Geek News

Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service?

ComputerGuru -

I was asked the question, "Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service?" As a systems administrator on a private network, being able to create and customize a DNS server adds some management features that would not apply to the average home based web surfer.

This question was asked with the reason for using OpenNIC is to add an extra layer of privacy to your web browsing. The belief, or perhaps paranoia, is that DNS servers are able to log your requests, and by doing so they have a record of sites you have visited. The question is asked in the context that your DNS provided by your ISP is a source to track where you have been on the internet, and by using an alternative DNS service that eliminates that extra potential layer of tracking, thereby creating more privacy.

If you want to start playing around with alternative DNS solutions you need to understand the risks as well as the benefits.

First let's take a quick look at the definition of DNS (Domain Naming Service)

  • DNS is a distributed database of Domain Names and their corresponding IP Addresses.
  • DNS makes it possible to attach hard to remember IP addresses to easy to remember domain names
  • DNS translates between meaningful host names and IP addresses. It is a hierarchical naming system used to give each server on the Internet a unique name.
  • DNS keeps a complete listing of all FQDNs (Fully qualified domain names) and their associated IP address.

What is OpenNIC?

OpenNIC, an open source DNS provider, an organization of hobbyists who run an alternative DNS network.

Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service?

A quick look at some data found in the links below tell me that OpenNIC, an open source DNS provider, does not appear to be as efficient as other DNS providers.

Comparing the performance of popular public DNS providers -|- Recommended Public DNS Servers

Based on the data in those two articles, and my personal experiences with open source, I would ask, why bother to use OpenNIC?

I have volunteered my time and have been an advocate of open source solutions for more than 20 years. I am happy to use and test open source solutions if I see a benefit in using them. If I felt the need to pursue an alternative DNS solution I would do more research, but based on what I see here, I just don't see a compelling reason to jump on the OpenNIC bandwagon.


The importance of DNS

As an IT professional I have often used the analogy that talking to business managers about maintaining a computer network is like talking about the plumbing. Many cost cutting managers see technology infrastructure as an expense to be reduced, rather than a resource to be managed. The need to replace the pipes is not something that gets discussed. That is, until the morning when there is no water coming from the pipes, and no one can flush the toilets, then it becomes mission critical.

Computer network services such as DNS are like the plumbing below the surface, as long as it is running and everything is working, no one gives it much thought. That is until you type in the name of a website into your browser, and you get the message: dns_unresolved_hostname The requested site could not be found in DNS.

This article puts DNS into perspective: Plan to transition Internet management sparks censorship fears

Quoting from that article:  *"The importance of DNS cannot be overstated. It is the Internet’s phonebook, connecting bizarre-looking IP addresses to the domain names with which all Internet users are familiar. When someone types **Google* (http://google.com)* into their browser, their request goes through a DNS server, which understands that the user is looking for one of Google‘s many servers, including 195.122.30.25. If that routing information were compromised or corrupted, whether intentionally or accidentally, it could severely disrupt the basic flow of traffic over the Web."*

Digging deeper with DNS

Sounds simple on the surface, but when you look at DNS as a tool to deceive and mis-direct people, it gets a little deeper.

Over the years I've written quite a bit about internet laws and proposed legislation. In 2011 the world was up in arms about PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act.) The well meaning and good intentions of the US Congress was to shut down rogue websites and reduce the sale of counterfeit goods.

One of the provisions of the proposed law PIPA was allowing the government to remove rogue websites from the Domain Name System (DNS). Of course the internet purists were screaming about too much government control of the internet. (Ironically these same groups are now screaming for more government control of the internet with net neutrality regulations.)

Digging through some old notes I found this article explaining PIPA:  DNS filtering: absolutely the wrong way to defend copyrights

I have digressed a bit from the context of the original question, but I wanted to try to explain why the question might matter to someone beyond the simple answer, and why changing your DNS server is not something to be taken lightly.
 

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Home computer networks explained Wi-Fi and wireless access points

ComputerGuru -

Setting up your home network can get confusing as street slang dominates many forums and internet discussions.  Just about any plastic box with wires coming out of it is often called a modem or a router, in reality it may be neither.

Here at the Guru42 Universe we will do out best to sort through all the geek speak.  It is important to have a basic understanding of all the buzzwords when you are setting up your home computer network.  Depending on your Internet Service Provider and the service you are buying, the device they supply will vary and what you need to connect is not a one size fits all answer.

Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may provide you with a "residential gateway" that allows you to connect to the internet. You then purchase an internet appliance that is often called a "wireless router" to attach it.  People get confused because many small technology appliances made for home use are actually several devices in one.  One of my pet peeves on is when people use the term "wireless router" to describe a variety of devices. Typically what most people call a wireless router is a combination of a router, a wireless access point, and a network switch.

Do I need a modem to access the Internet?

A modem is a MOdulator-DEModulator, as in a modulator which creates an analog signal such as the type needed in POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), and a demodulator which converts the modulated carrier back to something that can be used in a digital circuit. Most modern communications use digital lines so the need to convert (MOdulate-DEModulate) is no longer necessary.

Often the word modem is used as a generic word for any device that connects your home network to an internet service providers network. Typically in modern home computing when someone uses the term modem they are talking about a  "residential gateway" provided to them by their ISP.

What confuses matters even more is that the device supplied by the ISP could be a multi-function technology appliance that contains a router, an Ethernet switch, and a WAP (wireless access point), and possibly other functions related to a home networks such as a firewall.

What is a wireless access point?

A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is a networking hardware device which, as the name describes, gives you wireless access to your LAN (local area network).  You have a wired connection, an ethernet 8P8C (8 position 8 contact) modular connectors port in your wall, that is wired access. You want to convert that to a wireless access point.

A Wireless Access Point has nothing to do with routing or switching.In a very small home network the WAP could be part of one appliance that has multiple features.  What many people call a router in their home may actually be a router, and a switch, and a wireless access point.

The terms "wireless access point" and "Wi-Fi" are not synonyms.

In online forums people often use the terms  "wireless access point"  and "Wi-Fi" to mean a hotspot, as in any type of public internet access.

A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is a device that offers, as the name suggests, wireless access to a wireless local area network (WLAN).  While cell phone technology is often discussed as a form of wireless networking, it is not the same as the wireless local area network (WLAN) technology discussed here.   In computer networking you would use the term Wireless Access Point (WAP) to identify the device being used, and the term Wi-Fi to identify the specific technology. rather than Wi-Fi access point.

Specifically the term "Wi-Fi" is a trademark of a trade association known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. The marketing company Interbrand, known for creating brand names, was hired to create a brand name to market the new technology, and the name Wi-Fi was chosen. The term "Wi-Fi" with the dash, is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

From a technical perspective WLAN technology is defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). IEEE 802 refers to a family of IEEE standards dealing with networks carrying variable size packets, which makes it different from cell phone based networks,  802.11 is a subset of the family specific to WLAN technology. Victor "Vic" Hayes was the first chair of the IEEE 802.11 group which finalized the wireless standard in 1997.

How are wireless access points used?

In the business world Wireless Access Points (WAP) are fairly common. On a business network your desktop computers (workstations) are connected via wire, but you probably have several WAPs (Wireless Access Points) for your laptop users.

If you are a visitor to a business network you may notice WAPs set up for office staff as well as visitors. This is becoming very common. You see this in government locations, perhaps even where you get your car serviced you can take your notebook into a lounge where you can use a "guest network" to connect to the internet.

Let's say you have a large home, and it is wired for data, as in it has ethernet ports through out your home. You want to convert that to a wireless access point. It has nothing to do with routing or switching. In wireless communications the "media" is a type of radio wave that communicates from your wireless adapter to the Wireless Access Point.

If your home office is in the basement, and that is the location of your current connection device (router, switch, wireless access point) where everything plugs in.  On the second floor of your house you have an ethernet port in your bedroom, but you want to use a tablet to surf the web, or perhaps use some internet appliance with your bedroom television.  The signal from the wireless access point in your basement is too weak.  You don't need to purchase another device that is a router and switch and WAP, all you need is the WAP (wireless access point).  So you simply buy a device that is ONLY a WAP, and plug it into your ethernet connection.

What is a wireless adapter?

Comparing a wireless network to a wired one, in a wired network your computer workstation has a NIC (Network Interface Card) which in a typical Ethernet network has an 8P8C (Eight Position, Eight Contact) modular jack on it where the network cable plugs into your computer.  From your computer the other end of the network cable plugs into some other type of device such as a switch or router, where traffic on your network is managed and distributed. On a wireless network the wireless adapter takes the place of the NIC.

How do I use ad hoc on a wireless network?

Ad hoc networks refer to networks created for a particular purpose. They are often created on-the-fly and for one-time or temporary use. If you don’t have a crossover cable to connect two notebooks or netbooks you can use their wireless capabilities to exchange files between without the need for any other than the computer itself. Instead of configuring your wireless adapter to connect to a wireless access point or router, you configure your wireless adapter to connect to another computer.

In the wireless world an ad hoc network is the equivalent of a peer to peer network.  In very small home networks, you may have two or three computers where you share resources between them, and to do so you set up a "peer to peer" network. Much like peer to peer networks in the wired world, ad hoc networks have management and security issues beyond that of the typical infrastructure network.

If your computer never leaves your house, having it set up to share files with another computer in your home may not be an issue you have to worry about.  On the other hand, if you travel with your computer, having ad hoc set up on your portable computer could create issues. Wireless devices in ad hoc mode offer minimal security against unwanted incoming connections, and there is a large security risk in using an ad hoc connection to an unknown computer, as you are exposing your computer to file sharing with strangers.

In some cases computers in public are purposely set up to look for and connect to other computers in ad hoc mode in order to steal information from them.  When using your computer in public hotspots you typically will be looking for a Wireless Network Connection, and ignore an attempt to connect with a strange computer using an ad hoc connection.

Learn more

If you are not sure what is the best technology choice for you, and you need some ideas, or if you want to keep up to date on hot topics in technology, check out the Guru 42 small business and technology blog  where we share our views and comments on the technology news of the day.

 

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The evolution of the Internet and the birth of TCP/IP

ComputerGuru -

The creation of the protocol suite TCP/IP as the basic set of rules for computers to communicate was one of the last major phases in the development of this global network we now call the Internet.

The internet was not something born of a single idea, but rather a gradual evolution, and the work of many people over many years.

The idea started with a vision to create a decentralized computer network, whereby every computer was connected to each other, but if one member of the systems was hit, the others would remain unaffected.

From the initial idea of a decentralized computer network came the concept of packet switching. During the 1960s Paul Baran developed the concept of packet switching networks while conducting research at the historic RAND organization.


What is a Protocol?

Once the concept of packet switching was developed the next stage in the evolution was to create a language that would be understood by all computer systems.

The network concept of protocols would establish a standard set of rules that would enable different types of computers, with different hardware and software platforms, to communicate in spite of their differences. Protocols describe both the format that a message must take as well as the way in which messages are exchanged between computers.

During the 1970s Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf would collaborate as key members of a team to create TCP/IP, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), the building blocks of the modern internet.

In 1972, Robert E. Kahn joined the DARPA Information Processing Technology Office, where he worked on both satellite packet networks and ground-based radio packet networks, and recognized the value of being able to communicate across both. In the spring of 1973, Vinton Cerf, the developer of the existing ARPANET Network Control Program (NCP) protocol, joined Kahn to work on open-architecture interconnection models with the goal of designing the next protocol generation for the ARPANET.

What is an RFC?

The concept of Request for Comments (RFC) documents was started by Steve Crocker in 1969 to help record unofficial notes on the development of ARPANET. RFCs have since become official documents of Internet specifications.

In computer network engineering, a Request for Comments (RFC) is a formal document published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and the global community of computer network researchers, to establish Internet standards.

TCP/IP RFC History

The creation of TCP/IP as the basic set of rules for computers to communicate was one of the last major phases in the development of this global network we now call the Internet. Many additional members of the TCP/IP family of protocols continue to be developed, expanding of the basic principals established by Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf back in the 1970s.

In 1981 the TCP/IP standards were published as RFCs 791, 792 and 793 and adopted for use. On January 1, 1983, TCP/IP protocols became the only approved protocol on the ARPANET, the predecessor to today's internet.

Links to learn more:

Check out our site Geek History where we discuss the evolution of the ARPANET and TCP/IP

Why was the internet created: 1957 Sputnik launches ARPA
http://geekhistory.com/content/why-was-internet-created-1957-sputnik-launches-arpa

When was internet invented: J.C.R. Licklider guides 1960s ARPA Vision
http://geekhistory.com/content/when-was-internet-invented-jcr-licklider-guides-1960s-arpa-vision

In the 1960s Paul Baran developed packet switching
http://geekhistory.com/content/1960s-paul-baran-developed-packet-switching

The 1980s internet protocols become universal language of computers
http://geekhistory.com/content/1980s-internet-protocols-become-universal-language-computers
 


 

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Last remnants of Westinghouse Electric for sale

Guru 42 Blog -

A Wall Street Journal article proclaims, "Westinghouse, Once an Industrial Powerhouse, Is on Brink of Sale."

The article talks about the current Westinghouse Electric Co, "a faded industrial giant that once helped electrify the world," as if the company being sold was the same company founded in 1886 by George Westinghouse. It's not, it is one last remnant of the original Westinghouse Electric that still bears the Westinghouse name.

The empire created by George Westinghouse, and the variety of products that carried the Westinghouse name have been split up over various companies over the years through a variety of mergers and acquisitions. The Westinghouse Electric mentioned in the article is the US based nuclear power company formed in 1998 from the nuclear power division of the original Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  The company retained the Westinghouse name even though it was acquired by Toshiba in 2005.  The Westinghouse nuclear power company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2017 and is being purchased by the company Brookfield Business Partners.

The current American mass media CBS Corporation, focused on commercial broadcasting, inherited much of the original Westinghouse Electric Company. When CBS Corporation was acquired by Viacom in 1999 that technically marked the end of the original Westinghouse Corporation. In 2005 CBS and Viacom split up, and the CBS Corporation lives on.

We will be watching to see if a new nuclear company creayed from the assets of the current Westinghouse Electric still carries the name Westinghouse. At one time the two major companies that dominated our world of electricity and electric appliances were Westinghouse and General Electric, which can be traced to Thomas Edison.

Interesting, the brand name of "Westinghouse" is still owned by the CBS Corporation. (Westinghouse heritage)

The names of Westinghouse Electric and General Electric are slowing fading away in corporate America, but the legacy of the great inventor and industrialist George Westinghouse lives on at GeekHistory.
 

A photo of  Westinghouse generators at Edward Dean Adams Power Plant in Niagara Fall, the first large-scale, alternating current electric generating plant in the world, built in 1895, reminds us of the legacy of Westinghouse.

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Life without an Internet connection is not the end of the world

The Tao of Questy -

Body: 

For the most part I stay away from questions about politics and religion because the conversations get too emotional and irrational. I am starting to feel the same way about the recent rash of questions about net neutrality

I am not saying that regulations regarding net neutrality are not important, but they are not so important that anyone should consider leaving the country because of them. Any regulations surrounding net neutrality are not life and death issues.

If you are scratching your head right now, wondering what net neutrality is, I have a few links at the end of this that explain the topic. I am interested in net neutrality because I have worked in the fields of technology and telecommunications for many years. I feel pretty confident in saying that the world will not end if the internet shuts down tomorrow. I can live a normal healthy life without a broadband connection to my home.

Maybe I feel this way because I grew up in an era where the commercial internet did not exist. Yea, the internet technically existed in the 1960s and 1970s, but it did not became a commercial entity until the 1990s. Even in the 1990s the internet was so expensive to use, it was a small part of our lives.

What can we do using the computer without an Internet connection?

I can use a computer to do many of the things I did without a computer years ago. I really feel old when I answer questions about life before the internet went commercial.

Playing games

The obvious answer of using a computer not connected to the internet is playing games, but I have never been much of a gamer. I buy an old version of a game that is reduced in price because it has gone out of style or no longer the latest and greatest version.

I love music

I can listen to music all day long that is stored on my computer. I have a cassette player as well as a vinyl record turntable connected to my computer that allow me to take music from old analog sources and convert them to computer files. Yes, most of the songs are available somewhere as digital downloads. But I enjoy taking an occasional Saturday afternoon to convert files.

I love old movies

Just like with my music library, I can take old video files from tapes and DVDs and rip them as files stored on my computer. I have tons of old movies on an external hard drive.

I love restoring old photographs

I have boxes of old photographs, and just like with the movies and the music I get the urge to digitize old photographs from time to time. Not only does digitizing old photos give me a better way to store them, I can take old faded photos and try to restore the color. I can take different photos and edit them together. I currently have three different versions of PaintShop Pro on my computer, I update it to the latest and greatest version every few years.

I love to write

From days before I owned a personal computer I have pages of notes for stories, and various reference books. Over the years I have downloaded many books and movies that are now files on my hard drive that I use as reference material for when I write. I always have notepad open on my computer, and as ideas come to me, I jot them down in notepad. If I really wanted to be lazy, I have a laptop computer set up to take notes that I dictate to it verbally.

Who needs the internet?

As I am writing the draft of this blog post in notepad, and think about all the ways I use my computer, I realize all the many ways I use a computer without needing an internet connection. This answer is off the top of my head, and is just relating to my personal computer at home. I could write another chapter on various business and productivity applications I could use at work without an internet connection.

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

If the internet gets shut down tomorrow, I have plenty of things to do on my computer that do not require an internet connection. I guess I am ready for the apocalypse, the end of the internet, or whatever comes my way.

Learn more:

Internet equality and net neutrality explained in simple terms

Internet censorship and net neutrality is not a simple matter

Net Neutrality anxiety high over proposed changes by FCC Chairman
 

 

The glorification of the legendary geek inventor Nikola Tesla

Geek Past -

Nikola Tesla is the poster child for the story of the little guy who takes on the world. He came to America with just a few cents in his pocket, looking to find a better life, and prove his point to the world. What adds extra energy to the story is that Tesla just didn't go up against the world, he went up against the greatest inventor of all times, Thomas Edison.

While there is a current coolness to loving Tesla for being the unsung hero, there is also a coolness for bashing Thomas Edison. It is almost impossible to get the words Edison and light bulb out of your mouth without someone shouting, "Edison didn't invent the light bulb!" There is a boastful gloating by some in calling Edison evil, and contrasting Tesla as the good that defeated the evil.

But Tesla didn't stop with just defeating Edison, he took on the other giants of his day. I remember when I was growing up reading that Marconi invented the radio. Ah, how wrong, say the Tesla fans, "Marconi didn't invent the radio!" They claim Marconi stole all his ideas from Tesla!

Tesla defeated the mighty Edison, his ideas were stolen by the great Marconi. But Tesla went after another giant of his day, he took on Einstein, the greatest scientist of his day, and dared to call Einstein, a long haired crank.

Beyond the character of good versus evil, there is the mystical Tesla, who went to the mountain tops of Colorado to harness lightning for the good of mankind, and communicate with other worlds along the way. The final battle of Tesla versus the world are the stories of the mythical free energy that Tesla promised he could create, but was stopped, and silenced by the evil corporate America.

The War of Currents was a battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, but the internet has changed it to a battle between Thomas Edison and Nikola Telsa, it makes for a better story.

Westinghouse spent most of his life running his businesses from the smoke stack city of Pittsburgh. Westinghouse was a quiet man who did not seek the spotlight. For as much as I have studied the late industrial age, I have not found many photos of Westinghouse. Compared to Tesla, Westinghouse was a pretty boring character.

Tesla rubbed elbows with the rich and famous as he frequented the best restaurants in New York City. Tesla was good friends with many famous people such as Mark Twain and loved to share his party tricks and experiments with his famous friends. Edison was called the Wizard of Menlo Park, but Tesla was really the wizard. Nikola Tesla was a handsome well dressed fellow. Tesla was an entertaining guy, he had cool party tricks, he invited the rich and famous back to his lab so he could shoot lighting bolts at them.

Every great epic story needs a hero and a villain. In the romanticized story known as the War of Currents, Edison is the villain. He is the guy everyone loves to hate. Tesla represents the hero we can identify with, the dreamer in all of us. It is the ultimate battle of good versus evil, and all the forces of evil, against that well meaning immigrant, who took them all on, representing every man with a dream who felt dumped on by the world.

People overrate the inventions and accomplishments of Nikola Tesla because they get so wrapped up in the myths and legends of a very interesting character.

The Cult of Nikola Tesla

Sadly, people get so passionate about Nikola Tesla they lose perspective of his accomplishments. If you study the times of Tesla, the late 1800s and early 1900s, you will find many inventors working on similar inventions. Tesla was not a hermit with a secret lab in a case. He was learning the ideas and inventions of others.

Some people get mad when I refer to The Cult of Nikola Tesla, but the followers of Tesla have a religious fervor to their devotion to the man. They take one small bit of information and turn it into a sermon for their beliefs.

But Edison didn't invent the light bulb!

That's right, Edison didn't invent the concept of lighting and electrical distribution systems. But neither did Tesla. The concept of lighting and electrical distribution systems was being developed in Europe before Edison and Tesla.

Tesla invented Alternating Current!

No, he didn't. Michael Faraday and Hippolyte Pixii were working with Alternating Current and electric motors in the early 1800s, years before Tesla was born.

But Tesla invented the AC induction motor!

Maybe, maybe not. Some sources name Galileo Ferraris as the inventor of induction motors. Some sources name Nikola Tesla as the inventor. Not taking any chances on patent issues, Westinghouse purchased a U.S. patent option on induction motors from Galileo Ferraris, along with Tesla's patents.

Marconi didn't invent the radio!

For years I was content with the common story that radio was primarily the work of Marconi. The Tesla fans are pretty persistent in their message that Marconi was a thief, and point to a 1943 US Supreme Court decision as "proof" that Tesla, not Marconi, was the real inventor of radio.

The 1943 US Supreme Court decision does not change the original radio patent of Marconi, but the decision overturns patents for many of the advanced features of radio, affirming prior work and patents that were held by Sir Oliver Lodge and John Stone Stone.

Marconi does not deserve credit for inventing radio, but neither does Tesla. There are many names that add to that list such as Reginald Fessenden.

Fessenden had many striking similarities to Tesla, working early in his career with Thomas Edison, but later teamed up with George Westinghouse to defeat Edison in the famous "War of Currents.

The forgotten geek that everyone knows

You hear the phrase of a "perfect storm" to describe a rare combination of circumstances coming together to make an event much larger that it would be otherwise. With Nikola Tesla there is a "perfect storm" of events which take him beyond just a cool geek to super hero status.


Learn more, the truth is out there:

Who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power

Who is responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Geekhistory explores who invented radio
 

 

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Net Neutrality anxiety high over proposed changes by FCC Chairman

Guru 42 Blog -

Many new questions are popping up regarding FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposing to reverse the FCC classification of home and mobile ISPs as common carriers.

There is panic and paranoia over what these changes might mean. I am not getting excited.

I have written quite a bit about proposed internet regulations over the years.  Here is a little historic perspective on the fight for control over telecommunications.

Government controls radio

The Radio Act of 1912 mandated that all radio stations in the United States be licensed by the federal government.

The government took over full control of all radio service for the good of the cause when the United States entered into WWI. All amateur and commercial use of radio ended in the U.S. on April 7, 1917. It became illegal for private U.S. citizens to own an operational radio transmitter or receiver.

The Radio Act of 1927 created The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) to regulate radio use "as the public interest, convenience, or necessity" requires.

Expanding power and control beyond radio, to all forms of telecommunications, now falls under The Federal Communications Commission which was created in 1934.

The Federal Communications Commission battles starting in 1934

The Communications Act of 1934 established the basic regulations of communication by wire and radio. The internet went commercial in the mid 1990s and The Telecommunications Act of 1996 addressed the new and emerging technologies.

Since 1996 the categories of Telecommunications Service, Broadcast Services, and Cable Services have become muddied together, rather than being distinctly different services. In 2015, the FCC classified Internet Service Providers as common carriers under The Communications Act of 1934 Title II, for the purpose of enforcing net neutrality.

The term "Net neutrality" was coined by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. The concept is based on legal concept of common carrier which became popular in the United States with the late 1800s with the railroad barons controlling the flow of goods and services.

Any FCC ruling can be challenged in the courts, as it has been in the past.

Telecommunications and Federal Trade Commission antitrust suits

Government antitrust suits have been a part of telecommunications dating back to the early 20th century. In 1913 Kingsbury Commitment was an out-of-court settlement of the government's antitrust challenge of AT&T's monopoly of the phone industry. In 1949 an antitrust lawsuit alleged that AT&T and the Bell System operating companies were using their near-monopoly in telecommunications to attempt to establish unfair advantages.

The government forced the breakup of the Bell System in 1982 into seven different holding companies. Through mergers and acquisitions over the years, four of the seven "Baby Bells" are now part of AT&T and two are part of Verizon.

Any actions by a telecommunications company can be challenged in the courts and the Federal Trade Commission as they have been in the past.

It's nothing new

Any changes made to Net Neutrality regulations in December 2017 will only be one event in an ongoing battle for control of telecommunications that has been waged on many fronts since the early development of radio and telephone services in the early 20th century.

Any changes made will be challenged, and changed again.

Learn more:

Net Neutrality and the myth that the internet is free

 

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Photo: FCC Chairman Genachowski swears in Ajit Pai as a new Commissioner at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC.
May 14, 2012. [Federal Communications Commission Photo]
 

 

 

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Debunking the mindless misinformation of the cult of Tesla

The Tao of Questy -

Body: 

We use the phase "Drinking the Kool-Aid" as we joking talk about a mythical "Cult of Tesla." The phrase "Drinking the Kool-Aid" means to blindly follow someone without asking any questions. Check out the deadly story behind drinking the Kool-Aid, where we go into more detail on the sad circumstances of the origin of that phrase.

It is sad to see people blindly believe every myth about Nikola Tesla without questioning the validity. Tesla was indeed a pioneer and visionary in many areas of technology and science, but he did not invent many of the things the Tesla fanatics claim.

Nikola Tesla has a cult following that gives him credit for inventing just about everything. There are people who object to the phrase "the Cult of Tesla," but the Tesla fanatics are a prime example of a cult. Tesla fanatics have an "us against them" mentality with stories full of conspiracy theories of how the government took all of Tesla's files when he died. When it comes to any attempts to have a rational conversation, they deny any facts that might contradict the group's beliefs.

When I told someone that a statement they made regarding Tesla was false, their comeback was, "Do you have a source for it being false?" LMFAO! If I claim to be the king, does that make it so, until someone proves me wrong? The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, proof is provided that gives validity to the claim. Having a meaningful conversation with Tesla fanatics can be frustrating because there is a complete avoidance of critical thinking.

Debunking Nikola Tesla myths on electricity and AC current

Here at the World of Questy, we explore the myths and legends. Over at the GeekHistory website we document the inventions and the inventors.

In addressing all the myths on electricity and AC current we created an entire new GeekHistory section on the history of electricity, and we broke it down into multiple pages starting with a list of scientists and inventors that contributed to our modern understanding of electricity.

Most of Tesla's early inventions fell into the categories of electrical power distribution or motors and generators. Nikola Tesla developed the polyphase alternating current system of generators, motors and transformers.

There are many forgotten geeks who made incredibly important contributions in bringing electricity to our homes. Nikola Tesla did not invent AC power generation. It was theoretically described by other others before him, as were many of the other inventions and discoveries often credited to Tesla. Our next page looks at the European inventors before Edison and Tesla who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power distribution.

It bothers me that so many internet sites talk about the War of Currents as the great battle between Edison and Tesla. Edison eventually lost control of Edison Electric as it merged with another company to become General Electric. Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when the War of Currents started between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison.

Westinghouse was a systems thinker, he also had a knack for spotting good ideas and people and bringing them into his fold, and he knew AC power distribution was a good idea. Follow this link to learn about the many Westinghouse Electric engineers responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Edison does deserve credit for many inventions in a wide variety of areas, and in defending Edison, I have come up with a fair amount of material for the GeekHistory websites. Edison might have been too stubborn to back down on DC power generation as the way to produce electricity, but he does deserve to be respected for launching the modern electric utility industry with the creation of the Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan in 1882. When the War of Currents ended around 1893, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. But the Edison team (which became part of the General Electric Company) lived on in many ways.

Debunking Tesla Myths Defending Edison

In the World of Questy websites we get a bit cynical and sarcastic at times as we try understand various myths and legends regarding both Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. We really scratch our head wondering why people follow mindless misinformation without searching for the truth.

As I revved up my writing for the GeekHistory website over the last few years I have become active in social media looking for common questions about famous inventors and inventions. In search of information on all the "who invented it" myths of technology history I found a great deal of misinformation giving credit to Nikola Tesla for a variety of inventions. I find myself often defending Thomas Edison because of over the top claims of everything that Nikola Tesla allegedly invented.

When I created the GeekHistory website my main goal was to draw attention to the many scientists and inventors that I call the forgotten geeks. It was not my plan to spend a lot of time defending Thomas Edison, after all he does get mentioned often. Some of the Tesla fans point to crazy things that Edison did to discredit him as an inventor. Don't get me wrong, Thomas Edison was no saint, he was a lunatic at times, but to discredit Edison as a means to glorify Tesla is more than a little humorous.

Nikola Tesla was a brilliant man with many ideas and inventions. Nikola Tesla was a colorful character who gives us much to talk about. Nikola Tesla cornered the market on craziness during his lifetime.

Studying the claims of Tesla fans, searching for the truth, has made me even more passionate about my original goals of drawing attention to the forgotten geeks who deserve to be remembered.

A few more links to learn more:

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War 

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Debunking the Nikola Tesla myths by way of defending Thomas Edison

Guru 42 Blog -

When I created the GeekHistory website my main goal was to draw attention to the many scientists and inventors that I call the forgotten geeks. It was not my plan to spend a lot of time defending Thomas Edison, after all he does get mentioned often.

As I revved up my writing for the GeekHistory over the last few years I have become active in social media looking for common questions about famous inventors and inventions. In search of information on all the "who invented it" myths of technology history I found a great deal of misinformation giving credit to Nikola Tesla for a variety of inventions. I find myself often defending Thomas Edison because of often over the top claims of everything that Nikola Tesla allegedly invented.

Nikola Tesla has a cult following that gives him credit for inventing just about everything. There are people who object to the phrase "the Cult of Tesla," but the Tesla fanatics are a prime example of a cult. Tesla fanatics have an "us against them" mentality with stories full of conspiracy theories of how the government took all of Tesla's files when he died. When it comes to any attempts to have a rational conversation, they deny any facts that might contradict the group's beliefs. Having a meaningful conversation with Tesla fanatics can be frustrating because there is a complete avoidance of critical thinking.

Studying the claims of Tesla fans, searching for the truth, has made me even more passionate about my original goals of drawing attention to the forgotten geeks who deserve to be remembered. One of the many claims of Tesla fans is that Tesla invented radio. In the process of digging deeper to learn more I came to appreciate the work of Fessenden. Who is the inventor who started his career working for Thomas Edison, later worked with George Westinghouse, and has a legitimate claim to be called the father of radio? The answer to that question is not Nikola Tesla, it is Reginald Fessenden.

From his work for George Westinghouse and the University of Pittsburgh, to the story of Fessenden's 1905 Christmas broadcast to ships at sea, he is indeed a forgotten geek that deserves to be remembered. Check out the complete story of Reginald Fessenden Canadian inventor of radio and wireless telephone

For all his quirks, I do appreciate the contributions of Thomas Edison. Including the mountains of material I have read, I have made two visits to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village near Dearborn, Michigan in recent years to study the accomplishments of Edison and other geeks. Just as I note the exaggerations of the Tesla fans, you can say that the claim that science becomes religion goes both ways. Henry Ford idolized Thomas Edison, you can clearly see that in the Henry Ford museum complex. The complete Menlo Park lab from New Jersey was transported to Michigan and rebuilt there. Henry Ford had a dedication ceremony for the reconstructed lab that Edison attended when it opened.

There are many forgotten geeks who made incredibly important contributions in bringing electricity to our homes. Nikola Tesla did not invent AC power generation. Tesla's sole contribution was his version of the polyphase AC motor. Significant, but it was theoretically described by other others before him, as were many of the other inventions and discoveries often credited to Tesla.

As we created the section on the history of electricity we broke it down into four sections starting with a list of scientists and inventors that contributed to our modern understanding of electricity.

Our next page looks at the European inventors before Edison and Tesla who contributed to the development of electricity and AC power distribution

It bothers me that so many internet sites talk about the War of Currents as the great battle between Edison and Tesla. Edison eventually lost control of Edison Electric as it merged with another company to become General Electric. Nikola Tesla was not a member of team Westinghouse when the War of Currents started between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. Follow this link to learn about the many Westinghouse Electric engineers responsible for electricity and AC power in our homes

Edison does deserve credit for many inventions in a wide variety of areas, and in defending Edison, I have come up with a fair amount of material for the GeekHistory websites. Edison might have been too stubborn to back down on DC power generation as the way to produce electricity, but he does deserve to be respected for launching the modern electric utility industry with the creation of the Pearl Street station in lower Manhattan in 1882 When the War of Currents ended around 1893, Thomas Edison was no longer in control of Edison Electric. But the Edison team (which became part of the General Electric Company) lived on in many ways.

Reginald Fessenden worked several years for Edison, before joining forces with Westinghouse. In the biography "Fessenden – Builder of Tomorrow" - by Helen Fessenden (his wife), you will find remarks by Reginald Fessenden defending the legacy Thomas Edison.

"The question has often been put to me 'Is Edison really a good inventor? Are not his inventions really due to his assistants?' Having worked with him for a number of years and having made a rather special study of the science of invention and of inventors, my own conclusion is that all of the inventions which go by his name were made by him personally, and that there is only one figure in history which stands in the same rank with him as an inventor, i.e. Archimedes."

Edison had the reputation of a hard driving businessman, but he was also passionate about creating an invention factory. Edison paid workers to conduct numerous tedious experiments so he did not have to do the boring manual tasks himself. I think that is pretty genius.

Some of the Tesla fans point to crazy things that Edison did to discredit him as an inventor. Don't get me wrong, Thomas Edison was no saint, he was a lunatic at times, but to discredit Edison as a means to glorify Tesla is more than a little humorous. Nikola Tesla cornered the market on craziness during his lifetime.


A few more links to learn more:

Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison and the search for the truth

George Westinghouse used Tesla power to defeat Edison in Currents War

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Computer networking packet switching explained in simple terms

ComputerGuru -

Throughout the standard for Internet Protocol you will see the description of packet switching, "fragment and reassemble internet datagrams when necessary for transmission through small packet networks." A message is divided into smaller parts know as packets before they are sent. Each packet is transmitted individually and can even follow different routes to its destination. Once all the packets forming a message arrive at the destination, they are recompiled into the original message.

Internet data, whether in the form of a Web page, a downloaded file or an e-mail message, travels over a system known as a packet-switching network. Each of these packages gets a wrapper that includes information on the sender's address, the receiver's address, the package's place in the entire message, and how the receiving computer can be sure that the package arrived intact.

There are two huge advantages to the packet switching. The network can balance the load across various pieces of equipment on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis. If there is a problem with one piece of equipment in the network while a message is being transferred, packets can be routed around the problem, ensuring the delivery of the entire message.

Packet switching explained in simple terms

In teaching the concept of packet switching in the classroom, I would take a piece of paper with a message written on it, and from the front of the classroom, ask the person in the front seat simply to turn around and pass the paper to the person behind him, and in turn continue the process until the paper made it to the person in the back row.

In the next phase of the illustration, I would take the same piece of paper that had the message written on it, and tear it into four pieces. On each individual piece of paper I would address it as if sending a letter through the postal service, by writing my name as the sender, and also the name of the person in the back of the room as the recipient. I would also label each individual piece of paper as one of four, two of four, three of four, and four of four.

This time I would take the four individual pieces of paper and walk across the front row, and as I handed one piece of paper to four different students, I would explain to them who was to receive the paper, and asked them to pass it to the person marked as the recipient by using the people behind them. When all four pieces of paper arrived at the destination, I would ask the recipient to read the label I had put on each piece of paper, and confirm they had received the entire message.

My original passing of the paper represented Circuit switching, the telecommunications technology which used circuits to create the virtual path, a dedicated channel between two points, and then delivered the entire message.

My second passing of the "packets" or scraps of paper illustrated packet switching, and each individual in the room acted as a router. The key difference between the two methods was the additional routes that the pieces of the message took. A very primitive, but effective demonstration of packet switching and the way in which a message would be transmitted across the internet.

Once the concept of packet switching was developed the next stage in the evolution was to create a language that would be understood by all computer systems. This new standard set of rules would enable different types of computers, with different hardware and software platforms, to communicate in spite of their differences.

Geek History: In the 1960s Paul Baran developed packet switching
 

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Wondering about the dark web and the forbidden fruit of the internet

Guru 42 Blog -

The phrase forbidden fruit typically refers to engaging in an act of pleasure that is considered illegal or immoral. That fits the mold of many questions I am often asked, such as what are some of the illegal or immoral websites you can find on the mysterious and mythical part of the internet known as the dark web.  The mysterious dark web, sometimes called the dark net, is the fuel for spy movies. it helped to create WikiLeaks run by the super spy Julian Assange and it allows cyber snitches like Edward Snowden share secret information. People are axious to know how to find what is hinding beneath the surface in the dark web.

According to remarks made by Roger Dingledine at a recently Philly tech conference, the overall perception of the dark web is more mythical than factual.  Roger Dingledine is an MIT-trained American computer scientist known for having co-founded the Tor Project, aka "the dark web."  Dingledine spoke at the Philly Tech Week 2017 putting some of the myths and legends of "the dark web" into perspective.

The worldwide network known as “the dark web” uses specially configured servers designed to work with custom configured web browsers with the purpose of hiding your identity. You will see the term Tor servers and web browsers to describe this private network. Tor originally stood for "The Onion Router."  The Tor Project, Inc is a Massachusetts-based research-education nonprofit organization founded by computer scientists Roger Dingledine, Nick Mathewson and five others. The Tor Project is primarily responsible for maintaining software for the Tor anonymity network.

If you are looking for all that forbidden fruit hiding beneath the surface, according to Dingledine no more than one to three percent of the Tor Network’s traffic comes from “hidden services” or “onion services”, services that use the public internet but require special software to access. Dingledine claimed that onion services basically do not exist. He added that it’s a nonsense that there are “99 other internets” users can’t access.

One popular way often used to describe the deep web and dark net is to use a graphic of an iceberg. Dingledine advises his audience not to pay attention when someone uses the iceberg metaphor, and criticized the news providers who use the “iceberg metaphor” for describing the darknet and the deep web.  According to Dingledine, just about any use of the “dark web” phrase is really just a marketing ploy by cybersecurity firms and other opportunists.  So the forbidden fruit you were hoping to find really is just a myth after all.

Learn more:

People are fascinated about what you can find on the dark web, but have no idea what it all means. Learn more from Guru42 in this article where I go over the basic definitions with links to learn more: Buzzwords from the world wide web to deep web and dark net

Referencing Roger Dingledine at Philly Tech Week 2017 here are some links about that event:

Stop Paying Attention When Someone Uses The Iceberg Metaphor For The Dark Web

Stop talking about the dark web: Tor Project cofounder Roger Dingledine

 

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There is a sucker born every minute and they are using Google

The Tao of Questy -

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American circus entertainer P. T. Barnum is often credited with the statement "there's a sucker born every minute".  I was talking about another famous deputed phrase of P. T. Barnum a few months ago, "there's no such thing as bad publicity," in reference to Marketing 101 and how Pepsi succeeded. In my remarks about how Pepsi succeeded a photo that appears to show  P. T. Barnum with the quote "There's no such thing as bad publicity"  was attached to my posting.

Being an information geek I was curious to learn the origin of the photo of P. T. Barnum.  Doing a quick search of the image on Google quickly showed that the photo was not P. T. Barnum but famous psychologist Bertram R. Forer.

So if the image I think is P. T. Barnum is actually Bertram R. Forer, I ask Google for an image of P. T. Barnum. But now  I am confused, as I use Google to search on a photo of P. T. Barnum they look an awful lot like the same photos identified as Bertram R. Forer.

Bertram R. Forer's connection to P. T. Barnum

In 1948 psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave a psychology test to 39 of his psychology students. Similar to the P. T. Barnum statement "there's a sucker born every minute" Forer was looking to prove that when assessment statements are vague people read their own meaning into the statements. Basically Forer was trying to show that people are easily tricked or manipulated into believing vague things.
 

But Forer did not connect his theories to circus showman Phineas Taylor Barnum. The term "Barnum effect" referring to the the work of Forer was coined in 1956 by American psychologist Paul Meehl in his essay "Wanted A Good Cookbook".


Truth by consensus lies

In the world of Questy websites we have been critical of Google claims that "Democracy on the web works." The phrase "truth by consensus" describes the philosophical theory of taking statements to be true simply because people generally agree upon them.

I am cynical about the artificial intelligence of the internet, as I find examples of where truth by consensus is really a lie. Should I be reasonably certain that most of the photos Google identified as P. T. Barnum are accurate? If that is true, at this point I am not sure that I have found an accurate photo of famous psychologist Bertram R. Forer.

The more examples I find of truth by consensus like this mis-attributed photo of P. T. Barnum to Bertram R. Forer illustrates that there is a sucker born every minute and they are using Google to find the answers to their questions.

 


Truth by consensus and the myths and legends created by the internet | http://questy.com/content/truth-consensus-and-myths-and-legends-created-...

We've Got Something for Everyone: The Barnum Effect | https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201411/weve-got-somet...

F is for Bertram Forer | http://shootingparrots.co.uk/2017/02/15/f-is-for-bertram-forer/

P. T. Barnum | http://www.nndb.com/people/121/000056950/

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Privacy on the Internet is just wishful thinking

The Tao of Questy -

Body: 

It wasn't all that long ago that former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden was making news accusing the US government of accessing the web servers of some of the biggest internet services for the purpose of data mining, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was becoming a cult hero for exposing government secrets.

Right now there are many arguments over net neutrality that stir up privacy issues into the mix, but they are another area in the fight to control the internet.

Recruiters research prospective candidates on social networking sites as part of pre-hire screening. Social media users have not all learned that the delete key is an illusion. The curse of the digital age is once information is accessed on the internet and passed on to others, there is no way to take it back.

Over at the Guru 42 Universe we talk about the great power comes great responsibility of the internet and the brave new online world. In spite of the fact that their use is increasing everyday, there is a growing distrust of social networking sites. Privacy and personal security concerns become hot topics as websites gather personal information for profiling users to enable advertisers to target them more productively. Ethical and legal concerns are raised as websites make money by selling our digital footprints.

Is privacy a thing of the past?

Back in 1999, Scott McNealy CEO and co-founder of Sun Microsystems uttered the famous quote, "You already have zero privacy. Get over it." Do you think things are any better nearly two decades later?

I know from a long career in telecommunications and computer networking, you have zero privacy.  I don't post my every move on Facebook, and I don't tweet from every restaurant I visit. But I don't go out of my way to run and hide either. I would rather you hear me pitch my view of who I am, instead of visiting one of the many websites offering to sell you anything you want to know about me. Even a simple search can turn up previous addresses and unlisted phone numbers.

I have been accused of blatant self promotion from time to time on social media. I admit to it. I feed the internet with information about me. I believe that a strong defense is to lead with a strong offense. That's not a football strategy, that's my view of dealing with social media.

I write about technology and politics, things like net neutrality, privacy issues, and attempts to regulate the internet. There are no easy answers to the issues. Many issues will involve understanding common ground and compromise.

Do you know who is watching you?

Are you using an email provider like Gmail? Did you know email stored on a third party's servers for over 180 days is considered to be abandoned, and law enforcement agencies only need to provide a written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation in order to obtain the content of such emails. - See more at: Will the Email Privacy Act Become Law?

There are those who will tell you how you can hide your identity on the internet. I must really be cynical, because I wouldn't trust my life on that assumption, as explained in this Washington Post article: The NSA is trying to crack Tor. The State Department is helping pay for it. 

Is privacy just wishful thinking?

The technology generally exists to allow network managers to monitor all aspects of their computer system, including, monitoring sites visited by employees on the Internet, monitoring chat groups and news groups, reviewing material downloaded or uploaded by employees, and reviewing e-mail sent and received by employees.

Most Americans agree that the government should not infringe the individual’s right to privacy, property, and right to speak. But they also agree that law enforcement and national security are important governmental functions.  Interestingly enough, the word “privacy” does not appear in the Constitution.

Some follow up thoughts:

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Protecting your assets balancing better security versus big brother

And a few more articles to get you thinking...

If You Think You're Anonymous Online, Think Again 

Most people don’t realize they are leaving behind digital footprints 

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What you need to know before buying a computer

Guru 42 Blog -

At last the secret of what you need to know before buying a computer is revealed, there is no one size fits all answer. But you don’t need to be a world class geek to learn computer buzzwords and understand some basic concepts before you shop for your next computer.

I usually try to stay out of the Apple versus Microsoft debates. Since I am updating some content on desktop operating systems on Computerguru.net I thought I would use this blog post to address the often asked question of "what computer should I buy" and add this perspective. I will also  introduce a few new articles to answer some frequently asked questions relevant to someone shopping for a computer.

Recently on an online forum the question of "what computer should I buy" was asked based on the idea that a MacBook Pro is inherently the best laptop out there. The person asking the question was looking for reasons to buy a MacBook Pro, but gave no clues on how they are going to use it. That is a very important factor in answering the question! I never answer any questions on "what computer should I buy" for friends and family until I ask several questions.

I laughed as I read one of the answers that stated, "If all you are going to do is web surfing, social media, and email you don’t need a MacBook Pro." Yea, that's right. There are Chromebooks as well as cheap Windows notebooks that could do that for a lot less money!

My best advice to anyone looking to buy a computer, think long and hard about how you are going to use it, and find other people with the same wants and needs, and ask them what they own, what they like and not like about it.

I am not a graphics designer or an artist, those are the type of users who are typically the Apple fans. I have been working in enterprise computer networking for more than 20 years, started working on desktop computers in the 1980s. I look at the computer as a tool, and I look at what is the best tool for the task at hand. I have no loyalties to any specific brands.

Many answers comparing Microsoft to Apple often use various luxury car to cheap foreign comparisons, implying if you could afford the expensive luxury car, but choose otherwise, you must be a fool. So let me run with that analogy.

Take a step back and look at the history of Apple versus Microsoft.  In the 1990s when Windows 95 dominated the desktop, Microsoft was the Ford F-150 pick up truck.  Not many people would describe the Ford F-150 pick up truck as a sexy luxury vehicle, but many would describe it as the work horse vehicle that gets the job done.  There's a good case to be made that the folks marketing to the pick up truck users have a different plan than those looking to sell the sexy luxury vehicle.

A computer is a tool I use for work, as well as recreation. I work in a business world that is Microsoft based. We are required to purchase a specific brand of Windows based computers, not my favorite brand, but that's my environment. My problems are no so much with Windows as it is the vendors that support our users create applications that run on old Microsoft operating systems. I have to deal with home cooked applications that are designed for last generation Windows computers. That's my world.

I have had iPads and various other Apple products in my home, and they never got used. Even if the interface is slightly different, I don't have time to deal with it. I have had access to Kindles and Nooks, and they never got used. I can put an application on my Windows notebook that reads the books, so why do I need to learn a new interface? It's called being lazy, I know it is, but I have no personal reason to care about Apple products. It's nothing personal.

If one of my family members wants to buy a luxury car, I will be happy to ride in it. If money were no object, tomorrow I would go out and buy a new Ford F-150 pick up truck that best suited my needs.

I don't get emotionally attached to my computers or automobiles. They are tools. Nothing more.

You too can understand computer buzzwords

Since 1998, ComputerGuru.net has attempted to provide self help and tutorials for learning basic computer and networking technology concepts, maintaining the theme, "Geek Speak Made Simple." Recently I updated the Drupal content management software for Computerguru and updated a few pages.

Based on commonly asked questions, I have added several new pages to the section Common technology questions and basic computer concepts. On computer operating systems we have added an article that explains the major differences between desktop computer operating systems and one on installing Linux and understanding all the different Linux distributions.

I get a lot a questions on computer cables and finally finished up this article on Ethernet computer network cable frequently asked questions answered and an article explaining computer network modular connectors and telephone registered jacks.

And based on many questions on printers, we had some fun coming up with this article, the ugly truth about computer printers.

Yes, I know that sounds like a lot of geek speak, but we do our best to break it all down into small bite sized chunks, so it is easy to digest.  Please take a few minutes to check out the new content, and please share it with your geek friends on social media.

Any topics need covered? Any questions missing?

Are there any buzzwords bothering you?  Something else you would like us to cover here at the Guru 42 Universe?  Let us know: Guru 42 on Twitter -|- Guru 42 on Facebook -|- Guru 42 on Google+ -|- Tom Peracchio on Google  

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Wireless Networks in Simple Terms WLAN and Wi-Fi defined

ComputerGuru -

The term Wi-Fi is often used as a synonym for wireless local area network (WLAN). Specifically the term "Wi-Fi" is a trademark of a trade association known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. From a technical perspective WLAN technology is defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

In computer networking everything starts with the physical layer, which for many years was a copper wire. The physical layer was expanded to include anything that represent the wire, such as fiber optic cable, infrared or radio spectrum technology.

Wireless network refers to any type of computer network that is not connected by cables of any kind. While cell phone technology is often discussed as a form of wireless networking, it is not the same as the wireless local area network (WLAN) technology discussed here.

What is Wi-Fi?

The term Wi-Fi has often been used as a technical term to describe wireless networking. Wi-Fi is actually a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, a global non-profit trade association formed in 1999 to promotes WLAN technology. Manufacturers may use the Wi-Fi trademark to brand products if they are certified by The Wi-Fi Alliance to conform to certain standards.

A common misconception is that Wi-Fi is an acronym of Wireless fidelity, it is not. The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance wanted a cooler name for the new technology as the IEEE 802.11b Alliance was not all that catchy. The marketing company Interbrand, known for creating brand names, was hired to create a brand name to market the new technology, and the name Wi-Fi was chosen. The term 'Wi-Fi' with the dash, is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

IEEE 802.11 defines WLAN technology

The actual technical standards for wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication are know as IEEE 802.11. IEEE refers to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers a non-profit professional association formed in 1963 by the merger of the Institute of Radio Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

IEEE 802 refers to a family of IEEE standards dealing with networks carrying variable size packets, which makes it different from cell phone based networks, 802.11 is a subset of the family specific to WLAN technology. Victor "Vic" Hayes was the first chair of the IEEE 802.11 group which finalized the wireless standard in 1997.

This link takes you to the 802.11 specification that contains all the geek speak on how it works. --> IEEE-SA -IEEE Get 802 Program
https://standards.ieee.org/about/get/802/802.11.html

How fast is Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi speed is rated according to maximum theoretical network bandwidth defined in the IEEE 802.11 standards.

For example:

IEEE 802.11b - up to 11 Mbps

IEEE 802.11a - up to 54 Mbps

IEEE 802.11n - up to 300 Mbps

IEEE 802.11ac - up to 1 Gbps

IEEE 802.11ad - up to 7 Gbps

If you look at the IEEE 802.11 Wireless LANs standards you will see the ongoing evolution with several standards under development at this time to increase speeds even more.

Keep in mind that WiFi speed is how fast your internal network is, as in wireless LANs (Local Area Network)

Fast WiFi does not mean fast internet connection, it has nothing to do with the speed or bandwidth of you internet access.

How does Wi-Fi work?

A Wi-Fi enabled device such as a personal computer or video game console can connect to the Internet when within range of a device such as a wireless router connected to the Internet. wireless local area network (WLAN) technology allows your device to connect to the router, which in turn connects you to the internet.  In order to connect to the internet, you need a unique IP (internet protocol) address. On your home network, when your router is connected to the internet, it has a public address, that is the one that faces the internet, and is unique in relationship of other routers on the internet.

Your router also has a local IP Address of something like 192.168.1.2 and this is a private IP address space. Addresses beginning with 192.168 cannot be transmitted onto the public Internet and are typically used for home local area networks (LANs). If you have four home computers, your router creates a home network and the four home computers have a unique number in relationship to each other. Your local computers connect to the router, either by a wire plugged into the router, or through a wireless signal.

Routers are used to create logical borders between networks, and in this allow a gateway, such as an access point to the internet to be shared. In geek speak terms subnetting can be very complex, but what is happening here is the process know as subnetting.

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The ugly truth about computer printers

ComputerGuru -

The printer is the source of pain and problems for every computer user.  The ugly truth about computer printers is that everyone has one and they all stink.

A printer is very mechanical, there are a lot of moving parts.  Every printer from the very simplest, to the most complex, has numerous gears, springs, and rollers that all need to move in perfect harmony in order for your printer to work.  

In understanding why computer printers are a source of frustration, let me explain some of the other components of a typical computer system. On your home desktop computer you have a large box that everything plugs into. I hear people call this box a CPU, some call it a hard drive.  Technically the CPU is one small part on the main circuit board that sits inside that box.  The main circuit board, as well as the CPU and memory modules that plug into are solid state, that means they are all electronic. Unless you get hit with a power surge or some external electrical issue, it is rare that the electronics of a computer wears out over time. Even hard drives that once were very mechanical are now becoming solid state, which means no moving parts and much more reliable.

Same thing with your display, what we used to call a monitor.  Back in the days of CRT Monitors, the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) wore out over time, it degraded because it heated up. In my experiences over the years I've seen some monitor failures. Not so much with modern displays, like the computer itself, they are now all electronic and less likely to degrade over time.

Things like keyboards and mice still have a few mechanical parts to them, but they don't wear out often.  When they do wear out, they are simple to replace, and people don't get too excited when they need replaced.

But alas, the printer, the pain of every computer user.  You just typed that report and you need it now.  You are leaving for the movies and you want to print the tickets, and the printer won't work.  There is never a convenient time for the printer to break.  

Even the simplest of printers has a handful of gears, springs, and rollers, that wear out over time.  The paper tray gets banged around every time you fill it up.  Every time someone takes out a paper tray, they bend something, they twist something, a part gets knocked off.  With the need to lower the cost of the printers, many of these mechanical parts are made from very low quality metal and plastic.

And here is one element of printers that many people over look, the paper.  When the air gets dry, when the heat is on in the winter, the paper gets full of static electricity, so it jams more often.  Instead of taking the paper out of the tray, fanning it a bit, flipping it over, you bang the paper tray a few times.  Maybe you yank the paper out when it jams, bending and stretching the metal arms and guides on the paper tray.

When the weather is damp and humid, that will also cause the paper to jam. Do you close the wrapper on your paper when it is just laying around?  Or is it just thrown on a shelf outside the wrapper?  I have seen many print quality issues caused by paper. Having spent a long career in office automation and computer networking I could write a book on the subject of printer problems because of paper.  The hardest part in answering this was keeping it brief.

Types of printing technology

Another issue you have with printers is consumable supplies like ink and toner. Every freaking printer model has its own unique ink or toner cartridge.  When you try to save money by refilling cartridges it is a crap shoot.  More often than not I have seen refilled cartridges cause many problems.

In the early days of desktop computers the dot matrix printer was the standard.  They could be pretty noisy as the small needles in the print head fired through the ribbon creating dots of information on your paper. Ribbons faded over time, and copy quality was not great, but printer ribbons were fairly inexpensive compared to modern ink cartridges. The boxes of paper with the tractor feed holes seems a little primitive compared to the plain paper printers of today, but in many ways the tractor feed paper was a more problem free solution than many of the modern printers with paper trays.

Inkjet printers began replacing dot matrix printers offering higher quality. A less noisy printer with higher quality could be a blessing, instead the inkjet technology was more of a curse. The color inkjet printer uses multiple color ink cartridge that includes a print head as a part of a replaceable ink cartridge that adds to the expense of the cartridge. The cartridges themselves have very narrow inkjet nozzles that are prone to clogging, and they dry out over time. New technology intelligent ink cartridges that communicate with the printer add another level of complexity, and another potential point of failure

Laser printers have been around since the very early days of desktop computers. They are high quality printers, but were for many years, very high cost.  In the early days it was rare to have a laser printer on your home computer, but over the years the quality has increased, and the price has dropped dramatically.  You can get a low cost black print laser printer for less than a hundred dollars. That is what I have in my home office, I have given up on low cost ink jet printers. Most of the times I use my home office laser printer to print a document such as a receipt, or maybe my tickets for a movie or sporting event, I don't need color for that.

The price of a laser printer toner cartridge sounds expensive, the last one I replaced was over $50, but they last ten times longer than an ink jet cartridge. If you look at it on a cost per copy basis, a laser printer is significantly cheaper to own than an ink jet. If I really need a high quality color copy, I can take a document on a USB drive to a local shop and get one there.

Prices have been dropping in recent years, and color laser printers cost a fraction of what they once cost.  If you need a color printer and print more than a few copies a month, do some calculations on the cost per copy of a color laser printer.  You might be surprised to see that over the long haul a color laser printer is not as expensive to own as an ink jet.

It's not your fault for buying a crappy printer

Between having a home computer system as well as working in the field of office automation and business machines since the early 1980s, I have worked with numerous brands of printers and printing equipment. It is hard to recommended a specific brand or specific model of printer at any time because they are constantly changing. In a marketplace that is always shopping for low cost, often a manufacturer will cut corners to lower costs, and a usually reliable brand will have some really horrible models.  

We are discussing the computer printer here as a hardware device, but software issues such as finding the proper drivers for your current computer operating and getting Wi-Fi to work on your network can also create problems. Shop wisely, read over consumer reviews of the currently popular printers to see the potential problems for a model you are considering buying.

The primary reason for a printer being the most likely part of your computer system to cause you pain comes down to the printer having the most moving parts, but there are also many other issues dealing with the supplies such as paper, ink, and toner. Maybe you won't feel any better about all the printing problems you are having after reading this article, but at least you will know, it's not your fault for buying a crappy printer, they all stink.

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Computer network modular connectors and telephone registered jacks

ComputerGuru -

The plastic plugs on the ends of telephone wiring and computer cables are defined by various technical standards. Because these standards are full of technical definitions and acronyms, it is easy to see how street slang becomes the accepted definition for many of the plastic plugs.

It is important to understand that connecting devices together is more than just matching up connector ends on a piece of wire. Just because you can find an adapter to make your cable fit into a connection is no guarantee that the device will communicate on your network. Some connectors that look exactly alike could have different wiring configuration.

In the world of technology street slang, or common buzzwords, often become the accepted the description of something rather than the specific technology standard. For example describing Ethernet patch cables as using RJ45 connectors illustrates one of the most mis-used terms in the world of technology.

We will do our best to break down some of the buzzwords and jargon to help you understand the differences in the terms.

Modular connectors

A modular connector is an electrical connector that was originally designed for use in telephone wiring, but has since been used for many other purposes. Many applications that originally used a bulkier, more expensive connector have converted to modular connectors. Probably the most well known applications of modular connectors are for telephone jacks and for Ethernet jacks, both of which are nearly always modular connectors.

Modular connectors are designated with two numbers that represent the quantity of positions and contacts, for example the 8P8C modular plug represents a plug with having eight positions and eight contacts.

Do not assume that connectors that look the same are wired the same. Contact assignments, or pin outs, vary by application. Telephone network connections are standardized by registered jack numbers, and Ethernet over twisted pair is specified by the TIA/EIA-568 standard.

Telephone industry Registered Jack

A Registered Jack (RJ) is a wiring standard for connecting voice and data equipment to a service provided by a telephone company. In some wiring definitions you will see references to the Local Exchange Carrier (LEC), which is a regulatory term in telecommunications for the local telephone company.

Registration interfaces were created by the Bell System under a 1976 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order for the standard interconnection between telephone company equipment and customer premises equipment. They were defined in Part 68 of the FCC rules (47 C.F.R. Part 68) governing the direct connection of Terminal Equipment (TE) to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

Connectors using the distinction Registered Jack (RJ) describe a standardized telecommunication network interface. The RJ designations only pertain to the wiring of the jack, it is common, but not strictly correct, to refer to an unwired plug by any of these names.

For example, RJ11 is a standardized jack using a 6P2C (6 position 2 contact) modular connectors, commonly used for single line telephone systems. You will often see telephone cables with four wires used for common analog telephone referred to as RJ11 cables. Technically speaking RJ14 is a configuration for two lines using a six-position four-conductor (6P4C) modular jack

RJ45 is a standard jack once specified for modem or data interfaces using a mechanically-keyed variation of the 8P8C (8 position 8 contact) body. Although commonly referred to as an RJ45 in the context of Ethernet and category 5 cables, it is incorrect to refer to a generic 8P8C connector as an RJ45.

Why is a Ethernet eight-pin modular connector (8P8C) not an RJ45?

Both twisted pair cabling used for Ethernet and the telecommunications RJ45 use the 8P8C (Eight Position, Eight Contact) connector, and there lies the confusion and the misuse of the terms. The 8P8C modular connector is often called RJ45 after a telephone industry standard. Although commonly referred to as an RJ45 in the context of Ethernet and Category 5 cables, it is incorrect to refer to a generic 8P8C connector as an RJ45

The 8P8C modular connector is often called RJ45 after a telephone industry standard defined in FCC Part 68. The Ethernet standard is different from the telephone standard, TIA-568 is a set of telecommunications standards from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Standards T568A and T568B are the pin - pair assignments for eight-conductor 100-ohm balanced twisted pair cabling to 8P8C (8 position 8 contact) modular connectors.

How does a RJ45 to RJ11 converter work?

There is no such thing as a RJ45 to RJ11 converter. They are two different types of connectors for two totally different standards of communication. Cables with various pin configurations and wire pairs are created for specific purposes. Be careful when looking to "convert" on type of wire into another. An adapter that allows you to connect an RJ11 plug into an RJ45 plug is not converting anything.

Technically speaking neither RJ11 or RJ45 is a computer networking standard. Many times when people are looking to convert between RJ11 and RJ45 they are dealing with a device made for a two wire phone line and trying to connect it to an Ethernet eight-pin (8P8C) unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) modular connectors.

I see many questions on internet forums asking about various adapters and converters. Just because you can convert a plug from one type to another does not mean that the signal traveling along the wire will work as you expect. I can not stress enough the importance of not using any type of adapters and converters without knowing the exact wiring configuration of the devices you are trying to connect.

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Ethernet computer network cable frequently asked questions answered

ComputerGuru -

You will often hear a common computer network patch cable called an "Ethernet cable." While most modern local area networks (LAN) use the same type of cable, the term Ethernet is a family of computer networking technologies that defines how the information flows through the wire, but does not define the physical network cable.

The standards defining the physical layer of wired Ethernet are known as IEEE 802.3, which is part of a larger set of standards by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association.

Cable types, connector types and cabling topologies are defined by TIA/EIA-568, a set of telecommunications standards from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). The standards address commercial building cabling for telecommunications products and services.

Computer network cabling

Twisted Pair Cabling is a common form of wiring in which two conductors are wound around each other for the purposes of canceling out electromagnetic interference which can cause crosstalk. The number of twists per meter make up part of the specification for a given type of cable.

The two major types of twisted-pair cabling are unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) and shielded twisted-pair (STP). In shielded twisted-pair (STP) the inner wires are encased in a sheath of foil or braided wire mesh. Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable is the most common cable used in modern computer networking.

What does Cat5 Cable mean?

A Category 5 cable (Cat5 cable) is made up of four twisted-pair wires, certified to transmit data up to 100 Mbps. Category 5 cable is used extensively in Ethernet connections in local networks, as well as telephony and other data transmissions.

Cat5 Cable has been the standard for homes and small offices for many years. As technology for twisted pair copper cabling has progressed, successive categories have given buyers more choices. Category 5e and Category 6 cable offer more potential for bandwidth and better potential handling of signal noise or loss. Newer cable types also help to deal with the issue of cross talk or signal bleeding, which can be problems with unshielded twisted pair cabling.

The category 5e specification improves upon the category 5 specification by revising and introducing new specifications to further mitigate the amount of crosstalk.The bandwidth (100 MHz) and physical construction are the same between the two.

The category 6 specification improves upon the category 5e specification by improving frequency response and further reducing crosstalk. The improved performance of Cat 6 provides 250 MHz bandwidth and supports 10GBASE-T (10-Gigabit Ethernet). The Cat 6 cable is fully backward compatible with previous versions, such as the Category 5/5e

Older versions of voice and data cable

Category 1 Traditional UTP telephone cable can transmit voice signals but not data. Most telephone cable installed prior to 1983 is Category 1. Category 2 UTP cable is made up of four twisted-pair wires, certified for transmitting data up to 4 Mbps. Official TIA/EIA-568 standards have only been established for cables of Category 3 ratings or above.

Category 3 was widely used in computer networking in the early 1990s for 10BASE-T. In many common names for Ethernet standards the leading number (10 in 10BASE-T) refers to the transmission speed in Mbit/s. BASE denotes that baseband transmission is used. The T designates twisted pair cable.

Category 4 cable consists of four unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) copper wires used in telephone networks which can transmit voice and data up to 16 Mbit/s. Category 4 cable is not recognized by the current version of the TIA/EIA-568 data cabling standards.

What does Patch Cable mean?

A patch cord, also called a patch cable, is a length of cable with connectors on each end that is used to connect one electronic device to another. In computer networking what people often call an “Ethernet Cable” is Unshielded Twisted-Pair (UTP) patch cable.

What does Straight-Through Cable mean?

A straight-through cable is a standard patch cable used in local area networks. Straight-through cables have the wired pins on one end match on the other end. In other words, pin 1 on one end is connected to pin 1 on the other end, and the order follows the straight through route from pin 1 through pin 8.

What is a Crossover Cable?

A crossover cable is used for the interconnection of two similar devices. It is enabled by reversing the transmission and receiving pins at both ends, so that output from one computer becomes input to the other, and vice versa. The reversing or swapping of cables varies, depending on the different network environments and devices in use.

This type of cable is also sometimes called a and is an alternative to wireless connections where one or more computers access a router through a wireless signal. Use a straight-through cable when connecting a router to a hub, a computer to a switch, or connecting a LAN port to a switch, hub, or computer.

Why do you need a crossover cable?

A traditional port found in a computer NIC (network interface card) is called a media-dependent interface (MDI). A a traditional port found on an Ethernet switch is called a media-dependent interface crossover (MDIX), which reverses the transmit and receive pairs. However, if you want to interconnect two switches, where both switch ports used for the interconnection were MDIX ports, the cable would need to be a crossover cable.

Introduced in 1998, Auto MDI-X made the distinction between uplink and normal ports and manual selector switches on older hubs and switches obsolete. Auto MDI-X automatically detects the required cable connection type and configures the connection appropriately, removing the need for crossover cables.

Gigabit and faster Ethernet links over twisted pair cable use all four cable pairs for simultaneous transmission in both directions. For this reason, there are no dedicated transmit and receive pairs, and consequently, crossover cables are never required.

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Marketing 101 and how Pepsi succeeded

The Tao of Questy -

Body: 

With everything going on in the world it is amazing that the social media crowd is all wound up over a Pepsi advertisement. While there are those who rant just how stupid the Pepsi advertisement was, "How did Pepsi's ad even get off the drawing board?"(1) there are others who understand the nature of marketing stating that "Pepsi's New Ad Is a Total Success"(2)

Why all the outrage?


In a world at war, with so many problems, there are more worse things happening that need discussion than a television commercial.

I doubt that any one single television advertisement is going to make me switch political parties, likewise with my favorite sports teams, I won't switch.

I hate political labels, does it really matter if Republicans and Democrats started the debate, as long as there is a solution to the problem? Next to who is my favorite sports team and what political party I claim as my own, the next most polarizing topic in America might be, do I prefer Pepsi over Coke.

As far as Coke or Pepsi, I have my mind made up. But to a certain extent, whether I drink Coke or Pepsi is somewhat determined by where I eat. Most restaurants serve Coke or Pepsi, very few sell both.

Go ahead boycott Pepsi

There are a few rants on social media proclaiming, "PepsiCo has made its last dollar off of me."

The people who never liked Pepsi, and the haters that hate capitalism and blame it for all our evils will now tell us all how we need to boycott this evil company.

PepsiCo, Inc. is an American multinational food, snack and beverage company. If you feel the need to boycott Pepsi make sure you add Fritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, and Doritos, to your list of things to boycott.

If you are eating out, avoid Pepsi spinoffs KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. At breakfast time you will need to avoid Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Life cereal, and Captain Crunch as well if you really want to show Pepsi who is boss!

Pepsi succeeded!


If Pepsi had produced a silly commercial and everyone ignored it, another day passes and no one notices it. But Pepsi has received a tremendous amount of attention, and chatter on the internet because of this controversy.

According to Google Trends, on average the internet interest for Coke is twice as much as Pepsi, that is until the last few days when people talking and posting about Pepsi has skyrocketed. Pepsi's mentions on social media were up more than 7,000% the day the Kendall Jenner ad debuted, according to Brandwatch, a social media analytics company. Brilliant marketing move by Pepsi!


"There's no such thing as bad publicity." - P. T. Barnum

 

(1) How did Pepsi's ad even get off the drawing board?  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/04/06/pepsis-ad-diversity/100133470/


(2) Pepsi's New Ad Is a Total Success https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/pepsi-ad-success/522021/

 

 

 

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Installing Linux defining distros which version should you choose

ComputerGuru -

In April 1991, Linus Torvalds, at the time a 21 year old computer science student at the University of Helsinki, Finland, started working on some simple ideas for an operating system. Although the desktop computer market exploded throughout the 1990s, the Linux Operating System remained pretty much the domain of geeks who like to build their own computers. I really believed that more than 20 years later we would have Linux computers in our home as common as Windows or Apple varieties.

The only dent in the domination of Windows or Apple desktop computers in recent years has been the introduction of the Chromebook as a personal computer in 2011. The Chrome operating system is a strange mix of the Linux kernel and using the Google Chrome web browser as a user interface.

The Linux operating system has come a long way since the mid 1990s. From painful experiences with using floppy disks and hunting down hardware drivers, my experiences with installing many distributions of Linux in recent years has been pretty painless.

The Linux kernel

Just as I did with answering the question, "what is the best desktop computer operating system," I am going to generalize a bit here so we don't get too deep into the geek speak. Hopefully the tech purists won't beat me up too much for generalizing. Let's begin with quickly going over the basic definitions.

Think of the Linux kernel as an automobile engine and drive train that was designed by a community. Once the engine and drive train have been developed there are groups that split off and design their own version of an automobile. Each of these automotive design groups have their own community with goals for how they want to use their finished product, some may focus on style and looks, another group may want to focus on being practical and functional. Once the group has a general purpose in mind, they will form an online community where they can share ideas in creating a finished product.

The Linux Distro

Each customized version of Linux that adds additional modules and applications is supported by an online community offering internet downloads as well as support. You will see the question phrased as which Linux distro should you use. Distro is a shortened version of the term distribution. There are many distros of the Linux family all based on the same Linux kernel, the core of the computer operating system. There are geeks who swear by which is the best Linux distro, but in the end it is a matter of what works best for you.

When it comes to comparing the various distributions, I find "the big three" to be very similar, because in reality they are variations of the same family. As of the time of this update, March 2017, based on various statistics the most popular version of Linux is Mint, with Debian coming in second, followed by Ubuntu. Mint is a fork from Ubuntu, which is itself a fork from Debian. Mint is very similar indeed to Ubuntu. Mint was forked off Ubuntu with the goal of providing a familiar desktop graphical user interface.

First answer the question, why are you looking at Linux? Do you have an old computer with an outdated operating system that you are looking to upgrade? Or perhaps you just want to see what all the fuss is about with the "free" alternative to Windows or Apple?

If you simply want to play with Linux and just want to see what all the fuss is about, Mint is a very easy place to start. I have installed Mint on a few old computers with no issues. One of the biggest issues I have experienced with many versions of Linux is the lack of drivers for certain pieces of hardware in some laptop models. There's a few old Dell laptops I moved on from installing Linux because finding drivers for the Wi-Fi was not worth the effort.

Here's a look at various distributions of Linux.

In our previous question on "what is the best desktop computer operating system" we addressed the topic of the "free" alternative to Windows or Apple as we explained Open Source software. Richard Stallman, the father of the Open Source software movement, explains that Open Source refers to the preservation of the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software, not zero-cost. In illustrating the concept of Gratis versus Libre, Stallman is famous for using the sentence, "free as in free speech not as in free beer." Even though Linux is open source there are versions that are commercially distributed and supported.

Fedora - Red Hat

Red Hat Commercial Linux, introduced in 1995, was one of the first commercially supported versions of Linux, and entered into the enterprise network environment because of its support. Red Hat Linux has evolved quite a bit over the years as Red Hat Linux merged with the community based Fedora Project in 2003.

Fedora is now the free community supported home version of Red Hat Linux. Fedora ranks slightly behind the other distros we mention here in popularity, Fedora is often at the top of list when it comes to integrating new package versions and technologies into the distribution. Many users in the enterprise environment rave about the stability of Fedora.

SUSE - openSUSE

openSUSE claims to be "the makers' choice for sysadmins, developers and desktop users." You may not find a lot of neighborhood geeks telling you to try openSUSE but it ranks near the top of many charts as far as popularity. SUSE was marketing Linux to the enterprise market in 1992, before Red Hat. Many American geeks are not as familiar with SUSE because it was developed in Germany. I have not had any issues with installing it. You can always download a "live CD" which allows you to run the operating system off of the CD without having to install it

openSUSE is the open source version. SUSE is often used in commercial environments because professional help is available under a support contract through SUSE Linux. Having worked as a Novell Netware systems administrator I was involved with SUSE Linux as the Novell Netware network operating system was coming to the end of its life when Novell bought the SUSE brands and trademarks in 2003. When Novell was purchsed by The Attachmate Group in 2011, SUSE was spun off as an independent business unit. SUSE is geared for the business environment with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. Each focuses on packages that fit its specific purpose.

Debian - Ubuntu - Mint

Ubuntu and Mint are Debian-based: their package manager is APT (The Advanced Package Tool) a free software user interface that works with core libraries to handle the installation and removal of software on the Debian Linux distributions. Their packages follow the DEB (Debian) package format.

Ubuntu is often used in commercial environments because professional help is available under a support contract through Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu.

Mint is basically the same OS as Debian or Ubuntu with a different default configuration with a lot of pre-installed applications and a nice looking desktop. Mint was forked off from the Ubuntu community with the goal of providing a familiar desktop Operating System.  If you are looking for something to use as a server Debian or Ubuntu may be a better choice.


What about all the rest?

There are more that 200 different versions of Linux. Once you go beyond the versions mentioned here you are getting into support issues. With each of the three families of Linux we mention here, there is a commercially supported version and a community supported version. Keep in mind, if you are not buying support through one of the commercial versions mentioned here, each of these families have a well established online community for support of the open source version.

Is it time to switch to Linux?

Back in the late 1990s I was taking a community college course on Novell networking and systems administration using Novell Netware. As part of the curriculum we had to write a term paper on a unrelated technology topic, I chose Linux on the desktop. I concluded that I was impressed with Linux as an operating system, but it would not become mainstream desktop operating system until there were hardware companies embracing it and selling home computers with Linux installed. Twenty years later, that really has not happened.

You could make the case that the Google Chromebook is a version of Linux installed and configured along with a computer, but the Google Chromebook has not become a mainstream home computer. If all you want to do is surf the net, interact on social media, and read your email, a Google Chromebook works fine. But beyond that there are many issues.

Hardware drivers and website plugins can be a problem when using any version of Linux. Many manufacturers don't develop Linux device drivers for their hardware, you need to search them out yourself through your LInux community. Using many websites that need Digital Rights Management, like Amazon Video, Netflix, or Sling, getting your streaming to work on Linux can be difficult. Some websites don't understand Linux as an operating system and automatic installs of plugins fail.

I know I said at the beginning of this discussion that in recent years my experinece in installing Linux has been pretty painless, but I have access to name brand hardware on pretty basic computers.  The problem with hardware drivers and browser plug ins keeps improving, but beware it can be an issue at times.  It is still a concern that can turn your Linux experince sour. The biggest problem I have experienced in experimenting with Linux is network card and WiFi drivers in laptop models.

In our last article we discussed why is Microsoft Windows so popular. Whether you love them or hate them, many applications only have a Windows version. There are many websites that offer "open source equivalents” to your favorite applications. Some equivalents work well, others are very buggy. The key to using any open source application is looking at how active is the community that supports them. Be cautious of applications that look cool and work well, but are basically created and supported by a single individual. They can often become unsupported as developer creates an application and moves on without supporting it over time.

Take Linux for a test drive

Look for a live distribution of Linux that allows you to run a full instance of the operating system from either CD, DVD, or USB, without making changes to your current system. Many install downloads will offer you a live test drive of the distro that does not install anything to your hard drive. If everything works well from a live test drive, you can feel a bit more comfortable about doing the "real" install.

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