall from 64% in 2011, to 42% in 2016.
I'd also put Skype on the list as a disruptor.

Expect similar results in the United States and other countries. Wireless providers have seen this coming for a while now and (I believe) it's the reason we've seen most implement data caps while, at the same time, encouraging customers to consume more data (translation - go over your data cap) using services like mobile video streaming. 

If you want to know more about SMS and IP based texting I've got an earlier posted titled Why Are My iPhone Text Messages Sometimes Blue and Sometimes Green? linked here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tektronix Oscilloscope Tutorials

I came into Electrical Engineering a different way than most - starting as a graduate student with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology. These two disciplines are slightly different - Microbiologists use microscopes and EE's use oscilloscopes :) I knew I had some catching up to do and remember one of my major goals for the summer before I started grad school was to learn how to use an oscilloscope. Fortunately I came across a free tutorial booklet from Tektronix on understanding and using an oscilloscope which made it pretty easy.

Well, even though that was over 30 years ago now, the Tektronix free tutorial materials still exist and they are even better than before. If you are starting from scratch or just want to brush up these are highly recommended. Here's a link to the tutorial page. Good stuff!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Crosstalk and Copper Wires

Electrical current flowing through any conductor (like the copper wires connecting his phone) will produce a surrounding electromagnetic field. If another conductor is within the surrounding field, an inductively coupled current will flow through the adjacent conductor.

Inductively Coupled Electromagnetic Flux

In the figure above current flowing through the conducting wire will produce an inductively coupled current in the adjacent wire. If the varying signal current represents a voice transmission the conversation can crossover from one line to another and voices can be heard on one line from another line conversation. Usually this is only an annoyance since crosstalk signal levels are typically low when compared with the signal levels of the conversation on the primary line. On the other hand digital data transmissions are extremely sensitive to crosstalk. Crosstalk can cause bit misinterpretation and will typically require a retransmission of the damaged data.

There are two types of crosstalk, near end and far end.

Near End Crosstalk (NEXT)
Near end crosstalk occurs between a transmitted signal and a received signal. Transmitted signals are typically stronger that a signal that is being received and interfere with the received signals.

Near End Crosstalk

Far End Crosstalk (FEXT)
Far end crosstalk occurs between two signals transmitted in the same direction. The adjacent conductors each produce a magnetic field and can interfer with each other.

Far End Crosstalk

The most common way to reduce crosstalk between adjacent wires is to twist the wires together in a way that cancels the crosstalk flux. That's why Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cabling is used for high speed data cabling like Ethernet. In addition shielding, in the form of foil or metallic braid is also used in Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) cable.