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A summer storm leaves thousands of gadget-addicted techies scrambling to find a power for their devices. Mac users discover they’re being charged higher rates on a popular travel site. The Computer Guys and Gal are back with the latest in tech news.
- Bill Harlow WAMU Computer Guy; and Hardware & Software Technician for MACs & PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc.
- John Gilroy WAMU Computer Guy; and Director of Business Development, Armature Corporation
- Allison Druin WAMU Computer Gal; ADVANCE Professor of the STEM Senior Women's Council & Co-Director of the Future of Information Alliance, University of Maryland
Tech Tuesday Video
In this Tech Tuesday segment, the Computer Guys and Gal share tips for staying connected during power outages. Kojo asked what equipment everyone should have on hand when the electricity goes out. University of Maryland professor Allison Druin suggested several solar and battery powered options. Bill Harlow, hardware and software technician at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, said he kept in touch by using the data plans on his personal devices, such as his iPad.
Computer Guys And Gal Picks
Tech tips for staying connected during power outages in an age of gadget dependency. Plus, travel solutions, beach-proof gear and the virtual economy of games.
Is that laptop scorching your lap? A few tricks to cool off that device:
1: Adjust your power settings from “high performance” to a more balanced or power saver plan.
2: Use dust remover spray to clean the laptop’s vents.
3: Keep your working environment or computer room as comfortably cool as possible.
4: Shut down your computer when it’s not in use, and especially when you’re not at home.
Weather impacts and time shifts
The digital economy
Power outage preparation
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFirst Tuesday of the month, that sweltering slow jam can only mean one thing.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's The Computer Guys and Gal on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" from WAMU 88.5, connecting your neighborhood with the world. The Computer Guys and Gal, they're here to explore technology when the lights go out. More than a million people spent the last few days in triple-digit temperatures with no electricity, among them, a gadget addicted computer guy named Bill Harlow. When Bill's landline died, he cursed the gods that he had bundled his phone service with his TV and Internet.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhen his cellphone didn't work, he second-guessed himself for choosing a company with awful coverage, but he eventually got himself back on to the grid using his 4G iPad as a hotspot. Now, The Computer Guys and Gal are here to offer tech lessons learned from the blackout, the digital derecho, if you will.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're also exploring why...
MR. BILL HARLOWYeah.
MR. JOHN GILROYNicely done.
NNAMDIWe're also exploring why Mac users are being charged more money for hotels on a popular travel website and how Google decided to build its own device, the Nexus Q, and manufacture it right here in the U.S. of A. Joining us in studio, Allison Druin. She is ADVANCE professor of the STEM Senior Women's Council and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at University of Maryland. She's our computer gal. Hi, Allison. Welcome back.
PROF. ALLISON DRUINThank you.
NNAMDIBill Harlow is computer guy and hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid Atlantic Consulting, Inc. Have you been any place? You don't have to be welcomed back, do you?
NNAMDIShe's been traveling.
HARLOWNo, I was just here. I'd like to point out that when my car...
NNAMDIHe hasn't left since last month.
HARLOWWhen my car went out, I want the FCC to know I cursed nobody.
NNAMDIWell, the FCC now knows this because they monitor everything, except...
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy, they don't care what he says.
NNAMDI...is our computer guy and director of business development at ARMATURE Corp. You can join the conversation with your questions at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet at #TechTuesday or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. Bill Harlow, like over a million people in this region, you went without power over the weekend. You encountered firsthand the hazards of bundling your landline with your cable and Internet. How did the power outage affect the Harlow household?
HARLOWWell, with FiOS, they send the phone over the optical cable, and that requires power. So there's a little box in my basement that has a battery backup, but that only lasts you, you know, what, eight to 10 hours and after that, no phones. And, of course, when generators eventually go down for the cellphone towers, that means no cellphone to rely on as a backup. Even when I could use a cellphone, the circuits were all overloaded, so I actually found that the data plan in my iPad -- it's a Verizon 4G iPad -- that was the most reliable way for me to stay in touch.
HARLOWAnd in general, I found data on my devices to be the best way to go. So I used that as a hotspot for my phone, a hotspot for my laptop. I was on Twitter. I was checking on Facebook. I was emailing using Apple's iMessage 'cause that uses the data plan, but, yeah, no voice for me.
NNAMDIHow can a storm -- it's amazing that you were able to do all of that. What was the life of the battery on your iPad?
HARLOWWell, it's -- I want to say that I probably got about 10 hours out of it, which is pretty good considering that I spent about an hour and a half of that streaming "Downton Abbey," so I could finish that when we lost power.
GILROYWe have priorities here.
HARLOWHigh priorities. I'm not worried about spoiling food. I'm worried about finishing my shows on Netflix.
DRUINOh, oh, my goodness.
NNAMDIHow can a storm in Northern Virginia prevent people from streaming a movie in Texas or posting an edited photo in California? The riddle apparently comes down to Amazon and a service called elastic cloud computer.
HARLOWRight. So they've got a data center in, I think, Ashburn, Va.
GILROYSecret no one can know, secret place.
HARLOWExactly. And it's funny 'cause, you know, most people think of Amazon, thinking I'm going to buy books or whatever online and have it shipped to me next day for $3, you know, something ridiculous like that. But, you know, logistically, it takes a lot to power their services, and I guess, they also figured, well, we could sell a lot of this. We're going to get into the cloud storage business.
HARLOWAnd now, you know, they've got all this stuff on Kindle as well. So companies like Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, they rely on this elastic cloud computing as storage for them. You know, it's resold by Amazon to them, and a lot of other companies use Amazon for this as well. So when the data center in Ashburn gets affected, a lot of companies, you know, associate with Amazon, go down, and, you know, it's all tied to that one failure point.
GILROYAnd I think this is the real issue. I know there's trees down in Bethesda, and everyone can't go to the store. That's the -- but, really, the problem here is that Amazon had a downtime in April. They had it June 14 and then again. And so this isn't unexpected. It's going to happen. And some people are looking at Amazon going, get with the program. There are companies who paid for the elasticity, for the load balancing between the servers -- among the servers would be a better phrase -- and it didn't work.
GILROYSo let's go back to that architect there, the big dog, Werner Vogel, over at Amazon, the West Coast, and say, hey, buddy, if you don't straighten up, Google is going to come in and Microsoft is coming. And Microsoft is dying to come in here and win.
HARLOWIn their defense, my "Downton Abbey" stream did finish.
NNAMDIHow did you make out during the storm and its aftermath with your tech equipment, your battery-powered mobile equipment? Was it helpful to you? 800-433-8850. Tell us how you used innovation with your tech equipment to help you through the difficult times. 800-433-8850. And hindsight is 20-20, Allison. What tech equipment should everyone have when the lights go out?
DRUINYeah. I mean, this is amazing. We live in a wonderful area here in the Washington, D.C. area. But I think we can now safely say you have to plan that some part of your life, either in the winter or in the summer, you're going to need power. And you're not going to get it, so you...
NNAMDIThree times a year in this area.
DRUINThat's a Third World country. So I was looking around, saying, OK, we're -- time to prepare in advance, OK?
DRUINAnd I found portable solar power, OK? I thought that was totally cool because, you know, let's face it, we do have a lot of sun around here, OK? And so I found something that is NPower Pack, OK? And it's not only can you, you know, use the sun's rays, and in six hours, it converts it into usable power and so on, but it also has AC/DC power. It has a USB port. And besides actually powering your mobile phone or your laptop, it has a light. It has a radio, and it has insect repellant. Isn't that exciting?
NNAMDIEspecially the insect repellant, yes.
DRUINI'm totally excited about this. And so four to five hours of insect repellant, as well as radio and light, or you can be calling Bill on the phone and say, hey, Bill, you've got no power. Anyway, so, you know, so that's one way to go in terms of, you know, solar power, and then there's also battery-powered kinds of things with iGo and a few other ones. And, you know, yes, you'll just, like, eat a lot of batteries, double AA batteries, but that may be a way to go. But I would suggest to everyone, including myself -- Ben, do you hear this? -- we are buying a lot of portable power because I'm done with this.
NNAMDIHere is Nora in Silver Spring, Md. Nora, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NORAHi. Yeah. I just wanted to say that that I was grateful to have a car during this time because I got -- I had my electric charger in my car and (unintelligible)...
HARLOWThat's the answer.
GILROYYou have a power inverter.
NORA...and everything else. And that really helped. So whenever we were low on juice, we'd just go out and drive around for a little bit and...
HARLOWThat's an expensive way to charge a phone, though, isn't it?
NNAMDII could see the neighbors saying, ever since the storm hit, Nora has been driving around and around...
NNAMDI...the block. What the heck is she doing?
GILROYShe's casing the neighborhood.
GILROYShe's casing the neighborhood.
NNAMDISo, Nora, that worked out for you, huh?
NNAMDIThat worked out for you, using your car charger.
NORAYeah. Sorry, say again.
NNAMDINora, we were just agreeing with you, that you did a good thing.
NORAOh, OK. That's cool. OK, cool.
NNAMDIThanks a lot. You, too, can call us. What tech is indispensable for you when the lights go out? 800-433-8850. We've got an email from Scott who says, "I have Verizon FiOS service in Fairfax County, and after our power went out, I started up a generator and included my FiOS battery backup unit and router among the items powered by the generator. With this setup, I had Internet service.
NNAMDI"I didn't get around to trying the TV, but I never had a phone dial tone. I reported my power outage on the phone on Friday night, so it was working then, but the service didn't even appear to last the eight hours advised by the battery backup documentation. Even after power was restored on Sunday a.m., the FiOS phone line was dead until late afternoon. And even after the dial tone returned, I found I couldn't make calls consistently, nor could I receive them.
NNAMDI"I would be curious to know if traditional Verizon landline customers, you know, non-FiOS, experienced the same issues. I think that the issues that caused the Fairfax County 911 system failure might also have affected Verizon's FiOS phone service. I don't know. Does anyone else?"
HARLOWI remember trying to call other people with conventional landlines. I couldn't get through. So I just don't know if it's just an issue of overloading the circuits or not.
DRUINWe actually -- no. Actually, we were fine, and we had -- and Ben did the same thing you did. Ages ago, my husband basically, yes, let's put everything on one, you know, FiOS...
DRUINAnd we were absolutely fine, so -- but now, my cellphone kept dropping nonstop, my AT&T cell...
NNAMDIEverybody else does that.
DRUINOh, yes. So I gave up, so I was making landline calls.
GILROYWhat's a landline?
NNAMDIDoes it make sense to bundle if you live in a place with a tendency to suffer power outages?
DRUINI think not.
DRUINIt's just it's really silly.
HARLOWWell, I guess, it all depends, right? Because, you know, is the outage the reason that you couldn't get through? Is it the phones being overloaded? There are other factors, too. But I'd say that, if you are going to bundle, know what you're getting into. And maybe if you look outside your house and see that all of the power lines are above ground, maybe consider alternatives.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Arlington, Va. Chris, your turn.
CHRISYes. I remember getting a call about a few minutes before the storm rolled in. My dad was calling from Baltimore, saying, hey, really nasty storm is coming in, and, you know, just to be, you know, heed my warning. I really didn't pay much attention to it. I noticed my phone had about 6 percent left on my iPhone. And, yeah, so the storm came in, definitely lost power. And I've lived in Africa for two years with the Peace Corps and definitely did not have electricity for two years.
CHRISAnd all day Saturday, I felt like I stepped back into a time portal and scrambling, looking for power. So I just happened to sit down in my darkened garage for about an hour just to get my iPhone completely charged. But, yeah, so my iPad definitely justified the $500 cost for reading all the books and everything (unintelligible).
CHRISBut, no, I felt like I stepped back into time in, you know, 110-degree weather and no electricity, nothing but to do and read.
NNAMDILet's step back for a second. Your father called you to tell you...
CHRISYeah. He called me...
NNAMDI...to pay attention to it, and you didn't.
CHRISI didn't. I was like, oh, whatever. I'll just get back to watching some Bill Maher on Friday night. But what I really should have done is...
CHRIS...loaded up some movies on my iPad, but I guess, you know...
NNAMDIYou know, I can hear your father saying...
CHRIS…went ahead and did the smart thing anyway…
NNAMDI...I'll never call that fool Chris again in my life.
NNAMDIBut, Chris, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Also wanting to share with us is Matt in Bethesda, Md. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHey, Kojo. I love the show. Thanks so much for always doing it.
MATTI had a question. I -- my Wi-Fi went out, and I was connecting to the Internet using a 3G iPhone 4.
MATTAnd the experience I had was that early on in everything that was going on, it was pretty easy to connect. But then there was a point on Saturday when I just couldn't get online at all, you know, which, you know, you'd expect with a big disaster. But I was wondering if there was a finite amount of bandwidth or finite amount of server power and if those faster devices would start to crowd out the access of other people, people streaming video and stuff on high-powered devices, if they would sort of crowd out the access of the less powerful phones.
NNAMDIPeople who wanted to watch the end of movies, for instance.
HARLOWYeah, or I was gonna say, streaming…
HARLOWI'm sorry about that. That was my fault.
GILROYYou're a digital bully.
HARLOWI am a digital bully. I mean, I imagine that...
HARLOWI imagine that there's two different things going on here, right? There's the, you know, just the overall capacity of how much data they can get through reliably and then the capacity of how many wireless devices they can have on the cellphone towers. And in my case, my Verizon iPhone uses a completely different network, really different spectrum than, let's say, an AT&T iPhone over 3G. So I don't if, you know, what I was doing necessarily affected you. I mean, there are so many other factors we don't know regarding, you know, what's going on with the networks, what's going with the cellphone towers.
GILROYYou know, I met a guy yesterday with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. We need to bring him in...
GILROY...and he probably can figure out. It's a very complex problem.
HARLOWI mean, looking at my phone, I had no data on my AT&T iPhone for most of Friday and Saturday. Then I would see blips of EDGE. And then I was hanging out with my sister-in-law, and their power came on around -- soon after that, I got a 3G signal on my iPhone 4S. So, you know, there are a lot of other factors outside of that. I can't say for sure what was crowding you out, but I would be willing to bet it wasn't just other people using their phones or devices.
NNAMDIMatt, thank you very much for your call. A lot of people experienced this storm in an interesting 21st century way. They didn't get a call from their fathers like Chris. They knew it was coming because of Twitter. Is the experience of extreme weather changing now that we are able to stay in contact all the time? Are more people aware of what's happening without having to either listen to the radio or watch television, you think, Allison?
DRUINWell, it's interesting. Intel just recently did a study on tech for traveling, OK, and taking a look at, you know, how much connection anxiety people have and how much do they factor in all of their technology as they're going. You know, do they have outlet outrage, you know, that kind of thing?
DRUINAnd it turns out that -- and what they call -- they talked to 2,500 participants, and about a little over 40 percent of them essentially said they just can't do without their technology, knowing about Twitter, knowing about, you know, being able to use social media, going -- sending things back home. And some people said that they would even leave behind shoes and clothes and just to take technology. And, you know, now, Intel was doing this...
NNAMDISome people said they had a greater fear of losing their mobile device than of losing their wedding ring.
DRUINI know. Is that interesting? Well, I mean, part of it...
NNAMDIHey, I don't know what's important.
HARLOWWell, my wedding ring doesn't get good reception, so...
DRUINYeah. Well, that wedding ring is actually more securely fastened to your body than your cellphone now (unintelligible) about that.
HARLOWI'm working on that.
DRUINYeah, but I can tell you about another thing that might help you with that. But, anyway, but it is interesting because 87 percent of the young adults surveyed said yes. They were happier going on vacation tech-connected than if they weren't tech-connected.
GILROYPew Research says 500 million active users of Twitter. It's just exploded, and I come up with this hashtag, #DigitalDerecho because that's what is. And you can follow me @raygilroy, and we'll talk about the digital derecho.
HARLOWYeah, some other people worth following, too, if there's another outage is Dominion Virginia Power, NOVEC and Pepco. They've all got Twitter feeds. So if you're kind of curious, you can go to, like, @DomVAPower, @NOVEC and @PepcoConnect, and that's another way to keep tabs on these guys.
GILROYD-O-M or D-A-M-M?
NNAMDII'm not sure you're allowed to say Pepco on the airwaves anymore.
DRUINYeah, that's a dirty word.
NNAMDII think it's a four-letter word.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue with The Computer Guys and Gal. If you've called, stay on the line. Send us a tweet at #TechTuesday, email to email@example.com or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's The Computer Guys and Gal. Bill Harlow is a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid Atlantic Consulting, Inc. Allison Druin is ADVANCE professor of the STEM Senior Women's Council and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland, and John Gilroy is director of business development at Armature Corp. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. John, can an app or an algorithm figure out how much money I have charge me a different rate on my vacation?
NNAMDICompanies are amassing huge amounts of information about us and figuring out how to tailor offers and services directly to customers in a personalized way. Sometimes, it works to our advantage, but the folks at The Wall Street Journal found out that the popular travel website Orbitz has been using that data to charge certain computer users more money for identical services? Or, put another way, why is Bill Harlow paying more for his vacations than I am?
GILROYI'll never forget. Years ago, once, I had my car jumped, and it was 20 bucks. And so I was in office and one of the guys in the office called the same gas station and said he needed the car jumped. They said, what kind of car is it? A Mercedes, 40 bucks.
NNAMDIYeah, I can get you jumped for 10 bucks, but go ahead.
GILROYBut people like Bill, throwing money around, coming over here in a limousine, and $100 bills hanging out of his pockets. I mean, he's got gold bars he throws at people, filthy rich. They figure out he's a Macintosh user and goes, oh, boy. For you, it's $40 for the jump.
HARLOWWhat they soon realize, as a Mac user, I spend all this money on gadgets. I actually sleep in my car.
GILROYBut you have 4G.
NNAMDISo the algorithms, still, in general, Mac users are more well (word?) than the rest of us?
HARLOWThat is what all the studies show, and I think it might be true. Here we live in, you know, Washington, D.C. I think Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest counties in the -- on the United States. Richest parts of the planet are, you know, probably in here is just regular, but I think nationally -- I think this is -- it brings to mind the general question about how much information companies are gathering on you and what they can use, what they can't use and how much information are people willingly giving them especially, you know, these people under 18 just giving everything.
GILROYWell, you mention the area we live in, too, and I wonder if they'll, you know, do other things, too, look at your zip code and see how desirable a zip code of this. OK, let's highlight the nice hotels for these people, too.
NNAMDIAllison, is this kind of a dark side of big data?
DRUINWell, it is and it's not because, you know, there -- Google just announced something called Google Now which is part of Jelly Bean -- I like that name -- Android 4.0 -- 4.1, Jelly Bean. And, actually -- so by giving all that sort of predictive information to your applications, Google Now actually can remind you about appointments and knows your preferences so that you know you prefer to actually take mass transportation as opposed to car.
DRUINAnd it'll tell you how, you know, how soon in advance you have to prepare to leave and, you know, that kind of stuff. So, you know, big data can be really helpful, but it is a little scary. There, you know, there is the dark side, and there is the good side. And we have to decide which we, you know, which we see for both and decide which is best for you.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you mentioned Google Now because, back in the day, whenever we thought about the year 2012, people assumed we'd all have jetpacks, hover cars.
NNAMDIMost of those fantastical ideas have never panned out...
GILROY"Back to the Future."
NNAMDI...which might be why everyone seems to be so geeked out by another Google project called Glass a.k.a Google Goggles.
NNAMDIRemind us what Google Glass is and what we're beginning to learn about this project.
DRUINWell, this was another one of the big announcements last week. Google came out with, like, you know, a million announcements last week. You could get totally lost in all the announcements they made. But this one is -- just say to yourself, imagine for the moment that you could see the world through somebody else's eyes -- and preferably not John's, OK...
DRUIN...but in real time, OK?
DRUINAnd imagine they decide to go skydiving. You know, like, Bill maybe wants to go skydiving, and so he puts on these glasses, and you can really see what it's like to be a skydiver. And so, sure enough, that's what Google did in their announcement of Google Glass, and these are, you know, these spunky glasses and...
HARLOWThat's one way to put it.
DRUINYeah, spunky-looking glasses, 1,500 bucks, you know, instead of getting your next...
GILROYChump change for Bill. Buy two pair.
DRUIN...instead of getting your next laptop, you know, a small price to pay for the future. But it is -- it's not going to ship until early next year. But it -- they did an amazing demo that sent developers crazy because, you know, look, there have been goggles out for a while, but they've been clunky, they've been -- they haven't been really real-time reliable. And this is -- it looks like they're making a consumer product that's a possibility.
HARLOWAnd it's also one more data point for Google to -- I mean, if they're seeing what you're seeing, I guarantee they're analyzing that data.
GILROYAnd soak that all up.
HARLOWWhether it's facial recognition or OCR, optical character recognition, just all these ways so they can gather more data, one more of our senses that is now tied in to Google.
GILROYAnd here's a hotel you can go to, Bill, that has skydiving built in.
HARLOWCan't afford it.
DRUINI'm ready to skydive. I was watching a video, and that's pretty cool.
NNAMDIOn to the phones again, see how people have been making out with their technology during lights out. Here is Sue in Herndon, Va. Sue, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUEHi, Kojo. Yeah, I was in the middle of reading and was previously dragged kicking and screaming into the e-reader age, but...
NNAMDIYes, probably by Allison.
GILROYShe does that.
DRUINLove it. I love it.
SUEWell, the lights went out when I was in the middle of reading. And I pushed my light on my Simple Touch, and it came on. And then, realizing that I had no transistor radio, I had no flashlight, I used my e-reader to go downstairs...
SUE...and see -- so I could see where...
SUEIt was my flashlight.
SUESo I say my e-reader saved the day.
NNAMDIYou give new meaning to the term can't put a book down.
NNAMDIThis is very good, so thank you very much for sharing that with us.
SUEThank you. Bye-bye.
NNAMDIOn now to Vincent in Greenbelt, Md. Vincent, your turn.
VINCENTOh, thank you. Hi, Kojo and friends. This is Vince, a long-time listener, first-time caller. You have to excuse me. I've only heard part of the show, if I'm repeating something somebody else said. My girlfriend just went to Machu Picchu for two weeks. So I got really thinking about how to keep her powered up and connected, and here's what's worked for me. What just came on the market is a cell and device charger that takes four AA batteries, (unintelligible) for lithium batteries.
VINCENTAnd it's got a female standard USB port, so you can plug almost any USB thing into that and charge almost anything up. It works really quickly. So she can be in the middle of the jungle and, you know, charge up her cellphone, you know, if she has coverage. You know, so that just works wonderfully. You know, I was going to send her out there with a little solar panel or one of these USB Power Pucks, but then how do you power a USB Power Puck? You can't plug into a, you know, into a tree or something.
VINCENTBut what else we sent her out there, you know, yeah. So what else we sent her out there was with a SPOT Connect. There's a model of SPOT, you know, which is a GPS device called Connect.
VINCENTAnd you can just send messages. You can even update your Facebook with the thing. You send messages out to your friends saying, hey, I'm OK. And you can send -- you can drop electronic breadcrumbs so they can know where you're at with -- and she actually sent messages from -- and that was just awesome.
VINCENTAnd, you see, what else we've been using is -- oh, what I use at home -- OK, this doesn't have to do with being out in the middle, you know, of nowhere. But what I use at home, I've got one of those car chargers you can jump your own car with, except it's got two female 9-volt battery chargers in it. So, you know, if all my power goes out, I can just...
VINCENTI could just use those and power up, you know, my laptop or my devices for days. I mean...
NNAMDISounds like you've got a variety of options. Bill, it's my understanding that the Apple app store also has a bunch of flashlight apps, which use the flash in your phone as a flashlight?
HARLOWYeah. You can also just launch the camera app, you know, go to, like, record a video and turn on the light there.
GILROYLower-case flash, not upper-case Flash.
HARLOWThat's right. That's right. Upper-case Flash is no more.
HARLOWBut, yes, you know, you've got a little, like, powerful LED in the back of a lot of phones actually, not just iPhones. So if you've got, you know, a newer Android or Apple or maybe, you know, some of the BlackBerrys with, like, the little powerful LED flashes, use those because those are much brighter than the screen you'll ever -- will ever be, and usually, pretty strong and long reaching, too.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Here is John in Springfield, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYes. Hi. I, first, had a comment to make, and I heard somebody talk about bundling. And I work for a broadcast concern -- it broadcasts to the Middle East, and we have backups on top of backups. And about four years ago, the decision was made that everything had to go through Verizon, so all of my assorted T1 lines, my DS3 lines all went to the same thing. So here we are going along, our power generator kicked in, and, all of a sudden, virtually all of our lines were gone because they were all going through Verizon.
DRUINMm hmm. Yeah.
JOHNAnd, you know, this is something that, you know, in fact, I recommended to, you know, my bosses and like that, that what we need to do is spread this around -- some with Cox, some with Verizon, some with AT&T, whoever -- because it became, if you'll excuse the expression, a perfect storm for us and literally took us off the air for quite a while. And the other thing I have is a question.
JOHNDominion Virginia Power used to have a program where they would subsidize the installation of a backup generator for residences, and they would give a special deal on the loans and everything else. I've just been to their Web page, and I see they have ended that. Has anybody heard of any possibility that they may, after this great disaster, try to revive such a program?
NNAMDII haven't. Has anyone else?
HARLOWNo. I'm sorry to say, I haven't.
DRUINThat would probably bankrupt them if they did, so...
GILROY1999 is very popular 'cause everyone wanted them back then.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from @soritel, (sp?) who said, "We were down in Richmond during the storm but were able to follow it via Twitter, including how our own neighborhood fared." Oh, and let's give a shout out to @capitalweather and local TV news meteorologists for their storm tweets and retweets. I had a tweet from @dcsystem, who said, "I got a heads up about #DerechoStrength 25 minutes before it hit D.C." From somebody else in Stanton, Va., "Good to have friends west of D.C."
NNAMDII think a lot of people probably agreed with you. Bill, not to be outdone by his rivals, Microsoft unveiled a very intriguing product called the Surface. One says intriguing because we really don't know very much about it yet, but we do know that it has piqued the interest of a lot of tech writers.
HARLOWYes, it's interesting, too, because, I guess, I like to think that the reason we're all excited about the Surface is because the iPad came out and, you know, proved that this concept works. So there's a lot less, you know, doubt about whether people really want tablets. And what Microsoft did is they released -- there are actually two coming out. There's one that runs Windows RT, which is basically touch only made for lower power chips, non-replacement for a computer for most people but very iPad-like in a lot of ways.
HARLOWThe other one, though, is -- it runs a full version of Windows 8. It's going to run on Intel Ivy Bridge processor. So the idea for that is it could be an Ultrabook as well because it's going to be able to run all these touch apps, run general Windows computing programs. And the other party piece is that there is a -- there are actually two keyboard covers. They snap on magnetically. One is touch based. One has mechanical moving keys.
HARLOWSo the idea is you've got something that's really low profile, very compact, and when you flip out the kickstand, set it up on a table, fold out the keyboard, you could theoretically replace a laptop.
NNAMDISo what we're talking about now is that both Microsoft and Google are both building hardware.
GILROYNot so surprised.
HARLOWNot waiting for their partners to make the perfect device. They're going to say, look, this is how we want it done.
DRUINBut, you know, the other thing, too, is not to confuse people. People may have heard of Microsoft Surface.
HARLOWIt's not the table.
DRUINIt's not the table. I don't know why...
HARLOWIt's not a portable.
DRUIN...they would name this thing the same name. They are not distinguishing it well enough. But this is really Surface for the tablet.
HARLOWI can imagine nobody really cares about the table, though. I don't think anybody is really confused...
HARLOW...you know, other than the people in this room who really knew about that table.
DRUINNo, there's a lot -- I mean, they made a lot of noise about that Surface, that large Surface table a while back. But, you know, so -- 'cause when you were thinking -- when you were talking about it, I realized, you know, I wonder if people are getting that.
NNAMDIMicrosoft -- oh, I'm sorry, John. Go ahead.
GILROYI'll just -- the Microsoft office is three miles up the road. They had one of these in their lobby four years ago. Microsoft is just playing very carefully. They're playing their cards close to their chest, and they're, oh, OK, sniff and smelled 250 million iPads. There's something going on here, and they put some R&D money into this product. So I think they were sitting back...
NNAMDIMicrosoft and Google are not the only ones building hardware. Welcome to John Gilroy, who would be volunteering to clean up after your Fourth of July booze fest. All of the beer cans that you're getting ready to throw away, John Gilroy is willing to come around and pick them up.
HARLOWDrink the software, use the hardware.
GILROYEvery Fourth of July, there's a lot of beer cans in Kojo's backyard. And as a public service to his neighbors, we come up with creative ways to use them, you know. And one creative way is to use it to amplify Wi-Fi signal. I just want to put this on the website as a service.
NNAMDIHow does that work? You use beer cans to amplify a Wi-Fi signal?
GILROYWell, it's just basic radio 101. All it does to take in -- it makes the signal more direct. And if you read the story that we'll post online, this fellow came up with this idea, and he apparently can get Wi-Fi from a local hotel that's a mile away or some crazy story like that.
HARLOWSo I could drink -- I need to go back to drinking cheap beer in cans.
GILROYRight. You don't have to pay for Wi-Fi anymore. Buy more beer and, you know, use the Wi-Fi from the hotel down the street.
HARLOWGood to know.
DRUINNo, no, John, you talk about how crazy my things are. What are you talking about?
GILROYWe have to do this for, you know, Kojo's neighbors. They beg me because his backyard is full of empty beer cans after the Fourth of July. It's crazy.
NNAMDIWe found that by Googling more uses for beer.
GILROYOr justify buying beer.
NNAMDIHere's Tom in Alexandria, Va. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMYeah. Hi, everybody. Three -- a couple quick comments. I had heard that normally functioning cell towers have a battery backup, but they petered out. That's why signals were getting lost, you know, two and three days afterwards. Secondly, I was house-sitting when the storm hit. The owners of the house were in Shanghai, China. My most reliable communication system was the good, old dinosaur SMS texting.
NNAMDIThat seemed to help a lot of people out who couldn't get phone signals.
HARLOWI couldn't even get those through. They kept failing for me.
DRUINOh, really? Yeah, I could -- we could text. Yeah.
GILROYI remember last summer when they had the earthquake, texting was -- a lot of people used it.
HARLOWYeah. Generally -- and they recommend that, too, in an emergency. It's more reliable to get those through. You can just keep trying, keep trying to bang them out.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call...
TOMReal quick, real quick...
TOM...Kojo. Staunton is pronounced Stan-ten.
NNAMDIOh. Thanks. I'll never say Staunton again.
NNAMDII'll never say Staunton again, if indeed I said it before. We got an email from Jeremy, who said, "I recently saw that Cricket will be offering iPhone services." I guess we got this email some time before. "I currently use AT&T with an iPhone 4, and my two-year contract is over. Would I be able to bring my existing iPhone into Cricket and have them set it up to Cricket's -- for Cricket's considerably cheaper service?"
NNAMDIThe follow-up we got was, "We don't know the answer about being able to retrofit an old iPhone. But on a recent Tech Tuesday conversation with Rob Pegoraro and Wayne Rash, we learned that the economics of the new Cricket service, along with the Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go system, are actually pretty compelling. Even if you have to pay full price for an iPhone -- roughly $600 -- it's cheaper over two years to sign up for new pay-as-you-go data plans, at least over two years."
NNAMDIYou can find that show with that information on our website at kojoshow.org. It aired on June 19. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, continue our conversation with the Computer Guys and Gal. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the Computer Guys and Gal with John Gilroy, director of business development at Armature Corp. Bill Harlow is a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid Atlantic Consulting, Inc. And Allison Druin is ADVANCE professor of the STEM Senior Women's Council and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. Allison, in this era of global manufacturing and outsourcing, is it possible to actually build a high-tech consumer device right here in the U.S. of A? Google seems to think you can.
DRUINYes. Actually, their Nexus Q, another yet one more new product they announced last week. Basically, it's Google's new media streamer, OK? It looks like a large egg, personally. But, anyway, it's self -- it's a self-built consumer hardware. And guess where it's built? Right in Apple's backyard in San Jose, Calif.
HARLOWWhat's it do?
DRUINIt basically -- it streams. It streams video. And essentially you can use your Android app to control it, and you can control audio or video content from Google Play.
HARLOWAnd how much is it?
NNAMDIAnd it's a competitor, I guess, to Apple TV.
DRUINWell, the problem is the price -- I know he's asking for a reason -- because it's probably twice as much money as it should be if it were built not on these shores. It's $300.
HARLOWRight. And the Apple TV is, what, 100 bucks.
DRUINYeah, exactly. And it's built where people are not being paid livable wages, and it's built in non-green ways and so on. So, you know, what they're doing is they're seeing this as an experiment. Is this something that people are willing to pay for? If people buy more of these things, then the price will go down.
DRUINYou know, granted, they've got competitors that are, you know, that are outpricing them and probably out-featuring them, but it is a great -- it's a great experiment because -- especially because they've been saying, you know, putting design close to the engineering facilities is actually a great advantage in terms of turnaround on engineering change.
NNAMDIAnd they're building it in San Jose?
DRUINSan Jose, Calif. That's right.
NNAMDIJohn and I couldn't find San Jose on our map of China anyplace else. I couldn't find it.
GILROYDo you know the way to San Jose?
NNAMDIBill Harlow, what is a leap second?
HARLOWYeah. So there was another small outage after the storms due to a leap second. So a lot of the servers and network hardware in the world...
GILROYThis is catnip for network administrators, isn't it?
GILROYThis is just wonderful stuff. Oh, yeah.
HARLOWSo they're all synced to atomic clocks, which…
GILROYYeah, they love this. Up at NIST, those guys love this stuff.
HARLOWYeah. So atomic clocks are like the most reliable way to keep time.
HARLOWAnd the Earth's rotation has been slowing very gradually, like, imperceptibly, too.
GILROYI've noticed it. I've noticed it.
HARLOWYeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know...
DRUINOh, John, what a talk.
HARLOW…you get up in the morning. Something's not right.
GILROYNot right here.
HARLOWSo, you know, it really -- you know, to us, it doesn't matter 'cause we're talking, you know, like, a nanosecond here, a nanosecond there. But guess what? You know...
GILROYOh, those people up at NIST, it drives them crazy.
HARLOWA hardware that stays in sync, it cares. And when a leap second was added at midnight Saturday night to create effectively a 61-second minute, a lot of network and hardware went, you know, went crazy. And then they lost sync with each other, and, you know, it caused ripple effects that did things like bring Gawker down for 45 minutes.
GILROYSo they had to slice and dice it during the day, didn't they?
HARLOWYeah. So if these engineers really want to be fascinated, what Google did is really cool. They created leap smears, where, throughout the day, they did much smaller...
HARLOW...incremental shifts so that, by the end of the day, they were caught up, and it wasn't as big an effect.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Max in Rockville, Md. Max, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAXHi, Kojo, great program as always. I had a thought about Pepco crowdsourcing the information about the lines that are down and the problems that there are. When you go online and you call them, you're really not saying anything other than the fact that you don't have power. They don't know that, for instance, the pole next to our house was toppled and the lines were in the street. And when power came in in part of our neighborhood, it lasted about 10 seconds before a tree limb that was crossing the lines shorted out the connection, causing a fire.
DRUINOh. Oh. Oh.
MAXAnd so -- and then, you know, 30 or 60 or 100 more families lost power after it came on. So it seems to me that they just don't have enough information. And when you think about it, there's tens, if not hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines out there, and how do they possibly know what's connected, what's down, what's lost, you know, what's -- you know, where the tree limbs are? And if people could get more information to them that is more accurate, then they might be able to solve these problems if they...
NNAMDIYeah. We talk a lot about open data, don't we? But then when something like this happens, people realize that it's a one-way street in a lot of ways.
DRUINWell, actually, the governor's office in Maryland did a lot of crowdsourcing and trying to pull together a lot of information on their websites and actually tried to work with Pepco in trying to get more information. It helped in some areas. In other areas, it didn't help at all. So I think, you know, we are just at the very beginnings of what we call big data.
DRUINI think, you know, a few years from now we're going to look at everything and say, wow, what, you know, how babies -- what baby steps we were taking then. But you're absolutely right. Crowdsourcing is the way to go. Human computation and using what humans are best for should be well used.
NNAMDIMax, thank you very much for your call. John, the Girls Scouts of America have been selling Girl Scout cookies...
GILROYThis is important.
NNAMDI...since the 1930s in some form or the other, raising funds for local programs, but some troops around the country are taking this old, delicious tradition and giving it a 21st century spin. How have...
GILROYHere's the deal. Let's say Allison's kids go door to door to sell cookies. They knock on Bill's door, and Bill says, I don't carry cash. I'm a cool guy. I don't have any cash. And so what would you do?
HARLOWI have a gold bar.
GILROYYeah. I have a gold bar. I don't carry cash. I'm a cool guy. So now the response is, well, we can just take that using our -- I think it's called a Sage service, and take your order. And what happens is the orders are larger than before. So the average orders in some communities are going from, like, I don't know, four boxes to eight boxes. And so I just love me some Girl Scouts. Get out there are and sell, sell, sell. I mean -- and whatever it takes to sell those cookies, and let's -- I just think it's an interesting...
HARLOWI'm partial to Samoas, just saying that.
NNAMDISage mobile payments have been working with select troops of Girl Scouts. They found that Girl Scouts who use mobile payments record better sales.
GILROYYeah, because it's -- 'cause of the excuse, I don't have any money and I only have three dollars in cash and I do everything with my, you know, whatever your card type now.
HARLOWAnd I'm the kind of person who's waiting for the future where it's like a sci-fi movie where I pay for everything in some sort of abstract thing called creds. That's what I want.
NNAMDIWell, you already have street cred. Here is Richard in Chevy Chase, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDHi. I have been struck by the double standard in media coverage between Pepco and Dominion Electric. Am I allowed to mention other radio stations specifically or...
GILROYOnly in a negative way.
DRUINThank you, John.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Richard.
RICHARDI was listening to the WMAL interview of Pepco Tuesday morning because they do a lot of local coverage, and they were extremely hostile despite the fact that the spokesman was pointing out that they're dealing with a weather event that happens every 10 to 15 years, and it was comparable to a hurricane with 90-mile-an-hour winds, and plus the fact that you look at it and seems to have taken out power in what, I don't know, a quarter, a fifth of the country.
NNAMDIWell, I think we -- not I think. I know we had both Dominion and Pepco represented on the broadcast yesterday.
RICHARDYes, yes, exactly. Now, I'm not talking about your broadcast. I'm talking about WMAL and...
NNAMDINo. I was saying that to make a point, and the point was that for a lot of listeners, Dominion seemed to be doing a better job of explaining itself and not only explaining itself but indicating that it was getting to people much faster. And you are right about that event. People seemed to have more empathy for Dominion. But it seems that over the course of the past two or three years, we have so many -- we have had so many unique once-in-a-lifetime events...
NNAMDI...and the only thing they all seem to share in common is a loss of power and Pepco's inability to restore that power in a manner that people thought was appropriate, so...
RICHARDOK. Can I make my point?
RICHARDDominion Electric had 150,000 customers out. Pepco had 250,000 customers out. Now, you ask yourself, what are the causes? And then you say, where is the tree canopy, the older suburbs or the new suburbs? Where is the population density? Same question.
RICHARDOK? People are obviously upset by the number and the length of the power outages, but you have to think, OK, where are the trees? The trees are in the old suburbs. The trees are in Fairfax, Washington, Montgomery, Prince George's. Dominion Electric serves Loudon. It serves...
NNAMDII see the point you're making, and we don't have a lot of time left in this broadcast. But it seems to me that those are the precise points that Pepco would like to be making. You might have a future in communications at Pepco.
NNAMDIBut thank you very much for making those points. They do need to be made. This debate will continue for a while because it's going to extend to whether or not we need more underground lines in this area, given the kind of tree canopy we have. But have to move on. Bill Harlow, why do politicians not like "Diablo III?"
NNAMDIWell, politicians in South Korea...
HARLOWExactly. So "Diablo III" is -- it's been a long-running series of really simple game play. You know, you crawl through dungeons, you hack and slash, you find stuff, you make your character more powerful with the stuff you find, lather, rinse, repeat. That's really it. It's just a feedback loop. And a lot of the more powerful things you get in the game are really rare. So there's like a used market for virtual items with real money, and South Korea really doesn't like that idea at all.
HARLOWThey don't want people spending real money on this. They don't want people gaming the system. They don't want people wasting all their time in this. So they're looking to ban the sales and trade, bartering of real goods and money for virtual items. And you could face a fine of up to the equivalent of 43,000 U.S. dollars and up to five years in jail if you violate this.
NNAMDINo wonder politicians don't like it. Here now is Fred in Reston, Va., who seems to have had a unique experience. Fred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FREDHi. You guys were talking about the problems with the Verizon FiOS and the power outage.
FREDWell, I live in this little oasis in Reston where the power didn't go out, so -- but the -- and I've got the Verizon FiOS Triple Play. And in my case, the telephone was out and the TV was out, but the Internet stayed on. And then when I wound up sending Verizon an email about this...
NNAMDIThey cut off your Internet, too.
NNAMDINo, go ahead, please. I'm sorry.
FREDNo, I sent them an email. And so they sent back, and they told me to call this number, you know, when I told them, hey, my telephone's out. So...
DRUINWell, that makes sense, yeah.
GILROYBest catch-22. We love it.
NNAMDIWhat was the explanation that you were offered for why the other two services were out but your Internet was still working?
FREDI have no idea why that was. I figured that, with the FiOS, you know, since I had power in the house and everything, I figured the FiOS on the fiber optic cable, I figured that one would be the most robust, but it wasn't. Also, my cellphone wasn't working either. Apparently, the -- I don't know if the nearest towers were out or what there was there. But it was (unintelligible)...
GILROYSo not exactly an oasis.
NNAMDINo. But that's an interesting experience you had. Thank you for your call. Bill, whenever you go to an electronics store, there's no shortage of products to protect your smartphones -- skins, plastic shells -- but you have flagged the mother of all iPhone cases. What is the Tactic iPhone system?
HARLOWWell, if you've ever seen me sporting my oh-so-fashionable and not-at-all-geeky iPod nano wristband...
DRUINNot at all.
GILROYCapital N for nerd.
DRUINMm hmm. Yeah.
HARLOWYou know, in its defense, it is really well-made and plus pretty cool.
GILROYOf course, and stylish.
HARLOWIt's just very stylish and really normal looking. So the same company, Minimal, they have a new one on Kickstarter called the Tactic, which is -- they've got various flavors, but some have a plastic outer case, some have an anodized aluminum outer case. But they've got a rubber truss system inside to suspend an iPhone 4S or 4 inside it. It's got an option for a gorilla glass front, which is the same glass that the front of the phone is made of.
HARLOWBut the idea is that they can, you know, layer it up and make it more robust than, say, just a film. It's weather-sealed. It's shock-proof. It, you know, the idea is that you should be able to go to the beach and toss this in the sand. You should be able to ride your bike and have the phone fall out, and it just keeps on ticking...
GILROYLet's try it with Kojo's. Let's try it with Kojo's phone.
HARLOWYeah, yeah. So Kojo, we'll order one and...
GILROYLet me see your phone. We'll throw it at somebody.
DRUINWe'll test it.
HARLOWLet's open the window. We'll do the drop test.
GILROYIt's got an airbag. Don't worry.
HARLOWBut the other thing, too, is there are a lot of other nice cases out there. This one actually looks good.
DRUINDoes it have insect repellant?
HARLOWNo, I'm sorry.
GILROYWell, sorry doesn't make the mark. Next caller.
NNAMDIYou can tell by that that we've come to the end of this broadcast and...
GILROYHe's about to yank us out of here.
NNAMDIThey've run out of useful things to say, so, now, they're just talking.
GILROYWe got Girl Scouts, we got derecho, we got everything here.
NNAMDIAllison Druin is ADVANCE professor of the STEM Senior Women's Council and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. Allison, thanks for coming back to town.
NNAMDIBill Harlow is hardware and software technician for Macs & PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. Bill, thank you for staying in town.
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy is director of business...
GILROYGet of town, Bill.
NNAMDI...development at Armature Corp. Would you, please, leave town?
GILROYGirl Scouts, sell cookies. Girl Scouts, sell cookies. Go, go.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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