Monthly Archives: January 2012

January 28th is Fun at Work Day!

Work is not something that is usually fun for most people.  If it was fun all the time, they probably wouldn’t pay us for it, right?  For most people, we get up, go to work, drink coffee, do work, drink more coffee, and wait for five to roll around.  Some days work is satisfying or even fulfilling for some.  And sometimes it can be fun.  But mostly, for most people, it’s just work. So let’s spice it up on National Fun at Work Day!  Plan to have everyone wear silly hats.  Have a themed day, like Hawaiian.  Decorate a little.  Have an office golf tourney over lunch break, or short rounds of marbles throughout the day on break time. 

It’s important to bring some fun into the work place.  Happy workers are more efficient, for one thing.  For another, stresses that work can cause can cause physical harm to you.  On a day-to day level, you can make work more fun or relaxing by adding little touches to your environment, be it picture frames, wacky desk accessories, or beautiful computer background.  Remember to take a break every hour or two just to get up and stretch for a moment.  It’ll help you relax and help increase important blood flow to your lower half.

January is National Braille Literacy Month!

Literacy—the ability to read and write—is vital to a successful education, career, and quality of life in today’s world. Whether in the form of curling up with a good book, jotting down a phone number, making a shopping list, or writing a report, being literate means participating effectively at home and in society. The text above comes from the American Foundation for the Blind.  Think about how often you read something – street signs, ATM keypads, emails, books, shopping lists… a hundred little things every day. 

According to Wikipedia, the US has a 99% literacy rate.  That means 99% of adults can read well enough to be functional. However, for many adults, vision is an obstacle to reading.  The US government considers an individual to be blind if they have “central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens…”  There are estimated to be 40 million people around the world who qualify as blind, though for many, their sight could be improved with medical treatment.  For those who are unable to read text, the options are limited to having it read or reading by touch – Braille.

Braille as we know it today is a system or raised dots that represent each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, and which can be read by fingertip.  It was developed by Louis Braille in the early 1800′s.  He himself was blinded as a young child and felt that a system of reading and writing for the blind could help create more equality between the visually impaired and the non-visually impaired.  Since Louis Braille developed the system as a teenager, it has been adapted into many languages, as well as for musical notation.  You will often find Braille labels on things like door numbers/signs and ATMs, and many books are printed in Braille.  Many restaurants even offer a braille version of their menus.   This system, now nearly 200 years old, has been an invaluable tool that has improved the education, communication, and lives of visually impaired people across the globe.

 

 

About IP Addresses

With all of the fuss over PIPA and SOPA in the news, you’ve probably heard the term “IP address” flying around. Here is a Wikipedia article on the topic- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act. And here is a video that discusses the issue further – http://vimeo.com/31100268.  It is the best simple explanation I’ve found.

An IP address is the “numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer, etc) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication.”  Basically, it is the numerical address every device is assigned when connected to the internet.  Your computer has an IP address.  So does the server this website is hosted on.  IP addresses are 32-bit strings, which look like four groups of 1-3 digits, separated by periods. 

In this system there are 4294967296 (2^32) possible unique addresses available.  However, this system (also known as IPv4) is starting to run out of available addresses. 

In fact, Europe’s internet registry is expected to run out of IPv4 addresses this summer, except for a small portion of numbers which are reserved for the transition.

Which transition?  The transition to IPv6, of course!  Most registries are expected to run out of new addresses in 2013 or 2014.  IPv6 – that’s internet protocol version six, by the by – uses 16 groups of digits instead of 4.  To transition, IPv4 addresses will be treated as if they have 12 sets of zeros which can be omitted. 

This past summer, several large names in the internet business, like Google, tested out IPv6 protocols successfully.  However, most ISPs (internet service providers, like Charter or ComCast) don’t yet support the new format.

 

How Does The Internet Work?

It’s hard to imagine the world as we know it without including the internet.   Commerce, communication, and even socialization have been irrevocably changed since the internet came to prominence. At the same time, for most people, the internet is just something that’s there for most people.  We take it for granted, particularly those of us who grew up with the internet.  Few people understand how the internet actually works – how we can access that information from home or a mobile device.

The internet depends upon both protocols and physical servers.  A server is essentially a computer that houses the files available on the internet.  For instance, a website is made up of files that include the images, art, text, etc…  All of those files are housed on a computer called a server that is connected to a network of other computers: the internet.

When you open a browser like internet explorer, firefox, or chrome and type in a web address, the browser looks for the files associated with the address.  A web address includes the domain name, plus any folders and files.  For example:   www.domain.com/folder_name/specific_page_file

Each domain has some records associated with it.  The first of those records is the WHOIS record.  That record includes contact information on the owner of the domain.  The next record is the name server or NS record.  The NS record tells your browser which server to find certain other records on.  Those records are the A and MX records, and they are contained within a file called a DNS zone file.  The A records tell your browser where to find the actual site files.  The MX record describes where any associated email accounts are housed.  So, to sum up:

  1. You type in a web address.
  2. Your browser looks for the domain and finds the associated NS record.
  3. The NS record directs your browser to a file that has directions to the site files.
  4. Those directions, the A records, take you to the actual site files, where they are housed on a server.
  5. Your browser then displays the site to you.

All of that takes seconds or less.  Isn’t that amazing?

Portable Electricity

Electricity revolutionized the world.  Generally, we think of wall current when we think about electricity, am I right?  But a whole number of items depend upon wire-free electricity, stored and delivered by batteries. From cars, to flashlights, to life-saving medical devices, batteries offer portable electricity. 

There are many kinds of batteries, but they all function in the same general way. The batteries store chemical energy which is turned into electricity in what is called an electro-chemical reaction when connected to a device. I won’t go into the details of how the batteries work, but suffice it to say that chemical stuff does its thing and makes power happen.

Most batteries are made with zinc, copper, lithium, and the like. However, new, alternative power sources have been under investigation in recent years. Batteries can be created from anything that will create the necessary electro-chemical reaction. In 2007, researchers were able to create a battery that ran on blood, which provides electrolytes for the chemical reaction. Similar batteries have been created that run on sports drinks, sweat, and even urine. 

The newest advance in battery technology was made by Sony. They recently announced that they had created a battery that runs on cellulose — recycled paper and cardboard, or any other wood-based product. An enzyme causes the cellulose to decompose into glucose. The glucose sugar combines with oxygen and some other enzymes, which yields electrons and hydrogen ions, which in turn generate electricity. By-products are eco-friendly, making this whole process very green.

Unfortunately, it is nowhere near ready for commercial use.  The batteries simply aren’t powerful enough, but huge strides are being made.