“I’m always worried I’m going to blow something up”

by on Aug.07, 2012, under technology, thoughts

For the past two summers, I’ve worked at a level 1 tech support job at my college. For those unfamiliar with this jargon, this means that I’m the person who sits at the help desk, and attempts to help out anyone who comes into the desk, or calls the phone, or e-mails us. Technically speaking, it’s a pretty simple job, as we do some basic troubleshooting, then bump any issues up to level 2 if we determine we need to fix something in person.

Today, I was on the phone with someone, and they inadvertently reminded me of the difference between “technical” people and “non-technical” people.

The phone call was simple: Gmail brought up a page reporting that the person’s browser was out of date because they were using Internet Explorer. I suggested that he install Chrome, as it is a faster and more secure web browser, and now our “officially supported” browser, and proceeded to walk him through the installation.

And when I say walk him through the installation, I mean walk him through every step of the installation. Every button he should click, when he should click them, etc. During this process, he explained to me why he was asking for my help at every step of the process:

I’m always worried I’m going to blow something up.

So, this is the difference between “tech” people and “non-tech” people: the non-tech people think that if they click a wrong button, their computer will either explode, or stop working permanently. The tech people have opened their computer to find that no explosives are contained within.

One of the things I enjoy doing is breaking my operating system. I use Ubuntu Linux as my main operating system, and regularly do stupid things that might be considered destructive. But that’s OK — I know that I can always get my data, and I enjoy going through the processes of figuring out what went wrong, and how to fix it.

In a word, I’m fearless when fixing computers: I know that if I click the wrong button, there’s always a way to go back or undo whatever I just did. Sometimes, this is as simple as clicking a “back” or “undo” button. Sometimes it’s a bit more involved, but that’s OK! Because it means I’m going to learn what doesn’t work, and possibly learn something more about my operating system while I attempt to fix what’s broken.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give to non-tech people, it’s this: don’t be afraid to click buttons. Seriously. Most buttons you press are not going to permanently destroy your software. If you’re worried about losing data, make a backup of whatever file you’re working, then click buttons to your hearts content!

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Google’s an ISP — Now what?

by on Jul.27, 2012, under thoughts

As most people have probably heard by now, Google is a certified ISP. Google will be providing Kansas City residents with a 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home connection for $70/month. Add TV to that service for an extra $50/month, and you get the most awesome Internet and TV bundle for $120/month. Can’t afford that? Google’s even offering a 5 Mbps connection for free (after a $300 installation fee). All of this makes Google possibly the best ISP in the nation.

But, as some have pointed out, Google isn’t doing so with a huge profit margin. It’s not that Google is losing money on this deal, per-say, but it doesn’t seem that they’re making enough profit to survive on this business alone. Luckily, this isn’t a problem for Google, as they have plenty of other revenue streams. But, it does lead to a question of Google’s true motivation in this move.

So, I offer here my theory: Google is becoming an ISP to put pressure on existing ISPs to upgrade their infrastructure to be able to provide cheaper and faster access. Currently, there isn’t an ISP I’m aware of that can come close to the deal Google’s making in Kansas City for residential customers. If Kansas Citians realize this, they’ll flock to Google, leaving bigger ISPs (Comcast? AT&T?) in the dust.

Of course, as businesses, Comcast and AT&T should do whatever they can to keep their customers. At first, they might just offer to lower prices for customers that threaten to leave, but that really can’t maintain them long-term. They will be forced to do something to remain competitive. Especially if Google starts to move into other areas.

Remaining competitive will mean upgrading networks. That’s just a simple fact. The current residential Internet infrastructure just can’t compete with what Google’s offering. And as long as things remain as they are, the major players have no motivation to put money into upgrading their networks. I believe we’re seeing essentially the same thing with cell phone providers in the US: there isn’t enough competition to force true network infrastructure upgrades.

So, here’s my predictions for the next 10-20 years:

  • Major ISPs in Kansas City will slowly start to upgrade their infrastructure and offer lower prices in order to compete with Google’s offering.
  • Google will start to move into/threaten to move into other areas.
  • Large ISPs will (and this might be very wishful thinking) learn from the Kansas City situation and per-emptively start upgrading their infrastructure across the nation.

After all this happens, it doesn’t really matter if Google moves into other areas, or even continues to offer service. The end result is that they’ve accomplished their goal, and that’s good for all of us. If things proceed how I think they will, the US will see some major improvements in its residential Internet in the coming years.

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Are Penny Auctions a Scam?

by on Jul.17, 2011, under technology, thoughts

If you haven’t heard, someone was lucky enough to buy a Chevy Camero for only $5.28. Now, if you actually read the article, you’ll notice a very important detail: this car was bought off a “penny auction” site. These sites, like, are becoming more and more popular. Recently, I’ve had a couple of my friends ask me my opinion on these sites: are they a scam? It certainly sounds too good to be true. But, I will give this sites credit: real people do win real items from these sites. In this sense, these sites are not a scam.

So, how exactly do these sites operate? How can anyone run a profitable business by selling $1,000 products for about $20? The answer isn’t generous owners. While we might like to think that there are people that generous in this world, it’s simply not a sustainable business model. Click through to the rest of the post, and I’ll do my best to explain how these sites work, and why you shouldn’t (or maybe should) waste your time.
(continue reading…)

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Obligatory Google+ Post

by on Jul.03, 2011, under technology, thoughts

Well, here it is — my actual post about Google+.

For those of you who still haven’t heard, the bird is the word Google+ is Google’s new social networking experiment. Their response to Facebook, if you will. Google has more-or-less tried this before, with Buzz, but Buzz never really took off. At this point, it’s difficult for me to tell what Google’s strategy is for how Google+ and Buzz will coexist. Right now, they seem to be completely separate, yet strangely intertwined. I have a feeling that as Google+ develops, it will eventually completely replace Buzz.

I hope this is helpful. Unfortunately, I’ve left out screenshots for now. I’ll try to get some in later this week to better illustrate what I’m talking about. Added screenshots July 4 @ 11:50 PM.

Now that you know what Google+ is, click through to read an overview of my view of the evolution of Google+, a review of the UI, and my general thoughts on things.
(continue reading…)

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The Potential of .anything

by on Jun.19, 2011, under thoughts, Uncategorized

Today, ICANN announced that they will allow companies to create their own top-level domains (TLDs), for a price, of course. It’s a hefty fee (~$185,000), but every reporter has brought up a couple excellent examples. .bank, for example. I assume that whoever creates these TLDs would also be able to control who gets domains. That would make it possible to ensure that only legitimate banks can have a .bank address. The two other examples I’ve seen repeatedly are .vegas and .canon.

This brings up an interesting opportunity for some new domain uses we’ve never seen before. Imagine, for example, that Canon bought .canon. Sure, they would probably setup and, but what if we thought outside the box a bit more? What could we do with an unlimited supply of .canon domains?

Here’s what I imagine: (serial number).canon. What if instead of stumbling though a support site to find support for your product, you could just type in the serial number, followed by .(brand), and be given support information? This is something we’ve never been able to do with traditional TLDs, buy company-oriented TLDs would make this simple.

What about tracking numbers? Google makes it simple to get tracking information from almost any shipping company (just search Google for the tracking number and you’re given a link), but custom TLDs could make this even easier. (tracking number).ups should take me right to the page to figure out where that book I ordered is.

How about finding out what’s around you? It’d be neat to see some company snatch .gps, then allow some standard coordinate format to give a map and perhaps some useful information about what’s nearby. Perhaps .gps could also allow city names.

Maybe you want to know the weather. (City name).weather should be able to take you right to useful information.

Opening up the allowed TLDs allows a world of possibilities. I’ve just listed a couple simple examples here, but I’m sure folks that are much more creative than I could come up with even wilder examples. What would you like to see done with this new world of domain names?

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Why OnLive is Ultimately a Bad Idea

by on Dec.22, 2010, under thoughts

Perhaps some of my readers have heard of OnLive. If not, here’s a quick rundown: signup for an OnLive account, and start purchasing games through OnLive. Now, when you play those games, they don’t run on your computer. Instead, they run on one of OnLive’s servers, and the video (HD video, that is) is streamed to your computer. The idea is mind-blowing. It means that you don’t need to worry about your computer hardware being old — you can always play the latest games, because OnLive keeps their servers up-to-date.

Now, people who know a bit about the Internet and gaming might immediately claim that this is a bad idea because the lag would be HUGE. Well, I have no idea how they did it, but OnLive has created a system where lag simply isn’t an issue. Granted, it requires a good high-speed Internet connection, but as this becomes more ubiquitous, OnLive will be accessible to more consumers. Another neat thing about OnLive is that you can play a free demo of most of their games. Essentially, they give you (I think) 15 minute access to the game, so you can start to try it out, but your time will be up just as you get interested. Finally, this should theoretically allow completely cross-platform gaming. There is no Linux or Mac client currently, but as soon as one is created, you should be able to play any game in their catalog on any computer, with no extra work for the game creators.

Now, here’s what I think is wrong with OnLive: it’s DRM to the extreme. One of the main concerns of DRM is what happens when the servers go down? When the activation servers for popular games are finally taken offline, what will happen to people who own the game? They simply won’t be able to install it anymore, and, therefore, the game will be useless. Well, what happens when OnLive finally goes down (and I do believe that it will, sooner or later, die)? All those games you paid for will be gone. You’re not buying these games, you’re renting them. And when OnLive is charging more for the game than it costs to OWN the game (compare Assassin’s Creed II — vs., it doesn’t seem right that you don’t actually OWN the game.?

If OnLive can come up with an agreement with the creators of the game to give you a downloadable copy of the game IN ADDITION to the OnLive version, the price premium will be warranted (and they could even charge $5-$10 more for the game). Until that time, OnLive just isn’t worth it.

What are your thoughts on OnLive?

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Why Net Neutrality is Important

by on Aug.20, 2010, under life, technology, thoughts

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post about Net Neutrality. For those of you who know me personally, you should know that I’m a very strong supporter of Net Neutrality, and believe it’s very important that we make sure the Internet is kept neutral. However, for whatever reason, there are a LOT of misconceptions about Net Neutrality, and what exactly it entails. Since Net Neutrality in reaction to Comcast has once again come up in the news recently, I figured I should write a blog post about the subject.

First, let’s go into some background on the Comcast case. A year or so ago, Comcast decided that its network was beingcongestedby too much P2P traffic; namely, traffic from the BitTorrent P2P protocol. So, they decided that they would clear their network of this congestion by carefully denying BitTorrent connections. They did this by looking into the traffic that BitTorrent was sending over the network, and sending back false information so that connections to peers would fail. The actual details of how this was done is outside the point of this post.

After some outrage from Comcast customers who used BitTorrent, the FCC decided it would step in and tell Comcast to stop or suffer consequences. As soon as this happened, there was some question about whether or not the FCC actually had the power to do this. But, the case went to court and a judge decided that the FCC did have the power to do this, and that Comcast had to stop denying BitTorrent connections in this way. This was a major win for users of the Internet: the court decision basically meant that your ISP can’t deny you from accessing information on the Internet. (continue reading…)

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Explaining Inception

by on Jul.17, 2010, under thoughts

After first hearing about the movie Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, the movie seemed… strange. It was as movie that I knew I would have to see when it came out. A movie that toyed with your mind. Exactly my kind of movie! I would group it in the same category of movies such as Memento, Donnie Darko, Primer, and Shutter Island. Confusing, but all fully explainable if you can piece everything together.

Eventually, I decided it would be fun to go see Inception at the midnight premier. The only other movies I’ve seen at their midnight premiers are Harry Potter 6, and Avatar. Both were just awesome movie-going experiences. If you’ve never seen a movie at midnight, it’s really something you should try once.

Anyway, I’m glad I went to see Inception, because it really is a great movie! The problem is… seeing it so early left me no one to discuss it with. So, I’ve been scouring the Internet for opinions and discussions. After reading quite a bit, and fueled by inspiration from an article on CinemaBlend, I’ve decided to write my own small FAQ for the movie Inception.

DISCLAIMER: This article contains major spoilers. Please, please, please do not read this until you’ve seen Inception. The film is very enjoyable if you go in with an open mind. Reading too much about it before seeing it could kill the whole experience. (continue reading…)

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Light as a Potential Field

by on Mar.24, 2010, under thoughts

Last night, a friend of mine proposed an interesting way to think about light. Although, it wasn’t until later that I actually understood what he was proposing. When he said it, I really wasn’t sure what he meant. Let me first try to describe the idea as it was described to me:

Imagine that light is neither a particle nor a wave. Instead, we only see light because there is a potential path for light to travel between whatever object we’re looking at, and our eyes. So then, what is dark? Dark is the impossibility of light.

Now, I had a couple problems with this. First off, if this is the case, then where does the light come from? The only answer I was given was basically “we don’t know”. But, I think I’ve solved the puzzle that is this proposition. Again, let’s imagine that light is neither a particle nor a wave. Instead, think of light as a field of potential. If you don’t know what a potential field is, think about gravity or voltage. We can describe both of these as a type of potential, and observe the potential compared to other places in the field. These fields are not local fields, they are everywhere, but they are very weak away form the sources. (continue reading…)

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I Was Wrong!

by on Mar.16, 2010, under thoughts

Meant to post this earlier. Just a small post to admit that I was wrong in my prediction of best picture. If you watched the Oscars, or have talked to someone who watched the Oscars, you probably know that The Hurt Locker won best picture. This is slightly surprising. At its peak, The Hurt Locker was in a mere 323 theaters. Compare that to a major picture like Avatar, which had a peak of 3,461 theaters. That’s over 10x the number of theaters. Not that this number should, or does, matter, but a film with such a small release is a surprising pick for best picture.

Another interesting fact about The Hurt Locker is that it is the lowest grossing movie to ever win the title. The current estimated gross is about $16 million. Although, the low gross of the movie could be, in part, due to the limited release of the film. Again, this isn’t something that should, or does, matter, it’s just an interesting tidbit.

One final note on The Hurt Locker. The director of The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow, one of James Cameron’s ex-wives. Apparently, Kathryn Bigelow was debating on whether or not she should actually direct the film. So, she called her good friend James Cameron, and he convinced her to do the movie. It’s quite possible that if The Hurt Locker had not been in the running for best picture, Avatar might have one (although, history isn’t on Avatar‘s side, read my previous post). James Cameron, however, has said that he really liked The Hurt Locker, and even voted for it to win best picture, instead of Avatar.

So, there’s a blog post that’s about a week overdue. Now, on to write a more technical blog post!

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