Five Underappreciated Technologies

The ubiquitous USB connection made its debut back in 1996. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and universal it is. Before that milestone connecting devices to a computer was a pain staking and trying endeavor. The connection types were endless and varied. Was that connector a serial, SCSI, ADB, DB9? Do I need an adapter? Is it male or female? How many pins? The introduction of this workhorse of a technology eliminated all of that research and frustration. That sweet connector with 2 pins for data and 2 pins for power forever changed the way we connect printers, mice, keyboards, phones, external hard drives, and a myriad of other devices to our computers. The technology hasn't stood still either. When USB 1.0 was introduced the transfer rate was a mere 12MB per second. Now with the USB 3.0 specification, the data transfer rate is up to 4.8Gb per second. Sure, there have been slight changes in the pin configuration but to the layman that's not an issue as all newer versions of USB are backward compatible. The new 3.0 specification was carefully planned as to not make older USB devices obsolete. As a technology USB sounded the demise of floppy drives and to a certain extent reduced reliance on CD and DVD technology for things such as backups or moving data from one system to another (how many thumb drives do you own?). All in all this technology has made computing easier and changed the way we move our data around, charge, and interact with our devices.

AppleTV - First Generation
I admit it. I was extremely late to this party. When the first version (software version 1.1) of AppleTV was introduced back in 2006 it caught my attention, but I was soon disappointed to learn that it was only compatible with a wide screen television and at that time I hadn't upgraded. So when I finally went to my local big box store and upgraded my television, AppleTV popped back up on my radar. I was interested in a device to centralize media content and AppleTV seemed to be an interesting prospect. In addition I was interested in trying out the third party applications that added functionality to the device. The first version of AppleTV was scorned for its small storage, the inability to attach an external hard drive without a software hack, and its pedestrian features. Apple then released an updated version of the device. This version was kicked up with a larger hard drive, open USB capabilities, and a software update that added lots of features missing in the previous release. Third party developers like ATVflash developed firmware that added additional features to the device such as Boxee, XBMC, internet browsers, and the ability to copy media to the device without using iTunes. It also added the ability to play a wider array of media formats than what was capable with the default Apple firmware. Apple continued to add functionality in subsequent software updates from February 2008 until the release of the second generation AppleTV in September 2010. That being said, I'm not a fan of the new version of AppleTV as it exemplifies everything that everyone hated with the first version. Apple removed the ability to store content on the device relegating it to a stream-only system and allowing devices from other manufactures like Roku and Western Digital Media Player to surpass it in usefulness and functionality. The good thing about the release of the new version of AppleTV is that it makes its predecessor look a whole lot better and finally get the positive nod that it always deserved.

PlayStation3 - First Generation
I admit this right up front. I absolutely love my PS3. After adding it to my audio visual setup, I almost immediately began saying goodbye to other components. The first to go was my multi-disc CD player. The second device to go was my DVD player. Then, after digitizing my tape collection, good-bye tape deck. Soon I was down to a DVR and an A/V receiver. I dumped everything on to my PS3 to include all my music, videos, and photos. I could even stream content from my PC or laptop and browse the internet. Then came the ability to watch Netflix, first with a disk and later without. I pop in media cards, USB drives, CDs, DVDs, and enjoy all movies I watch from disk in Blu-Ray format. The PS3 is a media maven, and oh did I mention, one heck of a gaming console. It has full HD resolution capabilities, 5.1 Dolby support, it plays a multitude of video and audio formats, and supports photo viewing. Also, since I'm still using the first generation 80GB version I can still throw in the occasional PS or PS2 game when I'm feeling nostalgic. I realize that Xbox sucks the oxygen out of the room when it comes to gaming consoles. Why, I'm not sure. I hear lots of reports of folks being on their third or fourth Xbox because the hardware seems to just up and die. I've never heard of such hardware issues regarding the PS3. Compared to Xbox, the PS3 is all upside featuring a Blu-Ray player, HDMI connections, full HD, Bluetooth, PlayStation Portable interoperability, and as of now it costs nothing to game online via the PlayStation Network. Add frequent software updates from Sony and the PS3 shines very well. Too bad Xbox gets so much attention.

At one point I really believed that Linux would cut in to the market share of Windows and Mac OS. While my head tells me that was a misguided notion, my heart still thinks maybe.... someday... maybe. The concept of Linux is pretty awesome. Linux is open source software which means it is free. Also, the amount of free software that comes bundled with Linux is staggering. There is an open source equivalent of just about any software package found running on Windows and MacOS. The problem? Linux just isn't ready for prime time in the eyes of the general computing population. There are so many competing distributions of the operating system, and still, there are device driver and graphical user interface issues that prevent the average computer user from embracing the operating system. Hey, I love tinkering under the hood of computers, but when I get a new system, I want a nice, clean, and smooth out of the box experience. I don't want to spend days and weeks researching device issues and configuring files to get my system to work properly. Still, that being said, there is room for Linux. School systems should see the economic value of using Linux based systems. It's solid and can run on very old hardware, exactly the type of hardware that is often donated to school systems. Businesses could leverage Linux systems with the power of cloud computing and save a fortune on software licensing, especially Micro$oft licensing. Maybe with more and more cloud services coming to market and we users spending most of our computing lives in our browsers, we will soon see that maybe a good commodity system with the latest version of Ubuntu, Firefox and/or Chrome installed is all the computer we need. Google is currently trying this with their Chrome OS. We'll have to wait to see how that pans out. It's a shame to see Linux languish with all of its promise of a free and open computing experience.

The Internet
I think we still haven't come to terms with just how much the internet has changed our lives. I remember the magical days of its infancy, visiting sites from around the world, accessing the Library of Congress, communicating with people around the world via news groups and IRC. It was an amazing portal to people and information. I remember having to twist peoples' arms to use email in the workplace, let alone, in their personal lives. From those early beginnings of Gopher, FTP, Archie, and Mosaic spawned audio and video streaming, video chats, VOIP phone calls, desktop video conferencing, chat rooms, information portals, news sites, online commerce, blogging, podcasting, Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google. The list could go on and on. Now, we've gone from a people with large seldom used computers in the corner of our office to a world obsessed with being connected 24/7. Don't believe me? What was your reaction the last time you hit send on that email and got the "Cannot connect to server" message? Or how calm and cool where you the last time your internet connection went down at work or at home? See my point? Alas, with all its empowering greatness we don't appreciate the internet. We take it for granted. We assume it will always be there for us. We misuse it to spam, and to agitate. We take for granted that the millions of devices that power it and the zillion lines of code that keep it running will always be there on demand, instant-on like our cathode ray tube televisions of decades gone by. It takes a lot of hard working network engineers, system administrators, and web developers to keep the internet humming. No, not all working shoulder to shoulder in one place, but toiling away in various schools, offices, server rooms, and data centers all over the world. Are we taking full advantage of this gift? Using it to learn, share, grow, or leave a positive mark? Or are we simply exploiting it for selfish agendas or to aggregate information on each other for monetary gain? It's probably too soon to tell, for as far as it has come, some believe the internet is still in its infancy. For millions the internet is simply Facebook, Gmail, and YouTube. Oh, but for those in the know, the internet is so much more than that. It's an awesome instrument that can be used equally for greatness or evil. It is something that needs to be fostered and protected. There are those that would have us pay a king's ransom to access it, but they have it wrong. The internet is not theirs to hold hostage. We are all owners of the internet. It's up to us all to protect it from those that would do it harm by segmenting it, controlling who has access to it, to spy, to control, to oppress, to cheat, to mislead, and to misinform. Basically, we have to protect it from ourselves.


Your Smartphone Apps Can't Keep A Secret

We live in an age where information is king. This has never been more true than in the world of mobile applications. A Wall Street Journal investigation finds that iPhone and Android apps are breaching the privacy of smartphone users. The investigation found that these phones are sharing personal data widely and regularly with ad networks and online tracking companies. A study of 101 popular apps showed that a large majority of them transmitted the phone's unique device ID to third party companys without the knowledge or consent of the user. Some apps transmitted the phone's location in some way and other apps transmitted demographic data such as age and gender. Both Apple and Google stress that they require applications to obtain permission to transmit certain kinds of data, but the study illustrates that these rules can apparently be circumvented. This is no wonder as both Apple and Google have big stakes in the ad business. Apple declined to discuss how it interprets or enforces its policy and Google punted, saying it is the responsibility of the app maker to determine how they handle user information. Once again it looks like we lowly consumers are left to fend for ourselves. With each passing day I feel as though privacy is a quaint notion from a bygone era.

Read the full Wall Street Journal article here.


Xfinity Embracing Mobile Apps

There are a number of reasons to complain about Comcast, but their development effort for mobile devices isn't one of them. This week Xfinity announced its mobile app for iPod and iPad, Xfinity TV. The app allows you to interface with your digital box via wifi. Simply install the app from the iTunes store, enter your Comcast logon info, and in an instant you can view the TV listings in your area and manage recordings on your DVR. The app also turns your device into a remote. Simply scroll through or search your listings, tap the program that you wish to watch, and your cable box turns to that channel. Instead of viewing the program you can choose to record it. The app also lets you search On Demand programmming. Video streaming, additional remote features, and enhanced search are all promised for future releases. The app is free on iTunes.

Xfinity Mobile App for Android lets you view your inbox, manage Xfinity Voice, access your Universal Address Book, manage TV listings and your DVR, as well as explore On Demand content. Mobile apps for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch are coming soon.

Comcast is also optimizing their customer portal, to render on all mobile devices and provide access to all of the functionality found on the main site.

All in all, good job Comcast for a job well done in the mobile arena.


Comcast just updated their app to allow streaming of on demand content to the iPad. I tested it out watching the Vince Lombardi story on HBO Sports. Overall a nice experience. Playback stopped two times during my viewing but I think that was a function of my WiFi connection. I simply had to close the app, open it again, and hit the resume button. Playback picked up where it left off. In general a great feature and a nice option to have to watch your cable content.


What's Wrong with Gmail?

It started ever so slowly a number of years ago, an occasional email obviously meant for someone else landing in my Gmail account. I wrote if off to a misspelling or someone entering their email address incorrectly while signing up for a service. Slowly the number of these emails increased, rapidly approaching an epidemic level. I dutifully unsubscribed from newsletters. I sent nice emails to folks I didn't know who had unknowingly sent to me pictures of their children, reunions, and vacations shots that they had a wrong email address and to please check with the intended for the correct address. What happened? Even more unsolicited email poured in to my inbox to include bank communications, employment verifications, emails lamenting breakups, and messages of an even more personal nature. It became obvious that a number of Gmail users thought they indeed had "my" Gmail address.

My next move was to begin building the fortress. One by one, I created a new filter for each unwanted email.  After creating over sixty filters nothing changed. Still new emails not caught by my filters not intended to me plagued my inbox.

I searched for help on the Gmail support section and then discovered I was not alone in my situation. I scoured for support contacts and sent info regarding my predicament. No response. I opened bug reports. No response. I searched for Gmail product managers online and sent them information regarding what was happening. No response. Surely, Google would be interested in the fact that I was receiving other Gmail users' sensitive emails. Apparently not.

You see, Google sees this as a feature. That's right, an added benefit of using Gmail. One of the capabilities of Gmail is that you can place a "period" anywhere in your Gmail address and their servers will ignore it. For instance, if your email address is, you can also use, or All incarnations of this email address will go to Additionally you can attach a plus sign to your Gmail address, such as The plus sign and everything else up to the ampersand is ignored.

Google sees this functionality as a way to assist us in managing our email. You can use different versions of your address for different purposes and create filters based on them. This explanation seems reasonable but here's the deal. Google also reports that no one can sign up for a period version of your address. If you have, no one is supposed to be able to sign-up with The problem, as I see it, is that at some point and time people have been able to get period versions of other Gmail user’s addresses. The company denies this but some people swear that they have been able to do it. Also, the difference between and is so subtle that inevitably these two accounts at some point will get each other's messages.

Here’s a thread where users are pulling their hair out over this headache and begging for Google to remove this so called feature.

The company maintains these reasons as to why it “appears” you are receiving someone else’s email:

  • Your address is similar but has more or fewer dots or different capitalization.
  • Another possibility is that someone else has accidentally configured their account to automatically forward mail to you.
  • The message you received was probably the result of a common practice among spammers called 'dictionary spamming.' Dictionary spammers often use a software application to randomly guess email addresses based on words in the dictionary.

It’s apparent that Google doesn’t consider this an issue for its users and has no plans to remedy what many of us see as a gaping hole in their email system. I have to say that as a result of this I’ve really lost my confidence in Gmail. Whenever I click the send button I wonder who else other than the intended might receive the message. I never use my Gmail account for anything too personal and never use it for any serious or sensitive business transactions. Until Google changes their position regarding doing away with this unwanted feature, I’ll just look at my Gmail account for exactly what it is, a free, loosely supported email service, where any if not all of my messages can easily become publicly consumable.


Black Friday 2010

The Black Friday sales are really gearing up. To make it even easier a lot of merchants are having online promotions. looks to be a pretty good aggregation site. Check it out.