Google Offers Potentially Powerful Encryption Incentive

As part of its ongoing effort to safeguard user security, Google announced last week that websites making use of encryption technology will be bumped up in the order of the search results returned to Google users.

The precise methodology that Google uses to rank search results has long been a closely guarded secret. However, Google has indicated that encryption will now be one factor, though not a primary factor, in determining search result order. The company reportedly uses as many as 200 different “signals” in determining its search rankings.

Internet users can easily recognize sites using encryption–they begin with “https.” Encrypted data is less susceptible to theft on unsecured Wi-Fi networks. While encrypting data will still not remove all of the risk associated with sending sensitive data such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and passwords online, it is a marked improvement over sending such sensitive information unencrypted.

Why should Google care about encryption? Google receives revenues from advertisers, and makes more money the more people use the Internet. Those who have a bad experience will be more likely to avoid the Internet, thus potentially threatening Google’s bottom line.

Some websites have resisted encryption, primarily for cost reasons. Google’s action may give them reason to rethink that decision.

My First Rodeo, and Legislative History

IMG_20140730_202313I attended my first rodeo last week, and then understood some legislative history of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. I want to be clear: by “attending,” I mean I sat in the bleachers and watched others do the work. I did not ride a bull, or a bareback bronco; I did not wrestle a steer or even mutton bust. But it did complete an odd week in which I experienced vastly different points on the scale of American culture.

If you read my post last week, you might recall that I spent the weekend in New York City. I did not experience all of the big city (who could, in barely 24 hours), but I had my fair share of subways; looking fruitlessly for street parking; the crush of the crowds; the constant movement and incessant beat of activity throughout the day and night (where else do street vendors sell pulled BBQ sandwiches off a cart so late at night)?

Fewer than 48 hours later I was in Dodge City, Kansas, having arrived on a plane that seated nine and arriving at an airport so, well, the opposite of BWI or DCA that people actually make eye contact and talk to each other while pouring coffee (there are no Starbucks or vendors — just a Bunn drip coffee maker in the single waiting room and a vending machine stocked with snacks).

None of what I saw over the course of the week was unfamiliar – I went to school in New York, so going back for a quick weekend involved revisiting some familiar city blocks. And, though I live in a typical American suburb, I spent enough summers at the state fair to be at least passingly familiar with the sights and sounds of the arena. Read more

The Usain Bolt of Broadband Connections

Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) announced last week that they have established a new world record for data transfer: 43 terabits per second.

For those of you who were absent the day Greek prefixes were covered in high school, a terabit is equal to 1012 bits, or one million megabits. (Fun trivia: “tera” is derived from the Greek word “τέρας,” which—appropriately enough–means “monster.”)

Even more impressive, the Danish researchers accomplished the feat using a single laser. They also utilized a new type of optical fiber which, despite containing seven cores (glass threads) as opposed to the single core found in standard fiber, is no larger than standard fiber.

This latest effort far surpasses the previous record of 32 terabits per second, set by researchers at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie in 2010.

At 43 terabits per second, users could download thousands of HD movies in less than a second. Backing up even a large computer hard drive could be accomplished almost instantaneously.

“The worldwide competition in data speed is contributing to developing the technology intended to accommodate the immense growth of data traffic on the Internet, which is estimated to be growing by 40-50 percent annually,” DTU said in a press release heralding the accomplishment.

Get Rid of My Glasses?

I wear glasses and I hate them. It’s not vanity, really (if I were vain, I’d slim down by eating fewer donuts). It’s hard to keep glasses clean and free of scratches, and my eyesight is so poor without them that I live in fear of breaking them. I’ve been told I am a poor candidate for Lasik, contacts are uncomfortable, and so I may be stuck with glasses forever.

This week, I came across a new breakthrough in display technology that may help me. Researchers at Microsoft, MIT and UC Berkley have created a new display technology that adjusts the sharpness of an image based on the eyesight of the person looking at the screen. The technology (and this is simplifying it significantly) uses algorithms to alter the on-screen image based on a person’s glasses prescription and alters the light from individual pixels to create a sharper image that the person can see without their glasses.

At this point, the research is in its earliest stages, so real world application is years away. The technology also has limits, such as the inability to adjust for the eyesight differences of multiple users at one time.

Researchers working on the technology hope that over time the display technology can be slimmed down to a small piece of plastic that can fit over television and computer monitors and other displays. The technology is scheduled for demonstration this week at SIGGRAPH, an annual computer graphics conference, and at CES in January.

GoTenna Takes Text Messaging Off the Cell Network

GoTenna is nice if you want to go off the grid, or just go camping.

Using a small external antenna, GoTenna enables users to send text messages directly and securely from smartphone-to-smartphone. Currently in preorder, this product provides a way for people to communicate without using cell or data networks during a natural disaster or service disruption, or when a user is in a remote location without traditional cellular service.

From the user’s perspective, the system functions the same way as other messaging applications, such as WhatsApp or Viber. When paired with your smartphone and a friend’s device, a text message can be sent to another GoTenna device, or to all the other GoTenna users in the area. The message also can include GPS data, based on free maps available from GoTenna, to share locations. Read more

NTCA, ITTA, Telecompetitor: Driving the ‘New Normal’ at BroadbandVision 2014

I spent part of last weekend in New York City visiting a friend in the hospital. My friend and I grew up in the same Midwestern city. She moved to New York for school and decided, somewhat inexplicably, that big city living beats things like fresh air, grass and easy street parking. The hospital was only several blocks away from where she went to grad school, and I joked that in all these years she had not gotten very far. And, as I walked the surrounding area, I was reminded that even in New York, there are communities – each neighborhood has its own flavor, its own distinctive atmosphere, and given the population density, nearly all the resources one could conceivably need for regular daily living.

But, this post is not about ruminations about city living or what I saw outside the hospital – it’s about what I saw inside the hospital, and the amazing things that, curiously, did not amaze me.

Hospitals are filled with lights and sounds – everything from a basic IV drip to advanced medical technology beeps and illuminates, so there is every expectation that a patient’s room can look a little like Mardi Gras with all the blinking lights. The flickers that caught my eye most, however, were the small blue LEDs in the ceiling: the ones set into Cisco WiFi routers. Read more

FSBC (the Flat Stanley Broadband Challenge)

Not strictly a set of FSBC photos, but tangentially related, nonetheless.

No free wi-fi (3)

We need this . . .

FSBC 728

. . . because of this.

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