Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
The Computer Guys and Gal dissect the latest news from the techno-sphere. Yahoo and Apple buy apps to boost their mobile presence. Voice commands and hand gestures make their move to replace typing as a computer and smartphone interface. And cloud storage is growing — but it isn’t always secure.
- 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; Chief Futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research; Co-Director of the Future of Information Alliance, University of Maryland
Tech Tuesday Quiz: ‘Tech On The Go’
Computer Guys And Gal Picks
The Computer Guys and Gal pick the best gadgets for spring, offer suggestions to make sure you don’t fall for April Fool’s Day pranks and discuss the latest in gaming news.
Should you spring out of those mobile phone habits?
Thousands of Amazon S3 data stores left unsecured due to misconfiguration
In the thick of social media, you can get fired — so don’t be foolish!
When all the plugs are taken at the Starbucks, there’s now a game-changing product
It’s a slam dunk: How Apple can compete with Google
It can cost $10,000 to get the name behind an IP address (your stalker). Who does the law protect?
Last month’s lament: death of desktop. This month’s lament: mobile hardware will disappear?
Burning your bridges: Facebook turns off website internally to force mobile development
Is the Oculus Rift head mounted display a virtual reality game changer?
According to an Ars Technica report, password cracking can be shockingly easy
Shovel Knight is a classic, 8-bit style, side-scrolling action game coming to the PC, and possibly Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. It’s lovingly old school, with pitch perfect music, color, choices, animation and, of course, game play.
Quadrilateral Cowboy. You’re an 80s hacker, with the best tools (for the 80s) in the business.
The Growing Push To Track Your Location Indoors
Natural Interface Control Of Future Space Robotics
Teen Millionaire Nick D’Aloisio Plans More Startups After Yahoo
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou know what that means. From WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Computer Guys & Gal, they're here. If it wasn't already clear that mobile technology is the way of the future, witness two recent purchases. Last month, Yahoo paid $30 million for an algorithm created by a London teenager that boils long news stories down to fit on the screen of a cellphone.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd Apple bought an indoor GPS app that can tell you how to get from one gate to another at the airport or from one store to another in the mall. At the same time, other companies are working on new ways to access that information that could eventually make cellphone keyboards and even touch screens obsolete, from voice commands to hand gestures. It's the first Tuesday of the month.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat means they're here, the Computer Guys & Gal, to talk about mobile technology, user interfaces, virtual reality and more. Bill Harlow is a computer guy. He's a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. Bill Harlow, celebrating six years, welcome back.
MR. BILL HARLOWThank you. Thank you for choosing to letting me back.
MR. JOHN GILROYReluctantly.
NNAMDIAlso celebrating six years is Allison Druin, computer gal and chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research, co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. Allison, welcome back.
MS. ALLISON DRUINThank you.
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy is WAMU computer guy and chief protector of the past at the...
GILROYGet off my lawn. That's my motto.
NNAMDIHe's the director of business development at Armature Corp. Welcome back, John. And welcome back...
GILROYI'm working on a new title, Kojo. It's going to be great. I can't wait.
NNAMDIYeah. I can.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. Yahoo and Apple both bought new apps they hope will them in the mobile space. Do you think an algorithm that boils down information and an indoor GPS will help these tech giants win over smartphone users? Call us, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDISend us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #TechTuesday, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Last month, Yahoo purchasing an app called Summly from a 17-year-old in London. The app boils down news stories to 400 characters, just the right size to read on your mobile phone. What does this purchase say about the direction Yahoo is trying to go? First you, Bill.
HARLOWWell, I mean, it's clear to them that, you know, they see, just like everybody else, the battleground is going to be mobile. And, I mean, I think to a lot of people Yahoo is kind of like a B-tier mobile platform these days. So I think they're doing everything they can to be more relevant, to be up there with Google and Apple.
DRUINSo what does it say that a 17-year-old has decided that the best number of characters to read about a news story is 400?
DRUINNow, really, are we worried? Come on, folks. And he made so much money doing this. It's amazing. I mean, really -- and a 17-year-old, OK? I mean, the kid is probably not even out of high school, and look at what we are doing here, folks. This is amazing. The world is changing.
GILROYYou know, speaking of world changing is that women are making headline news in the world of technology for a change.
DRUINFor a change.
GILROYWe look at the book "Lean In," -- in fact, I think one was in the studio here. And now, we have Marissa Mayer who made a big change with telecommuters. And she's making a big change with Yahoo. She's trying to make a splash and be -- here's the keyword -- disruptive. This is the word everyone uses. She's trying to be disruptive, and I think this is, is putting all of a sudden Yahoo is back on the radar for a lot of people.
GILROYAnd Yahoo, what is that? You know, the exclamation mark or something, and people are starting to think of that instead of just Google and Bing. And so I think it's a strategic decision, and maybe there is some method to the madness. And maybe she thought -- maybe it's half a million dollars for the publicity just as purchase.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know, but the notion that a 17-year-old who -- at that age, we all want to read news story that are not too long.
NNAMDIBut the notion that this is leading the way maybe for the entire world...
HARLOWI guess it's too hard to scroll through a story on your phone. You know, it's just too difficult, so...
DRUINYeah, that thumb action, yeah.
HARLOWI know. It's sore.
NNAMDIWell, I think Vic in McLean, Va. has a comment on this. Vic, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VICHi, guys. Thanks for taking my call first. About somebody what I understand about that is that the (unintelligible) invented by this young kid. He implemented the (unintelligible) that was actually discovered by researchers in the natural language processing field.
NNAMDII am not sure. I do know that he had a lot of investors already when he did it, and I don't know whether he actually created the app.
GILROYYeah, it's called NLP. It's a big, big part of health care IT. It's huge, and people put millions of dollars into it. Hey, bully for him, you know, 17-year-old making that kind of money, hey, I wish it was my son.
DRUINWell, it's rare, Vic, that anything that comes out in terms of commercial development isn't based on something in research labs, and, actually, the fact that it was based on research labs, that's actually a good thing. So -- but it's great to point it out. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much, and I know it's not making newspapers around the world very happy at this point. John, Apple bought a company that makes an indoor GPS to help people find their way from one gate to another at the airport or to a particular store in the shopping mall. Is there a great demand for indoor GPS? And what makes it different from outdoor?
GILROYI keep thinking that 20 years from now, Kojo and I in some old geezer home, and we can't find the lunch room.
GILROYKojo, where is the lunch room? Get out your phone. Well, you lost the phone. It's on the desk.
GILROYThat's what, you know, I thought of. So I guess Apple is just trying to not, you know, leave any stone unturned. And if Google is going to dominate the outside, by gum, they're going to dominate the inside.
HARLOWWell, I think Google is already mapping some things internally as well. And I was just at Penny Arcade Expo, which is in a big anonymous-looking convention center. Once you're inside, everything looks the same. Something like this would be awesome in an environment like that where you're just like, I have no idea where this panel is. I need to make it there in 15 minutes. Everything looks the same. Is this really floor one or zero? What's going on? You know, tunnel vision, so it'd be great in that environment. And I'm thinking about malls, too. Suddenly...
NNAMDII'm thinking about Home Depot, too.
HARLOWExactly, Home Depot.
GILROYKojo who goes in circles there for several hours.
HARLOWAnd what I'm wondering, too, you know, if this takes off, would there be commercial interest -- curious about where you're going inside these spaces? Where are you in your Home Depot? Where are you in the mall?
GILROYMarketers will love it.
HARLOWExactly. Hey, this person seems to, you know, shop at these shops. So how can we, you know, work that to our advantage?
GILROYWell, Kojo is looking into bathroom fixtures, and, all of a sudden, he gets a coupon for a bathroom fixture in his email account or something so...
HARLOWOr he's buying these things? He has no idea how to work in a house.
DRUINWhat? That's just...
GILROYIt's a good insult.
NNAMDIHere is Joseph in Clifton, Va.
NNAMDIJoseph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Ignore these people.
JOSEPHThey have a lot of reason to be excited. Added to the mobile devices, cloud computing is going to allow all these thought leaders to implement their solutions and have the beck in computing in the cloud drive all of the databases and things that these mobile devices need to succeed. They have every reason to be excited. You're going to find the next 10 years unstoppable in the paradigm shift in computing.
NNAMDICausing everybody to try to revamp and change their business models in a hurry. Joseph, thank you very much for your call. Allison, a new report in the journal Nature says our cellphones tag us in space and time just like a tracking device on an animal shows where it eats and sleeps every day. That means the fact of making calls and checking emails on your cellphone creates a unique map of where you've been. Does that mean it's impossible now to be both wired and anonymous?
DRUINIt's pretty hard. Actually, these researchers were taking a look at -- they were from MIT and a university that I can't say from Belgium, and they were looking at human mobility traces. And I love that term, human mobility traces. And they figured out that with just four points at random, OK, during somebody's day, they could actually find a unique pattern about people 95 percent of the time. That's...
DRUINFour. That is scary, and they looked at...
HARLOWPeople are boring.
NNAMDIJohn doesn't even need his ankle bracelet anymore.
DRUINIt's so true. It's so true. They look--they...
GILROYJust by following the human droppings?
DRUINWell, they looked at one point -- that's -- you scare me, John -- OK, 1.5 million individuals, OK -- and from the same mobile carrier.
DRUINAnd essentially what they did was they said, can we really uniquely identify these people? And what's scary is that, yes, you can. Because why? Your mobile phones are going to local antennae. They're pinging local antennae. So, you know, so you can start to see patterns in where they're pinging. And so the implications are that the more people that sell large data from mobile phones or do large studies, the question is -- you know, it used to be, oh, there's 1.5 million individuals.
DRUINAnd all that data was aggregated, and everything was put together. And it's anonymous. People are wondering: How anonymous is anonymous?
NNAMDINot that anonymous anymore.
NNAMDIIf you're worried about security on your mobile phone or computer, you should tune into next week's Tech Tuesday discussion about personal cybersecurity. We'll answer your questions about how to protect yourself online and avoid hackers, viruses and identity theft. That's April 9 at noon right here on 88.5 WAMU.
NNAMDIJohn Gilroy, to prove the point that mobile technology is the way of the future, Facebook actually turned off computer-based access to its site for some of its product developers, telling them, hey, use your smartphones or tablets to get onto Facebook for a week. What improvements does Facebook's mobile interface therefore need?
GILROYYou know, that -- it's fascinating that it's almost like scuttling your ships. You know, when Hernan Cortes went to Mexico, he scuttled his ships. So he said, no, we're not going back. We're going to go right ahead and attack. And that's what he's doing. He's saying -- he's forcing the people to use handheld devices. I think it's innovative, and I just see this big huge transition. If you're leading a company like Zuckerberg is, what better way can you have? And you're going to force someone to make that transition. It's almost like forcing people to not take notes on paper but do it electronically.
HARLOWWhen people talk about a post-PC world, there's one example of, you know, Facebook looking at that as a pretty serious way of doing things.
DRUINBut it's so much easier. I have to say, you know, you just -- you take a picture on your mobile phone, and then you post them on Facebook.
DRUINHow easy is this, you know?
HARLOWThere's no going home, and then I got to upload it and tweak it a bit and, yeah.
DRUINYeah. But there are some things that they still haven't fixed that they need to do on the mobile side, so anyway.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of that, I think that's what Susan in St. Leonard, Md. wants to talk about. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANYes. Hello. I'm just wondering if people know that a smartphone evidently can get their phone number and send it to a business, say, and talk to them -- we've had this problem in a nasty way. The smartphone evidently can click into your own phone number. We had a business we'd done -- that is in the neighborhood, and they left a phone message for us saying, don't ever call again.
SUSANAnd I did the star-69 thing and found out that our phone number and my husband's name had been used to place an obscene call. And we've talked with Verizon, and we have a trap or something like that on our line. And as yet, we have had nothing...
SUSANNothing happened as far as the police go. They're working on it and -- but this is -- it seems as though, yeah, they could pick up a number. This is -- we have a landline with Verizon, and this number was spotted. It's sort of embarrassing.
NNAMDIIt could be embarrassing.
NNAMDIIt's particularly embarrassing to me because I have no idea what you're talking about.
SUSANWell, OK, that's -- I guess that's why I'm calling.
NNAMDIExplain it in...
GILROYI mean, I think I understand. So what happened is, you know, I can spoof someone's email address, like I can spoof Kojo's address to Bill and say something funny.
HARLOWNot that you would.
GILROYNow -- not that I would. So what's happening, it looks like someone is spoofing, let's say, Bill's email address or Bill's telephone number and calling another person and trying to sell them life insurance. And then they're complaining to the person whose number is being spoofed. That's what it sounds like. Is that right, Susan?
NNAMDIExcept -- but in this case, it seems that they're making obscene calls with your phone number.
SUSANYes, they are.
GILROYWhatever, yeah. So that's what happens. Your return telephone number is being spoofed. Wow, that's a new one.
SUSANOh, roar. Well, at some point, I guess Verizon who has the trap and the police who have Verizon will get into this. But, yeah, I was just wondering about that.
NNAMDIWell, thank you very much for sharing that with us. If there's anyone else who's listening who has had a similar problem, they'll know they are not alone. Are you a tech news junkie? Check out the Computer Guys & Gal news quiz on our website, kojoshow.org...
GILROYIt's a good quiz. Round of applause.
NNAMDI...see if you know as much about the headlines as John, Bill and Allison do. That's at our website, kojoshow.org. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, more of the Computer Guys & Gal, and your calls, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to the Computer Guys & Gal. John Gilroy is director of business development at Armature Corp. Bill Harlow is hardware and software technician for Macs & PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting Inc. And Allison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland.
NNAMDIOur last caller talked about someone using her family's phone number to make obscene phone calls. Aaron in Columbia Heights would like to shed some light on that. Aaron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AARONHey, Kojo. I love your show. But I have a friend -- I wish I had the name of it. I don't. I have a friend who used an app that did the same exact thing. He had my number.
HARLOWRight, a friend. Got you.
GILROYAha. I got -- we understand this.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Aaron.
AARON(unintelligible) Yeah, what...
NNAMDIHe got your number.
NNAMDIHe got your number.
AARONYeah. He used my number, and he called an ex-girlfriend of mine. And she was -- I really -- she thought I called her. She had my number in her phone, and it connected the call between us. And I was flabbergasted that this technology existed.
HARLOWIs he still a friend of yours, by the way?
HARLOWIs he still a friend of yours?
AARONYeah, he is. He is. It's a childhood friend, so I guess he had that comfort level.
AARONBut, yeah, just to shed light on that, that she didn't know, that there's an app that can do that. And also another thing: Whenever you log into something or go anyplace or, like, look up something, it queues on your phone. So, like, let's say you might visit Google or Yahoo -- and on your computer as well -- it shows up. So, like, every time I go to Yahoo now, I see advertisements for sneakers I may have looked up on another website and -- yeah, all the smartphone stuff is very scary.
HARLOWOf course, yep.
GILROYAll the cookies.
NNAMDIWell, there are cookies any place, and I'm glad that was your ex-girlfriend because if she wasn't ex then, she would've been ex now after he made that call.
GILROYWhat nice friends to have. Wow.
NNAMDIThat's what friends are not for, Aaron. Thank you very much for your call. Allison, around the country, some schools are bringing tablets into the classroom as a teaching tool to engage kids who are digital natives. What's your take on the expense and the benefit of using tablets to teach?
DRUINWell, it's about time is all I can say.
NNAMDII was about to say.
DRUINI mean, it's -- you know, look, people have been talking about bringing, you know, little laptops in, you know, bringing computers in. I mean, it's been, you know, as long as my research life has existed, people have talked about technology in the classrooms and how it's going to change things. I think what's the disruptive part of this...
GILROYOoh, the phrase that pays.
DRUINYeah, there you go. Part of this is that these tablets, they are so mobile and so cheap in comparison to traditional computers and what we were usually dealing with, you can have -- the scale of use now is totally different, so you can have one per kid. You can have them wandering around outside, inside. They have, you know, they have the ability to have mobile access, OK? So you don't necessarily need Wi-Fi.
DRUINYou can have the mobile network. So it's really changing things. Now, in terms of the numbers of dollars being spent, I mean, we're talking, you know, close to $20 billion, you know, in one year looking at these tablets. So it's really -- it's a big business, and it may be time has come for tablets, so springing into tablets, that's what people are doing.
NNAMDII guess you can't stop history form occurring, Bill Harlow. This is inevitable, and hopefully we won't be seeing a quick switch in schools from tablets to mobile devices.
HARLOWWell, it wouldn't surprise me.
NNAMDIAll books in 400 characters or less.
HARLOWExactly. Exactly. They're the ultimate Cliff's Note.
NNAMDIExactly right. We all know how frustrating it is to have our cellphone battery die. Several companies have fun new charging devices you can keep with you, so your phone never runs out of juice. Talk about the hand-crank charger for the iPhone and the micro charger that's the size of a quarter. First you, John Gilroy.
GILROYYeah. And I think this is great. This is in development, and if you go to Crowd Supply, you know, you put things up for development, and you can kind of get some funding. But they're coming up with a device that it's just like a little holder for an iPhone. And when you see your battery going down or it's an emergency -- you are in the middle somewhere, and you need to make a call -- you can crank and get -- I think it's a great practical idea. I mean, I think in the trunk in my car, I've got a little radio with a crank on it in case it's the end of the world or something.
NNAMDIYeah, I do one of those, too. Yeah.
GILROYAnd it's such a nice -- and what a nice practical idea. You know, I think that would really -- going to be a game changer. We'll all be disruptive, won't it, Bill?
HARLOWNo, it's a good idea. And it's one of those things where, yeah, I wouldn't use every day, but just...
HARLOWThat one time, and you use it that one time, and it pays for itself.
NNAMDIAnd, Allison, the Devotec Fuel Micro Charger?
DRUINOh, yeah. It looks like a little gas can. It's very cute. It's something you could literally pin -- clip to your key chain. It's that small. It connects through a micro USB connector. And so that's actually the downside of it because if you have an iPhone, you need a lightning adaptor. But that could be the size of the whole other thing. But anyway, it's -- orders are being taken. It's a Kickstarter project. Orders are being taken for 18 bucks.
DRUINAnd literally, what you can do is you can get a half hour of extra talk time or you can fire off a few additional emails, or, you know, you can make, you know, one or two emergency calls. So it's not, you know, it's not something that you're going to do a day's work on, but it is actually -- you throw it into, you know, into a pocket, and you go with it.
NNAMDIHere's John in McLean, Va. on iPad as a teaching tool. Hi, John.
JOHNHowdy, Kojo. It's great to talk to you.
NNAMDIGreat to talk to you, too. Go ahead, John.
JOHNYes. So I -- just a thing. I have a doctorate in instructional technology from the University of Florida. Go, Gators.
JOHNAnd they -- the comment I wanted to make was that, you know, educational use of technology is the superb way to go. But a research by the name of Richard Clark, many years ago, did some comparative effectiveness study in the various technologies for education. And his finding over many years was that, you know, it's not so much the technology as the methodology it used to teach. And methodologies are very important in any instructional technology application.
JOHNAnd so my basic point here is that the effectiveness doesn't depend so much on the technology or the media used but on the effective design of the instruction. And you can compare effectiveness through Web apps as much as you could from instructional television or instructional radio even going back to the '30s.
NNAMDII am pretty sure that you can do those things. But I suspect with the development of technology, you will see the methodology changing to adjust to the technology that's being used. And so that's something, I guess, we'll be watching, John. But thank you very much for making that point. Here's the part I like coming to the interface. And what's your preferred method of interacting with your computer or phone: typing, touching, talking?
NNAMDIWould you use an interface that lets you, well, wave your hands in front of the screen? Give us a call, 800-433-8550. Bill, what did the -- what we did for video games leap motion may do for computers and even the Mars rover? It's a device that responds to the movement of your fingers and hands and lets you tell your computer what to do by way of gestures. How does that work? Will it, eventually, replace the mouse and keyboard?
HARLOWWell, I mean, I think if you were to sit here right now and just hold your arms in front of you for half an hour, you'd realize, no, it's not going to replace your mouse and keyboard. That would be ridiculous, but it's great for that. But, yes, it's great for waving your hands in my face.
GILROYI need to get a picture of that and document this.
HARLOWSo I saw this at Penny Arcade Expo, PAX, couple of weekends ago, and that was just in the context of showing off a video game. But what's so cool is this was something about the size of, like, an iPhone or an Altoids tin or something. And it -- it's, like, going to be 80 bucks. It looks so basic. It looks like it wasn't going to work at all. And it was really refined as far as the level of control you had, the way it could detect individual fingers, and I had a lot of fun with it. And then I did some reading on it afterwards.
HARLOWI found out that they've got a lot of developers interested in making more games, more apps, a virtual keyboard. And then there's a demonstration at the Game Developers Conference last week where they demoed controlling the ATHLETE -- and that stands for All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer. So NASA demoed this. They used a Leap Motion to actually manipulate an ATHLETE in their testing facility in Pasadena to move it in, really, any direction.
HARLOWWhat's so cool about it is it tracks whether your hand is moving up and down, whether you're tilting it. And in this case, because this is a multi-limbed rover, he actually used his fingers to adjust how the legs on this rover were being manipulated as well. And it's just a really cool idea, and it showed how powerful it can be as a tool for moving something in three-dimensional space.
DRUINSo I have a question. On either the first one or the second one, could you do American Sign Language with this?
HARLOWThat's a good question.
HARLOWI bet you could.
GILROYThat is a good one.
HARLOWHonestly, it was really sensitive, and it seemed really natural.
DRUINBecause when I think about people moving their hands all the time, OK, yes. That's the American Language.
NNAMDILike the American Sign Language.
GILROYNo. I think of Italians.
GILROYYeah. Well, that, too.
NNAMDIASL is the gold standard for that. But, John Gilroy, we live in a world where we judge each other by our hardware.
GILROYCan you imagine teaching sign language in Italy? That would be a real challenge, wouldn't it? No, no, no.
DRUINTeaching anything to you, John, is a challenge. OK.
NNAMDIJohn, as I was saying...
NNAMDI...we live in a world where we judge each other by our hardware...
NNAMDI...iPhone, a Windows 8 phone, Kindle or iPad. But some people say that those days are numbered, that hardware will fade away as the defining technology feature because the user interface will become central. Is it time for us to rethink hardware?
GILROYWell, we talked about Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" and using your hands to do things, and now we see people on the Internet with glasses. And all of a sudden, if you combine Google Glasses with, you know, these gesture-type movement sensors, I think we're maybe at the point where, well, maybe everything is in a cloud like your previous caller said, and everything is Google Glasses and hand gestures.
GILROYAnd keyboards, we don't even know who's thinking keyboards. Boy, that's back in 2010. I mean, oh, boy, I have to go to Smithsonian and take a look at those. You know, I don't know what's going to happen. But I tell you what, in the next four, five years, get out the crystal ball because no one's going to know.
DRUINFour, five years. John, you're a dinosaur. There's no way in one to two years things are going to change.
DRUINYeah. No, absolutely. You know, one of the things I can say, though, about what you're pointing out, which is a really good thing, is that we actually -- we have the infrastructure right now in the back end to finally make these interfaces in the front end because without the storage, without the speed, without, you know, without being able to get at things at real time, aggregate them and so on, you wouldn't be able to have these interfaces.
DRUINSo it is really important to have the cloud, to have the back end data processing that we now have. Now, this all could fall apart if you have privacy problems and security problems and so on. And so it's really -- I think where we're getting at is, look, these interfaces have been in labs for years and years, OK? But where we're getting at is this going on to the general public. Now, what is the general public's implications of all of these kinds of interfaces? What's going to happen?
NNAMDIWell, the general public may just want conversation because now that smaller mobile phones are so popular, some people say, John, it's time to ditch even touch screens and simply to talk to our devices.
GILROYHell. It's just like hell and just like in "Star Trek."
NNAMDIWhy this push for so-called CUI, conversational user interface?
GILROYI think it's from the gamers like Bill. I mean, this is -- the innovation comes from creative people like him and other gamers.
HARLOWIt doesn't come from gamers. You don't want to hear what gamers say.
GILROYBut the whole idea of using other types of methods to interact with a computer just...
NNAMDIInstead of graphic user interface, conversation user interface.
GILROYConversation user interface. Yeah, it's incredible what's coming up.
NNAMDIWell, we had a discussion earlier about how long it's going to take between Allison and John. I think that's exactly what Diane in Laurel, Md. wants to know.
NNAMDIDiane, your turn.
DIANEYes, I do. I have actually two questions for you. The first is years ago, there was the commercial, I think, by AT&T where the guy had looked like a glass in front of his eye and he was talking to his computer with very small piece of equipment. He was getting stocks information, and we were told we were going to get all this thing. Well, I haven't seen any devices like that, but I would like that.
DIANEBut more than anything else, I would like to have a JARVIS like Ironman did where he is your friend, he is your buddy, he -- JARVIS, I see this person, what information can get on this person? Are they legit? He gets it for you. JARVIS, you know, he talks to you. He tells you he's your friend. He does -- he takes care of the house for you, the car, everything. I would like to see complete equipment like that here. It's mobile, and wherever you are, he's your friend. That's what I would like to see. How long before we get that?
NNAMDIHere's Bill Harmon (sic) bringing us back to Earth, Diane.
HARLOWWell, I'd like to see that, too. I mean, some of that, obviously, isn't science fiction. You can definitely have, you know, as Google Glass demonstrates, you can have an eyepiece now. It gives you a sort of a heads-up display and records a lot of what you're seeing. And, of course, we do have a lot of voice-based interfaces. But one problem I have with JARVIS isn't the idea. It's an illusion.
HARLOWSo a lot of what you do now, it can work great. It can sound very conversational, but as soon as that illusion breaks, it takes you right out of it, and then you realize what their limitations really are. I think Siri right now tells you what that feels like, and it's also one of those things where it's going to take a lot of time and a lot more, I think of us, just using existing interfaces so much better.
GILROYAnd I think to address Allison's comment earlier is may be the technology will be in two years, will the laws be there? Will the humans be ready? For example, a lot of people objected the Google Glasses not because the technology but because maybe they don't want a record of everywhere they're walking, every party they go into or every store they go into. Maybe they don't want that part of Skynet knowing where you're at.
DRUINDiane, I should tell you that the AT&T commercial you were talking about was the knowledge navigator video.
HARLOWOh, yes. That's what it was.
DRUINOK. And they were -- what they were doing was basically taking pieces of technologies that already existed in their labs and saying, we know that when we put this together, we're going to be able to make these kinds of systems very soon for the general public. And what you're seeing is pieces of that video, as well as JARVIS, it's out there. It's all out there. It's just -- it's a question of people putting things together.
HARLOWI think that one thing you'll see with the voice interface, at least as far as it feeling natural and conversational, I don't think you'll be like a pause and then boom, it's here, and it's perfect. I think it's going to be sort of like how Google Maps developed. It's going to be organic. You're going to see it getting better and better and better and better. And like, ah, now, it feels like it's ready for primetime.
NNAMDIHow closely do you follow the news in the world of technology? Test your knowledge by taking the Computer Guys & Gal news quiz at our website, kojoshow.org. Here is Jeffrey in Columbia, Md. Hi, Jeffrey.
JEFFREYHi. Got a good question. Has -- it's been a long time since I've been on a college campus. I was wondering, does the campus bookstore still exist or are people just getting, like, a Kindle and then, like, downloading all their textbooks? 'Cause it seems like that's the natural application for these things because I know when I was in a technical area, and whenever I got any kind of technical book, there were, like, pages and pages of errata and changes and updates and, you know, problems that were being recorrected or whatever. And then I just had another question that was completely unrelated.
NNAMDIWell, let -- allow us to have Allison Druin answer the first.
DRUINI can tell -- I can certainly tell you at the University of Maryland, we do have a campus bookstore. But I can also tell you, though, the -- one of the most popular stores on campus is our technology store. And certainly, people are constantly going in and out of there, whether they be faculty staff or students buying technology. And I can tell you from the faculty's point of view, more and more of us are putting everything online or pointers to online stuff.
DRUINThere are other campuses that are making a point of, you know, either equipping their students with Kindles and so on. We equip our student with iPads and various other devices, various -- for different programs. And so a lot of our stuff is going online. So we're in a transition point, but campus bookstores are still there.
NNAMDISecond part of your question, Jeffrey.
JEFFREYIt's completely unrelated. It was about the ATHLETE NASA thing. And I understand that would be a good thing for moving probes around in three dimensions. But how do they propose to deal with the time lag? I understand the time lag between, like, Earth and Mars or something like that is 14 minutes or something.
HARLOWWell, it's interesting. The demo wasn't real time in the sense that he wasn't moving his fingers and then immediately the ATHLETE was moving. What he would do is he would kind of cue a command, and he would see a 3-D representation, a polygonal representation showing what the end result would be. And then he would approve it, and then the command would be sent. So it's not a case where you can control it and react to things immediately. It's just you're making a plan and then watching it happen.
NNAMDIJeffrey, thank you very much for your call. Before we take a break, what new video games are catching your eye? Have you ever tried playing with a virtual reality headset? Call. Share your gaming favorites with us at 800-433-8850 because that's what we'll be talking about when we come back with the Computer Guys & Gal. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComputer Guys & Gal are here. Allison Druin is futurist, chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research. She's co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. John Gilroy is director of business development at Armature Corp. And Bill Harlow is a hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. I asked before. I'll ask again. What new video games are catching your eye? Give us a call. Share your gaming favorites at 800-433-8850. Bill, a number of companies are working on virtual reality headsets.
NNAMDIBut one seems to have hit on a design that's getting good reviews: the Oculus Rift. What makes it stand out from the rest?
HARLOWSo the big thing with virtual reality, I guess, what people think of as a helmet of some kind, 3-D view and attracts what you're seeing. And I remember playing something like this in the early '90s, and it was actually in Boston. They had some virtual reality. It's actually virtual reality, like, festival. And I remember waiting in line and trying one of these out. It was the biggest disappointment in my life: crude polygons, slow refreshes.
HARLOWAnd it just -- it didn't feel like anything. And what the Oculus Rift does is they really analyzed this as far as, well, this is an illusion. What do we have to get right so people buy it? How does your brain buy into it? So make sure that when you move your head, it's immediate. There's no perceptible lag. Make sure that it fills your field of view, so it really looks like you're seeing a world.
HARLOWAnd they even thought about, like, the software side. They're making a development kit and working with developers and a lot of things that make it buyable. So like most games, for example, when you move your field of view, it's almost like your eyes are just a floating camera in space, not attached to anything. So, you know, in real life, when you turn your head, well, you know, you've got a neck. You've got a spine. All this movement needs to be taken into account so it seems believable.
GILROYSo it's a game game-changer.
HARLOWIt's a game game-changer.
DRUINOh, all you wanted to say was that.
HARLOWYes, it was worth it just for that...
GILROYYeah, it was. I waited and waited.
NNAMDIHow could development of a top-line virtual reality headset change the gaming experience and particularly make nonviolent games more appealing?
HARLOWI've been playing a lot of nonviolent games over the last year or so, and a lot of them are experiences. And they're really fascinating as they are now. So the idea of having something that -- some people calling it like a controllable lucid dream would be incredible. There's a -- one game called "Dear Esther," where it takes place in, like, an abandoned island, and you're exploring lighthouses. And it's a beautiful world, and they have...
DRUINSo it's more about the storytelling.
HARLOWIt's more about the storytelling, and also just about the world building. I mean, the great thing about games...
HARLOW...is you can linger in a world and just observe it. And to have it feel real and especially in a game like that where there are cliff sides and you look over and it's kind of scary, you hear the wind blowing, it'll be pretty amazing if virtual reality have that.
NNAMDILet's stick with gaming for a second. It keeps Gilroy out of the conversation.
NNAMDIYou've pointed out some new indie games of note. What's out there for gamers who want to get away from mainstream titles?
HARLOWWell, yeah. Not that mainstream games are bad, but when I was at PAX, there are a lot of stuff there. I just ignore the mainstream stuff 'cause you're going to hear about it everywhere. So the one that stood out to me, one is called "Quadrilateral Cowboy," and they call it 20th century cyberpunk. So it's supposed to be -- it's -- you OK? You OK? You'll be OK.
NNAMDIHe'll get it.
HARLOWSo the idea behind this is that you're a hacker in the '80s, and you're, you know, gathering sensitive information, stealing documents or whatever. But the interface is great because it's really old-school. You have to put your -- put this briefcase down. There's a terminal in there.
GILROYI mean, modern for me.
HARLOWYeah. Exactly, exactly. Yeah. There's a mobile computing platform. There's a briefcase with a terminal in it. And all the commands, rather than, like, point and click or modern interface, you're actually scripting things with you know, with a...
GILROYManual FTP thing. Yeah, I remember.
HARLOWYeah, yeah. You have to, you know -- so it -- actually, yeah, it looks like Telnet, actually.
HARLOWBut it's great, though, because it can be like -- not only is it a very different style of game play, but actually can be educational. It makes you feel like a programmer when you play it.
DRUINOh, go figure.
NNAMDIThe one I'm interested in is Tengami. Did you mention it yet?
HARLOWYes. That's a really cool-looking game, and it looks like a pop-up book. It is beautiful. It's for the iPad. They'll make it for PC and Mac later. And it's got a Japanese art style to it. Everything is paper cut-out. It's got a really cool soundtrack that was made with a koto. You know, you get that cool kind of plucky sound.
HARLOWAnd what's really cool is the way you interact. You touch, and you move tabs around on the paper. When there are transitions from scenes, the book page flips over. And they actually made a development kit called paper -- I think it's called paper craft. And the way it works is they actually create a virtual pop-up book and plan it out. So it works like the real thing, and this in-motion, it looks spectacular.
NNAMDIHere is Phil in Germantown, Md. speaking about games. Phil, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PHILHi. Thanks for taking my call. I saw that YouTube video just the other day, and they -- it incorporated an Oculus Rift headset with two motion controllers. I can't recall the names of the controllers, but they used them to demo a very simple world in which you have hands, and they're physically modeled. And collisions are enabled so you can pick up things and knock things off tables and close doors and open windows.
PHILAnd when you see this in action, you realize the possibilities open up with such -- even such simple interaction, like you can play a game of volleyball. You can do a volleyball serve with these hands, and it's highly immersive and allows you to just have fun like you would running around outside, but sitting in a chair.
NNAMDIBetter volleyball serve with your virtual hands than with your real hands probably, Bill.
HARLOWProbably. I'm sure that the game would happily stroke my ego and streamline my motions, so everything -- like, I can jump-serve now. This is great.
NNAMDIExactly right. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Phil. Let's move on to Ihama (sp?) in Gaithersburg, Md. Ihoma -- Ahoma, (sp?) go ahead, please. Hi, Ihoma, in Gaithersburg. Ihoma, you may not be hearing me, so I'm going to put you on hold. Hello.
NNAMDIHey, there, Ihoma.
IHOMAHi. I was just wondering. All the speakers, I'm just wondering, what kind of phone do they currently use?
NNAMDIWhy are you curious about this?
IHOMAWell, so I get a sense of what I would like to get when I decide to get a smartphone. I don't have one right now.
NNAMDIOh, guidance. We love guidance. Let's start with John Gilroy.
HARLOWI've got an older iPhone 4S. Still a great phone.
DRUINOh, yeah. I have a 4S, too. I didn't get the 5.
NNAMDII have the iPhone 5, Ihoma. So there you go. Not that much variety on this panel, I'm afraid.
GILROYMy screen is the biggest in the room. I don't want to brag or anything.
HARLOWThat's a sweet phone. Is that the One X?
NNAMDIAnd hopefully we can give you some sense of direction.
GILROYSometimes size does matter.
NNAMDIIhoma, does that satisfy your curiosity?
IHOMAWell, it does. How come no one has a BlackBerry? Are you trying to say something?
DRUINI think the American public is saying something about that, too. BlackBerries are struggling partially because of the way they're trying to move between the physical keyboard and to the virtual, and they're having a hard time with their user interface.
HARLOWI just never got into them myself. I skipped over them.
NNAMDIWell, Ihoma, thank you for your call, and good luck to you. How do you store data? Do you store data or photos in the cloud? How secure do you think that is? Give us a call now at 800-433-8850. Allison, everybody, last week a non-profit spam-fighting group called Spamhaus was hit with a series of denial of service attacks. Initial reports said the attacks were so big, they cause service delays for some ordinary Internet users. Now, it appears those reports were overblown. What actually happened, and why was Spamhaus a target?
DRUINWell, OK, so what happened was they were, you know, essentially, you know, there is normal denial of service attacks, OK? People start throwing robotic information at a particular set of systems and services. And so, you know, supposedly millions of people, OK, experienced some sort of slowdown in their Netflix, and they couldn't access certain websites and so on. And essentially there was apparently something between this CyberBunker and the Spamhaus, OK?
DRUINAnd Spamhaus essentially is a non-profit organization that hunts for spammers on the Internet, OK, and actually publishes a list of these spammers. But, you know, when -- I don't know. It seemed like a little bit of a public hysteria because it didn't -- you know, it wasn't actually as perceivable as people thought.
DRUINAnd it was -- and it actually only had a slowdown only on certain systems, and it was localized. So -- but what is this saying? This is saying that, yes, you know what? Your systems are all over the world, OK? And even though you're looking at Netflix in your house, you are dependent upon things that could be, you know, out in the cloud, in Europe, in Asia and so on, and it can affect when you're watching your TV shows.
NNAMDIWhat did this say to you, Bill Harlow?
HARLOWActually, it's fun. I just want to bring that back 'cause you were mentioning how you can notice these things. A great example is Amazon S3, their cloud storage. I mean, a lot of things depend on that. I believe Netflix does and a lot of other services you don't even realize. So everything works together, and it's seamless. But when there is a blip, yeah, sometimes you don't notice, sometimes you really -- it really exposes how everything works.
GILROYWhat this shows is the shelf life of Spam. Spam's not dead. It's still around, and people are worried about it.
NNAMDIAllison, cloud storage is increasingly popular, but it's not always safe. Amazon discovered that its S3 cloud storage data buckets were not secure. How do you know someone isn't leaving the door to your virtual storage bin open so others can stumble in and see your stuff?
DRUINYeah, you really don't know. Amazon has something called Simple Storage Service, OK, and this is actually -- essentially cloud storage service, they -- that's primarily used by developers, OK, where you can, you know, they're paying as they go for enormous amounts of storage. Well, what happened was, by default, it's supposed to all be private.
DRUINAnd then when the developer flicks something, you know, their account, they can flip it to make it public. Well, for some reason or another, essentially somebody left the doors open, OK, of 126 billion files, OK, that contained everything from personal data, right, that was in social networks, sales records, you know, unencrypted databases, video game source codes, I mean, you name it.
DRUINNow, to Amazon's credit, they immediately, you know, pointed out their problem. They responded to it, and they alerted the users that this might have happened to. Amazon's, you know, storage service is also based on their own storage they use themselves. So to be honest with you, I think they possibly may have been the most affected of any of the users.
NNAMDIOK. Back to the telephones now. Here is Doug in Boonsboro, Md. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIHi, Doug. It's your turn.
DOUGHi, Kojo. I just was calling -- you had a caller earlier that had referenced JARVIS from the "Iron Man," I believe.
DOUGAnd my question was, how close are we to actual intuitive AI programming that you would have access to that would, you know, maybe be able to track biometric data and make suggestions based on information it has on you and help you manage your business from the perspective?
NNAMDIWe may not be able to give you an exact date, but we do have an individual here who is chief of -- chief futurist at the University of Maryland.
GILROYI'm chief of the past. She's chief of the future.
HARLOWWhat does the crystal ball say?
GILROYCrystal ball, OK? The oracle of Potomac is speaking...
HARLOWAsk again later if there's an eight-ball.
DRUINOh, it's an eight-ball. Yeah. Actually, Doug, I should tell you that all of that exists in research labs today, and much of the, if you will, the smart applications that you're starting to see is being based on neural network-type programming, as well as artificial intelligence algorithms that you're -- that you've seen -- that you've heard about only in sci-fi pictures.
DRUINAnd the interesting thing is it's just a question of time of how will people pull these things out of the lab and bring them into commercial use. And you're starting to see bits and pieces of it. And I suspect over the next year or two, you're going to see more and more of this because time from labs to, you know, from research to commercialization is getting shorter and shorter.
NNAMDIApril 2, 2015.
DRUINThere you go.
HARLOWHeard it here first.
DRUINAnd if I'm still on this show, we better watch out.
NNAMDIJoe in Pasadena, Md., you're on the air, Joe. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIYes, Joe. Go ahead.
JOEIn the past I've owned a G5 Macintosh computer, and then I bought a G5 as a follow-up. And in the past, I could install whatever software I had with those computer systems and never had any problems with them. Now, I bought a Mac mini, and I tried to install the CD software that I had in the past with this new system and everything. And I get this message on the screen that says, you can't open the application guide because PowerPC applications are no longer supported.
HARLOWYep. Yep. It's still a Mac, but they've changed the architecture. So the old ones, they used PowerPC chips. The new ones all use processors from Intel, and the code that's written for those isn't compatible. So for a while, Apple had software built in to the operating system that would translate that, but that died off as Mac OS 10.7 Lion up to 10.8 Mountain Lion now. So it really just means it's time to update the software unfortunately. So in some cases, it may be a paid upgrade for some of those packages.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call, Joe. We got an email from Les, who says, "Although it's significant to worry about theft, I think people are too concerned about privacy. Marshall McLuhan's 50-year-old metaphor of the global village becomes more salient today. The traditional village didn't provide much privacy, and the global one may not either.
NNAMDI"I used to visit in-laws in a small town in North Dakota where everyone knew where everyone else was and what they were doing. It has advantages as well as disadvantages as we weave ties with people all over the planet." Well, that may be good, but there are still people who are concerned about security in general and cybersecurity in particular. I don't want a direct connection between John Gilroy and my bank account, so...
GILROYThat's for sure. Thank you.
NNAMDI...next week on Tech Tuesday, personal cybersecurity. We'll answer your questions about how to protect yourself online and avoid hackers, viruses and identity theft. That's April 9 at noon right here on this show. That's about all the time we have. John Gilroy is director of business development at Armature Corp.
NNAMDIBill Harlow is hardware and software technician for Macs and PCs at Mid-Atlantic Consulting, Inc. And Allison Druin is chief futurist at the University of Maryland Division of Research and co-director of the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
We explore the lessons from cities that have boosted their minimum wage as D.C. activists try to get a minimum wage hike on the ballot next year.
Kojo sits down with Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen to talk about her first months on the job, how she's prioritizing public health needs, and how her personal story instructs her vision for health policy and progress in Baltimore.