tech news Archive

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It’s an exciting time to be living in! Technology just keeps getting better every year thanks to the contributions of programmers.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the accomplishments of IT in 2014:

* Mobile got bigger and better! iPhone6 was released; – 10 million sold within 3 days; Google announced Android has over 1 billion active customers.

* Google opened up Google Glass testing; Visa CheckOut was announced with a barrage of celebrity commercials; Google works on self driving cars; IBM spends $1 billion on Watson AI technology, including buying up AI companies.

* Java SE 8 was released!

* New APIs released like Gmail, AdWords, DropBox, and more

* Raspberry Pi Model B+ released: Want to run a Linux server serving up PHP pages on Apache connecting to a MySQL database wirelessly in the palm of your hand? Check out the Raspberry Pi Model B+. You could also plug it in HDMI to your tv, plug in a USB keyboard and mouse, and surf the web from a “computer” that fits in your pocket. And with 4 million Raspberry Pi’s sold since its inception in 2012, there is a huge online community.

* Programming became cool when President Obama and a host of celebrities joined in on code.org

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CBS reports that Chattanooga, Tennessee has the fastest internet connection in America!  The reason is because everyone is able to get a gigabyte download speed in the City.

The reason for that is fiber optic lines that can provide anyone in a 600-square-mile area that gig of online speed. To put the gig in perspective, the average American home gets about five megabits of Internet speed. Chattanooga’s speed is 200 times faster.

So…  If you’re a gamer…  Consider moving!

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There’s been alot of discussion about the meteoric rise of the hit song Gangnam Style, as its video surpassed one billion views on December 21st.  This is clearly a tribute to the singer, called PSY, who came up with a catchy beat and a comical video, but also PSY needs to share the credit with his silent partner, YouTube.

YouTube was outputting this video an average of 4,000 views per minute by some estimates.  That takes an incredibly efficient IT infrastructure to efficiently handle those requests.  Also, as of writing of this article, there are over 4.6 million comments and 6.4 million thumbs up on the video!  That many messages alone could take down lesser systems.  And keep in mind this song was only released in July!

It shouldn’t surprise me that YouTube could handle such a sudden surge on its servers.  And honestly, it doesn’t surprise me.  But I think it’s worthwhile to point out the incredible IT systems developed in part by programmers.

Of course….  Here is the video!

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The W3C has completed its specifications for HTML5.  Though it won’t be “recommended” until 2014, developers can start reviewing the specs and preparing for its inevitable release.

From the press release:

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published today the complete definition of the HTML5 and Canvas 2D specifications. Though not yet W3C standards, these specifications are now feature complete, meaning businesses and developers have a stable target for implementation and planning. HTML5 is the cornerstone of the Open Web Platform, a full programming environment for cross-platform applications with access to device capabilities; video and animations; graphics; style, typography, and other tools for digital publishing; extensive network capabilities; and more.

Many articles are hyping up HTML5 to be an inevitable replacement to app stores and the “closed” systems like Apple, Nook, etc with the W3C pushing an “Open Web Platform.” I just don’t see that.

Although overall I am NOT a fan of Apple’s walled environment, it does offer stability (though my iPad’s Safari crashes alot lately).  It is far more stable and frankly more user-friendly than the hodgepodge web experience.  For example, users must be completely confused when they see “Windows needs to update”, “There’s a new version of Java”, “Install Adobe”, “Firefox has to restart to upgrade”, etc etc etc.

The other problem of having HTML5 replace app stores is time.  HTML5, which is now finalized, won’t be recommended for another 21 months.  During those 21 months, Apple (or a competitor) could/will come out with something new that revolutionizes the industry.  And 3 years later the W3C will respond.

I think the web is still a vital part of today’s technology.  By all means, enhance it, grow it.  HTML5 is a great improvement to the Web, especially as a Flash substitute.  But Google’s business model with Android still seems best.  Privately managed, but available for all.  I think Amazon Kindle, how it took Android as a base and completely reworked the UI, is a perfect example of Android’s openness.

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The internet is very resilient in America, according to researchers in an article on ScienceDaily.com.

Scientists at the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering regularly study Internet “uptime” in America by pinging servers.  They say that on average 99.7% of the internet is up at any given time, and .3% is down for various reasons.  During landfall of “Superstorm Sandy”, aimed at New York City, which is a major hub of the internet backbone in the U.S., 99.57% of the U.S. internet remained fully operational.

That is pretty shocking, especially considering 8.5 million Americans (greater than 2% of the country) lost power (according to this Huffington Post article).

I think the main takeaway from an IT perspective is that the backbone of the U.S. internet is well built.  There were not dramatic internet outages from the powerful storm that devastated thousands of lives.

However, there is some cause for alarm that there were outages at all, which shows that the system is not perfect.

“On a national scale, the amount of outage is small, showing how robust the Internet is. However, this significant increase in outages shows the large impact Sandy had on our national infrastructure,” said John Heidemann, who led the team that tracked an analyzed the data. Heidemann is a research professor of computer science and project leader in the Computer Networks Division of ISI.

So, while I believe the article shows the strength of the internet, you could also argues it shows its flaws.  I do remember getting several “server not found” errors in the days after Sandy, but I viewed them as expected problems after such a powerful storm.

I guess I’m just a “glass half full” kind of guy.

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Computer programs that cost a few hundred thousand dollars are replacing million-dollar traders in the credit derivatives markets.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-15/computers-elbow-swaps-traders-aside#r=tec-s

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Tablet Wars Heat Up

By Dan | Filed in tech news

Everywhere you look you see tablets or tablet advertisements.  Tablets are commonplace at work, school, on the bus, doctor offices, etc., and tablet makers are betting you’ll see more.

Microsoft officially jumped into the Tablet War on October 26th by releasing the brand new Surface at a retail cost starting at $499.  Surface, which features the Windows 8 operating system, is marketted as a tablet with a “snap-in” keyboard.  Microsoft announced that their preorders for Surface sold out in less than a week.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Microsoft isn’t the only company seeing green with the holiday season approaching.

According to component suppliers in Asia,  Microsoft has placed orders to produce 3 million to 5 million of these tablets in the fourth quarter. That is similar to the orders that were placed for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets and Google’s Nexus 7 tablets, these suppliers say.  Some component suppliers to Apple in Asia say they have received orders to make more than 10 million units of a smaller tablet for the Cupertino, Calif. company in the fourth quarter.

With millions of tablets being sold each month, what does this mean for programmers?

First, it’s important to note that there are several major operating systems with “app stores” – iOS, Android, and now Windows 8.  Note that BlackBerry’s also are around, but it’s a rather limited market share.

With so many different IDE’s for developers to learn, it makes it much more difficult for small developers to be able to develop cross-platform (stable!) versions of an app and push their product.   Additionally, the Kindle Fire and Nook have markets to develop for, too.  Personally, I just don’t think that’s sustainable.  However, if you’re a risk-taker, developing for the virgin Microsoft app store may pay off big dividends as Surface sales grow.

As far as market share, Apple has a huge advantage.  It has already sold over 100 million iPads and was really the creator of the modern tablet industry.  Google has made huge advances cutting into Apple’s market share with its Android OS.  Then when Google released its Nexus tablet for $199, it entered the tablet hardware business with a low cost alternative.

The tablet industry is a fast changing arena with new players continuously entering.  How will the industry look in 5 years?  10 years?  Who knows.  But if I had to guess, I don’t see the Android OS going away, nor iOS.  But which will dominate?  I’m thinking Android due to the developer-friendly environment.

Your thoughts?

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Curiosity on Earth

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft — called Curiosity — launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket November 26, 2011. It traveled for nine months until it reached its destination: The Red Planet. This trip, and the ongoing scientific experiments, were all made possible by the hard and complex work of programmers.

What’s On-Board?

Curiosity “is powered by a RAD750, a single-board computer (motherboard, RAM, ROM, and CPU) produced by BAE. The RAD750 has been on the market for more than 10 years, and it’s currently one of the most popular on-board computers for spacecraft. In Curiosity’s case, the CPU is a PowerPC 750 (PowerPC G3 in Mac nomenclature) clocked at around 200MHz — which might seem slow, but it’s still hundreds of times faster than, say, the Apollo Guidance Computer used in the first Moon landings.”, according to ExtremeTech.com

“On the software side of things, NASA again stuck to tried-and-tested solutions, opting for the 27-year-old VxWorks operating system. VxWorks, developed by Wind River Systems (which was acquired by Intel), is a real-time operating system used in a huge number of embedded systems. The previous Mars rovers (Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft all use VxWorks.”

MSL Tech

The image to the right is from NASA, showing the various scientific instruments built into the rover.  “A suite of instruments named Sample Analysis at Mars analyzes samples of
material collected and delivered by the rover’s arm, plus atmospheric samples. It
includes a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer and a tunable laser spectrometer with combined capabilities to identify a wide range of organic (carboncontaining) compounds and determine the ratios of different isotopes of key elements.”  Here is a link that includes NASA’s description of the laboratory equipment on board.

The Trip to Mars

Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and landed on the floor of Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012.

Even during the trip to Mars, Curiosity was gathering data and sending it back to Earth.  “Unlike previous Mars rovers, Curiosity is equipped with an instrument that measures space radiation.”, NASA reports.  “The Radiation Assessment Detector, nicknamed “RAD,” counts cosmic rays, neutrons, protons and other particles over a wide range of biologically-interesting energies. RADs prime mission is to investigate the radiation environment on the surface of Mars, but NASA turned it on during the cruise phase so that it could sense radiation en route to Mars as well.”

And how did this 10-foot-long, 1-ton rover gently land on the Martian surface without breaking all these delicate instruments?  “During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slowed its descent with a parachute, then used retrorockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage acted as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.”

What can it do on Mars?

The mission’s 21st Martian day (sol) taken on August 30, 2012

Powered by 10.6 pounds of plutonium dioxide, this nuclear-powered rover may travel up to a couple dozen miles on Mars throughout its life.  It has has 17 2-megapixel cameras on board and will be constantly sending photos back to Earth.  It also has drills and lasers powerful enough to drill into rocks.  It has claws, too, to lift up samples to place into its two on board labs.

The results of all these lab tests, images taken from its cameras, as well as log files indicating what it did and any error messages are sent back to Earth.  “Curiosity can either communicate directly with Earth’s Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna via an X band (8GHz) link, or it can use a UHF (300MHz-3GHz) transmitter to relay signals through Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which orbit a few hundred miles above Curiosity. Because it’s a lot cheaper for Curiosity to use UHF, and because the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a very-high-speed 6Mbps X band antenna, relaying will be Curiosity’s main way of sending data back to Earth.”. says ExtremeTech.com

Back on Earth

With all this data streaming back to Earth from this technologically advanced rover, NASA developed some sophisticated reporting systems to display and disseminate data.

“The project utilizes a new MySQL-based system to process the large amount of raw and complex data that comes in from Curiosity. Called the Mission Data Processing and Control System (MPCS), it interfaces to NASA’s Deep Space Network and processes data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other in-orbit systems. MPCS produces a tailored view of the data that is used by other flight operations teams, such as information on the power system”, reports Information Week.

If Curiosity, with all its tools, is able to survive the harsh conditions of Mars like its cousins Spirit and Opportunity, we are in store for many years of exciting revelations from this technological marvel.

Curiosity’s official website is http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

 

 

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