Tag Archives: computers

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?

Where the tablet falls flat

Today I stumbled across an interesting
article
about iPads, which I rather agreed with. These are fun little toys,
and work great for casual surfing on the go. You can even check your email, if
you use a compatible account.

There are downsides aplenty, of course. The most discussed
short-fallings are things like lack of Flash support, or sheer adaptability.
Flash is necessary to many web applications like video. iPads come with iOS and
are strictly regulated, as far as things like compatibility with third-party
applications, programs, and software. To make an iPad (or even iPhone) do many
of the things Android tablets do, users must “jailbreak
them.

Leaving all the software short-comings aside, the obvious failing
of an iPad — or any tablet, for that matter — is the lack of physical
controls.

Like many users, I have been impressed with the predictive text
software on an iPad. This makes it significantly easier to use. However,
sometimes an otherwise innocuous typo, caused by the smoothness of the screen
and less-than-Olympic level accuracy, is auto-corrected into something
completely ridiculous. Oft-times, it is also difficult to navigate on a tablet
due to some combination of the webpage or app you are looking at and the way
the gestures are intended to work.

Although I am easily classified into the “digital
generation” and grew up with technology, I also have to put myself in the
“old-fashioned” camp that longs for a tactile keyboard for anything
other than “casual” surfing.

 

Google Plus

Google is the number one search engine.  When they roll out algorithm updates, it shakes the SEO world and everyone scrambles to catch up.  Adwords and Analytics are household names in the web industry, like how most disposable adhesive bandages are automatically referred to by the brand name Band Aid.

In the past, Google’s forays into the world of social media have been pretty un-spectacular.  Now, however, they have started to release what may well be a game-changer.  Google+ is a social networking application for PC or mobile that brings all of the best features of sites like Facebook and combines then with the Google innovation and resources.  Tying in to their array of currently available services, this new product is currently available through invitation only.  This makes it more desirable and allows the early-adapters to get the hang of it before it becomes widely used.  It also allows Google to respond in real-time to any concerns from users.  I found in my research a couple of places where users had made suggestions and replied a day or so later, thanking Google for actually responding – something many people have despaired of in regards to Facebook for ages.  (Internet ages of course, something like several months or a year in the real world, I suppose.)

The down side to the invitation only releases of Google+ is that a social networking site can only get so far if only a fraction of your social network has it.  If no one you know is no it, the only draw is the novelty – there is no practicality until it becomes more widely used.  That same factor was probably the largest downfall of Google Wave, discussed in my previous post.  Every network has to start out with only a few users, however.  The bigger question is whether Google+ will be able to over take or co-exist with Facebook, as Facebook was able to do with MySpace.  (In related news, I have heard rumors that Justin Timberlake recently was involved in a buy-out of MySpace, with plans to revamp it largely as a music sharing site.)

Some distinctive features of Google + include:

  • Circles.  Rather than a post going out to everyone you know and then some, you will be able to filter your posts and feeds by your social circles – work colleagues, family, friends from school, friends from *insert hobby here*, etc…
  • Sparks.  I haven’t used Google+ yet, but it sounds like this feature includes things you’re likely to be interested in in your stream without requiring that you go out and find it first.  It also allows you to connect with others with similar interests.
  • Hangouts.  This features allows you to jump into a video conference when you feel like it, “stopping by,” effectively.  This allows multiple users to swing in and out of video chats as they are available and smoothly shows all the webcams.  Don’t have a webcam?  Get one.  Or get an awesome, rugged, portable laptop that comes standard with a great one built in.
  • Mobile Upload.  Google+ allows you to sign up for a service that automatically adds pictures to a private album in the cloud so that you can post them anytime any where without the hassle of uploading.
Will these features be enough to push Google+ past the shiny-and-new-and-exclusive stage of its current popularity?  That remains to be seen, but there are rumors and comments indicating that there may be a multitude of extra new features in the works, including shared games directly on the networking service, among other things.  I for one am anxiously awaiting an invitation from my early-adopter friends.  

More Hacking News

Lists are fun!

  • Hacking can be good or bad, white hat or black hat.
  • Many of the “rogue” hacking groups lately gaining media attention are “grey” hat.  They aren’t out solely to take advantage for their own gain, but they also are not working for companies or governments to help patch security flaws.
  • LulzSec, discussed in a previous post, hacks “for the lulz.”  They sometimes maliciously steal information and disperse it to the “Twitter Horde” to use as they will, but they also sometimes use their powers for good – exposing individuals who view or purchase child pornography and stealing their information in order to make their lives more difficult, for instance.
  • LulzSec has also been releasing documentation lately illustrating that they have been alerting organizations to their security flaws and giving a grace period before attacking.  They are actively forcing companies and organizations to close their security gaps.
  • Other “grey hat” hacking includes hacking that is neither malicious nor done to benefit others, like hacking the Microsoft Kinnect to do interesting things.
  • The future of hacking promises to be exciting to say the least.  While the actual volume of hacking has not increased, it is becoming more publicized.  Additionally, the technologies at work are increasing and changing all the time.  Bill Gates has said that the future of hacking is in biology – learning the code of genetics well enough to manipulate or replicate in technology.
  • The future of hacking seems to be of growing interest to many.  The first-ever Defcon Kid’s conference is being held in Nevada this, and focuses on young and aspiring hackers, teaching the to use their powers of inquisitiveness for good.  Word has it that the ever-secretive NSA (National Security Agency) will be scouting young talent, as will many other organizations.

Germs….ew

The last few days, I’ve been doing research on germs (ewwwww) and bacteria and the like.  I am officially considering germaphobia as a life choice.  Although, really, that seems like a lot more effort that I would want to put forth.  Anyways, here is some of what I’ve learned.  (Those with children in school may not want to read the following.)

Forty percent of parents say that they have sent their children sick to school in the last year.  That is a lot of sick kids running around in school.  In fact, in Minnesota, where we are located, thirty-two schools have reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness in the last week alone.  That includes only cases of illness that were reported.  There have also been more than thirty hospitalizations and one death in MN in the last week due to the flu.  In a report from England, the median length of stay in a hospital for influenza was over 10 days. Ten days of serious hospitalization!   In the US, thirty-five percent of children under five who contract the flu suffer from serious complications.

The average American child will have 6.5 colds a year, and each will last three to five days. One person each second catches the common cold in the US alone.  Children are more than twice as likely as adults to contract a cold.  This is because as adults, we have had many of these strains of colds before and our bodies have immunities built up.  We don’t get sick as often, because we got sick a lot in the past.

Parents – ready for the scary stuff?
Seventy percent of classrooms are not regularly disinfected by custodians.  Classrooms are the number one workplace for germs.  Contrary to popular belief, floors and toilets are some of the cleanest surfaces in school.  The yuckiest include desktops, paper towel dispensers, water fountains, and computers.  A keyboard actually has on average three times the concentration of bacteria as an animal cage.  Bacteria found on the above listed surfaces include high concentrations of e. coli, pneumonia, streptococcus, salmonella, and staph.   Some of these bacteria can live for days and even grow if left unchecked.  Even disinfecting can be tricky, as the more effective products must be left on a surface for approximately ten minutes - hardly practical on computer equipment and between classes.  And its important to disinfect throughout the day when items are in use almost constantly; tests have shown that germs build rapidly throughout the day,.   In one tested environment, influenza A was found on 13% of surfaces in the morning and on 50% by afternoon.  An even more startling statistic – at least for me: only 58% of girls and 48% of boys in high school wash their hands after using the lavatory.


Are you as freaked out as I am?

Some solutions include seals for keyboards and mice that can be sanitized, placing hand sanitizer at every doorway in schools, and washing, washing, washing of hands.

But still.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!  Do we all recognize the stunning cartoon to the left?  No?  But it’s Carl Sagan! Amazing astronomer of great renown.  He was a huge part  of the space program, made great discoveries about the universe and solar system, and starred in the awesome mashup music video below.  Carl Sagan also has the dubious honor of being featured in my new favorite Valentine, as you may have noticed.

In other space-related news, spacecraft Stardust is making a historical second fly by of a comet. Twelve years ago it was the first spacecraft to collect dust particles from a comet.  Now, it will be flying past a second comet, with only a cup of fuel left, to take pictures of a man-made crater.  This is the first time one comet has ever been studied by two different spacecraft.
Other items of interest:
  • Since 1986, more than 295 billion gigabytes of data have been stored.  In case you were wondering, thats a whole lot.
  • Playstation hops on the mobile tech bandwagon with a new smartphone that will feature 50 games, including the popular Splinter Cell, Guitar Hero, Assassin’s Creed, and more.
  • A new human-aware computer is taking on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, both champions, on a special episode of Jeopardy airing tonight.  Jennings commented at a press conference, “One of the first things I thought was, ‘This time, I’m not just playing to pay my mortgage or something, or to feed my kid’s college fund, I’m actually sort of representing 7 billion human beings against our new machine tyrants.’”
  • Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry smart phone, are releasing a new tablet, the Playbook, which will function on three different 4G networks.  This can be contrasted to the super-popular iPad, which is not yet available for the faster 4G.
  • Our new software bundles are in!  Each bundle contains five titles, which in turn contain fun and educational games or programs.Look for these up on the website soon!

My Mom is on Facebook

I was having a hard time coming up with a topic to write about today, so I took to browsing the internet – my solution to a wide variety of quandaries.   Among ideas like “Great things about my community” and “When I feel frustrated…,” I found this topic.  It’s true.  My mother is on Facebook (all the time).  My Grandmother has a Facebook, too.  And my Grandfather.  My mom’s best friend. My best friend’s mom.   My aunt.  My elementary school office lady.  While Facebook definitely began as a network for peers, it has grown into so much more.  Facebook has five hundred million active users.  500,000,000. On any given day, half of those users log on.
It is not just the younger generation surfing the net these days.  While older users are busily learning the ins and outs of the world wide web, they are also learning how to interface with the hardware that gets them there.  For a lot of these users, however, this presents problems.  They may have never learned to type, and hunt-and-peck for every letter.  They may not have the eyesight to read the monitor or the keyboard.  Arthritis may make typing or even using a mouse increasingly difficult.
That’s where some basic assistive technology devices come in.  For virtually every stumbling block to access, there is a tool to get past it.  Chester Creek specializes in this arena.  We are here to offer you, your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your mom’s best friend, your best friend’s mom, your aunt, and your elementary school office lady everything we can, to help you do what you want to do with a computer, from typing away on email correspondence to hitting level 47 on Farmville.  Come stop by the Creek and take a look around; I can virtually guarantee there is something you will look at and say “That would be perfect for ___!”
And speaking of Grandmothers, happy birthday to our favorite pay-roll/accountant/accounts payable/accounts receivable lady, Karen!

Introducing TextSpeak!

“As technology has come to play an increasingly important role in the lives of all persons in the United States, in the conduct of business, in the functioning of government, in the fostering of communication, in the conduct of commerce, and in the provision of education, its impact upon the lives of the more than 50,000,000 individuals with disabilities in the United States has been comparable to its impact upon the remainder of the citizens of the United States. Any development in mainstream technology would have profound implications for individuals with disabilities in the United States.”

(Findings and Purposes, Assistive Technology Act of 1998, Finding 3)

We are so happy to be introducing our newest assistive technology product to you today!  This is a collaborative effort that we have been working on for a while, to bring you TextSpeak through Chester Creek.


TextSpeak is a perfect on-the-go AAC (AlternativeAugmentative Communication) solution.  This intelligent text generating speaker and keyboard combo creates speech anywhere, right at your fingertips, and paired with any of our Chester Creek keyboards, including our large-print and large-key keyboards, allows individuals with speech impairment to be heard.  Great for students who need unlimited vocabulary, TextSpeak works right out of the box, can be programmed to male or female voices, and has 30 programmable phrases.  Small, light, and portable, TextSpeak is also an item you can throw in a backpack or purse for use as needed in social or work situations, and works from both battery and AC power sources.

A perfect on-the-go AAC (AlternativeAugmentative Communication) solution.
Instant on, no setup, low cost and simple to use
Light and portable. AC and battery powered
Available with Male and Female voices
Unlimited vocabulary
Talks as you type
No PC required
Speech generating using DSP based Text to Speech
Works right out of the box
30 programmable phrases


Use with your choice of Chester Creek keyboards to better suit your needs.
• VisionBoard Black (pictured)
• Wireless VB’s
• MyBoard-lc
• MyBoard-UC
• LearningBoard (Black or white)
• LessonBoard
• ReaderBoard
Specifications:
• Size: 5.3” L x 4” W x 1.5” H
• 9 volt AC Adapter
• Battery, 9V Alkaline
• Battery life (est.) 100+ hours based on 10 minutes/hour use
• Instruction manual
• Text Speak one (1) year warranty
• VisionBoard six (6) year warranty

As always,

“Maybe next week…”

“We’ll have to work on that. Sometime soon. Maybe next week.”

This morning we’re in a bit of a rush to get things done before heading out. We’ll be at the Holiday Center in Duluth all week, from 11-2. Come visit us, and check out the great deals. We’ve got 15% off our FunKeyBundle, and we’re picking up the sales tax on all of our items for in-person sales. This week only!

G’Day!

Watch out Australia; Here we come! Chester Creeks’ full line of products is now available to our pals in the land down under. Check out Spectronics to order products in Australia and New Zealand.

Can you tell how excited we are about this?