What does this triangle do?

triangleThis photograph shows an electrical power distribution line in beautiful Summit County, Colorado, at an altitude of about 9100 feet above sea level.  The first reader to post a comment correctly explaining the function of the white triangle will win a nice piece of swag — an Oppedahl Patent Law Firm LLC digital voltmeter.voltmeter

The new best messaging app that you should be using

(Update:  I no longer recommend Whatsapp.  I now recommend Signal.  See blog article.) 

The messaging app that you should be using is Whatsapp.  Drop the other messaging apps that you have been using, and switch to Whatsapp.  Urge your messaging pals to migrate to Whatsapp.  Why?  Because it uses end-to-end encryption and Perfect Forward Secrecy.  I will explain why this is so important.

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How electronic equipment fails these days

In the old days a consumer product might have dozens of moving parts.  It was easy to think of ways that the equipment might fail.  Any of the moving parts might break or otherwise contribute to failure.  But nowadcooling-fanays a piece of electronic equipment might have very few moving parts or maybe no moving parts.  How can such things fail?  What is a typical failure mode these days?  I have recently come to appreciate that nowadays, for some consumer electronic devices maybe the most common failure mode is the only moving part, namely a cooling fan. Continue reading “How electronic equipment fails these days”

Radio controlled wristwatches

I was reminded today of one of the benefits of a radio controlled wristwatch.

radio-watchA radio controlled wristwatch contains a sensitive AM radio receiver that picks up radio transmissions from a government time standard such as WWVB.  WWVB transmits digitally coded time signals on 60 kHz.  A watch or clock equipped to receive the WWVB signal can synchronize itself to the government time standard and thus can be consistently quite accurate.

Such a wristwatch is designed to check the WWVB signal in the middle of the night, because night-time conditions in the ionosphere permit such signals to propagate much further than during the day.

There are similar government time standard radio stations in China, Japan, Great Britain, and Germany.  The watch in the photograph picks up the Chinese and German signals as well as the US signal.

Which brings us to the fun thing about radio controlled watches.  A radio controlled watch automatically corrects for daylight saving time changes.  At 2:00 AM this morning, this watch automatically “sprang forward”.  There was no need to manually adjust this wristwatch for daylight saving time.


A remarkably inexpensive fitness band that outperforms much more expensive ones

For some years now I have seen fitness bands on the wrists of friends of colleagues.  By far what I have seen most frequently is the Fitbit.  The Fitbit lists for $100 bmifitut if you shop around you can get it for as little as $78.  What does it do?  It does exactly one thing.  It measures accelerations in all directions.  It thus serves as a step counter and it tries to figure out when you are asleep so that it can tell you how many hours of sleep you got last night.  When it’s brand new its rechargeable battery lasts five days.

What if I were to tell you that a big company that you have never heard of makes a fitness band that does everything that the Fitbit does, only better, and also measures your heart rate, and only costs $20?   Oh and the battery life between charges is three or four weeks.

Continue reading “A remarkably inexpensive fitness band that outperforms much more expensive ones”

A shutter for the camera on your notebook computer

On the notebook computer of a friend or colleague, I have often seen a piece of a Post-it stuck to the camera opening.  The person who does this is prompted by the fear, perhaps not an unreasonable fear, that a bit of malware might turn on the cameracamhatch2 and permit someone to spy upon the user.

I was fascinated to learn of a commercial product that addresses this concern, and is elegant in its simplicity.   Continue reading “A shutter for the camera on your notebook computer”

Picking a hard drive for your RAID system

As most readers know, a RAID system makes use of two bathtub-curveor more hard disk drives to provide a very reliable network-attached storage system.  In a sophisticated way, the system stores information redundantly across two or more drives.  If any one drive were to fail, the system would be able to continue in its normal function using the remaining drive or drives.  Importantly, no data would be lost.  This article talks about how you might pick the hard drives that you would plug into your RAID system.

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The Super Bowl goes Over The Top

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been exploring the many recent media distribution developments that hold out the possibility of eventually “cutting the cord”, which in my case might mean discontinuing a monthly subscription to DirecTV.  (Others who are thinking of becoming a cord-cutter might discontinue a monthly subscription to a channel lineup with Comcast or Time-Warner cable or Dish network.)  Hulu, HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access … they each offer a taste of OTT (Over The Top), meaning, a way to get what you want using nothing more than an Internet connection.  Each involves some monthly fee paid to the service provider.

One of the areas of anxiety for some would-be cord-cutters is “will I be able to see my favorite sporting events?”

It’s one thing to wonder “what if I were to miss an episode of Big Bang Theory?”  If there were to be some mixup or problem viewing the episode, you could always watch it later.  Life does not end if a person is forced to watch an episode of a sitcom a day later than originally planned.  But for many sports fans, the prospect of “watching it later” if something were to go wrong is just unacceptable.

Which raises the question of the Super Bowl.  Can a cord-cutter watch today’s Super Bowl?  If so, what does it cost?  How do I do it?

The answer surprised me when I learned it.  The answer is, anybody (anybody in the US, at least) with an Internet connection can watch the Super Bowl.  They can watch it for free!

Amazon Fire TV.  If you have a Fire TV box, or Fire TV stick, just download the CBS Sports app and run it.  You will get to see the Super Bowl for free.

Roku.  Same deal.  If you have a Roku box or Roku stick, just download the CBS Sports app and run it.  You will get to see the Super Bowl for free.

Chromecast.  Same thing.

Android tablets and Android TV.  Same thing.

iPads and Apple TV.   Same thing.

XBox One.  Same thing.

It’s pretty clear that the NFL and CBS would rather get the largest possible number of eyeballs than try to charge a few bucks for the use of the app.

Keep in mind that if you use this app instead of watching the Super Bowl through your local CBS television broadcaster, you won’t see local ads.  It’s interesting to wonder how CBS will fill those advertising time slots that usually are set aside for local ads.

The local CBS television broadcasters probably won’t like this OTT offering very much, since it could cut into their eyeball count.




Disruptive technologies in nondescript boxes

I’ve blogged about many different disruptive consumer technologies.  I’ve blogged about VOIP telephone services (which is an over-the-top way of replacing a traditional landline).  I’ve blogged about streaming media sticks such as the Amazon Fire TV stick, the Roku stick, and the Chromecast stick.  I’ve blogged about the Tablo, a television receiver and digital video recorder that permits time-shifting and place-shifting your viewing of broadcast television programs.

What’s pretty interesting, I think, is what all of these technologies have in common.  Of course one thing they all have in common is that they rely on internet connectivity.  But the other thing they all have in common is their bland, featureless, nondescript boxes. Continue reading “Disruptive technologies in nondescript boxes”