Exploring New Planets with Kepler

kepler_patchIf it’s Friday it must be “Science & Space Friday” at the West Chester Technology Blog!

“Space the final frontier…” Although we have not been able to reach into deep space since the last Apollo mission in 1972 that does not mean that NASA has not been looking for new ways to explore our universe. To me, the most exciting NASA initiative today is their Kepler Mission.

What is the Kepler Mission? 

Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth like planets. The spacecraft was launched in 2009 and is now starting the reward NASA with many exciting discoveries.

NASA’s Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system. Growing up on Star Trek announcements like this are very exciting indeed!

Artist's impression of the Kepler telescope

Artist’s impression of the Kepler telescope

Nearly 95 percent of these newly discovered planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than had been previously identified outside our solar system.

“The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.

 

“The research team used a technique called verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability. Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler’s stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.

Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s habitable zone. This is important because this zone is defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.  From what we currently know about life this condition is required for life to exist.

The habitable zone corresponds to the range of orbital distances where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface.

The habitable zone corresponds to the range of orbital distances where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona-fide worlds.

If all this sounds like a science fiction bonanza it is not. I often wonder as do so many others what the worldwide reaction will be when life, outside of our small blue planet is finally discovered. Many hope it will bring our world together as truly one people.

It all does sound like Star Trek – doesn’t it?

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Microsoft’s 100GB Free Cloud Storage Offer

If you are a regular reader of this fine blog you surely are aware that I am a big fan of Microsoft’s “OneDrive” cloud storage solution.

When Microsoft was forced to change the name of its cloud storage from SkyDrive, many people thought it was unfair — myself included. After all, SkyTV, who had sued Microsoft over the name, is an entirely different product. However at the end of the day I like the OneDrive name better and Microsoft handled the name change perfectly.

OneDrive100-600x211

By default, OneDrive comes with 7 GB free — which very often is more than enough cloud storage for the average user to store documents. One of the benefits for cosumers from the name change is that you can now get an additional 3 GB for enabling auto-backup for pictures on mobile device.

The Benefits of Enabling Auto Backup for Pictures

This is a great way to back-up your pictures and make them easily available wherever you are and on whatever computer, tablet or smartphone you are using. It can also serve as an immediate backup of the pictures you take. For example lets just say that you just snapped that perfect photo after which you dropped you phone into a well, never to see it again. No problem your photo and all the others you had taken are in your OneDrive, safe and sound!

Back To That 100GB of Free Cloud Storage

Recently Microsoft announced another way to get a 100GB for free, with Bing Rewards. Now that is a lot of space!

“To celebrate the recent launch of Microsoft’s OneDrive, for a limited time Bing and OneDrive are offering 100 GB of OneDrive storage  to all new and existing members of Bing Rewards for just 100 credits. OneDrive gives you one place for all of your files, including photos, videos, and documents, and it’s available across the devices you use every day. Giving our members the ability to increase their storage by 100 GB for a year, which has a $50 value, allows us to provide another perk for our most consistent and loyal Bing users”, says Alex Danskin, Senior Marketing Manager, Bing Rewards.

Once I claimed my "Bing Reward" for 100GB of free storage this is the message I received!

Once I claimed my “Bing Reward” for 100GB of free storage this is the message I received!

If you are unfamiliar with Bing it is basically Microsoft’s version of Google. Bing is actually a very exceptional internet search tool and I find myself using it more often then Google.  Lucky for me I had already signed up for “Bing Rewards” which awards you points for doing various things in Bing and I already had well over 200 points so I was able to claim my 100GB of free space immediately. Receiving points with “Bing Rewards” is very easy. I recommend checking this out within a short time you will find yourself with 111 GB of free cloud storage. That is a great deal.

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Apples Latest Security Concern

imagesCAKI2MHOIt seems every month we are talking about Microsoft, Adobe and Java vulnerabilities. However this week the industry is seeing something a little more rare: Apple security fixes.

For all the talk that Apple is largely immune to hacker attacks, the company this week issued a fix for Mac computers & Apple mobile devices (iPads and iPhones) to protect users’ personal information from being stolen by hackers. It’s a critical “gotofail” SSL flaw that could open a door for hackers to access a victim’s communications, including FaceTime video chats, e-mail addresses and address book appointments, and even Find My Mac tracking information.

I have been suggesting for years that Microsoft was a victim of their own success and that the many security concerns that often crop up are actually a result of the operating system’s (Windows) popularity. After all if you are a cybercriminal and you want to spend valuable programming time writing a Trojan Horse [for example] you probably want to get the biggest bang for your buck and that’s with Microsoft not Apple. Anyway back to this particular story.

The security update, OS X version 10.9.2, fixes the flaw in OS X Mavericks as well as the older Mountain Lion and a related security patch has been released for iPads and iPhones.

This bug could prove devastating, especially for mobile users. The iPhone is sometimes overlooked when it comes to updates and a lot of people will linger on older versions. Apple is really trying to get the word out to inspire it’s users to apply the update as soon as possible.

If you have a iPhone or iPad you can check to see if you need this security update in the Settings of your mobile device. If you do, apply it immediately.

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Bitcoin 101

bitcoinBitcoin has been in the news a lot lately. Have you wondered what bitcoin is? I admit it is actually quite confusing and mystifying to many, including to me So here we go.

Who created Bitcoin?

A software developer only known as Satoshi Nakamoto proposed bitcoin, which was an electronic payment system based on mathematical proof. The idea was to produce a currency independent of any central authority, transferable electronically, more or less instantly, with very low transaction fees.

Who Prints it?

No one. This currency isn’t physically printed.

Bitcoin is created digitally by a community of people that anyone can join. Bitcoins are ‘mined’, using computing power in a distributed network. This network also processes transactions made with the virtual currency, effectively making bitcoin its own payment network.

What Exactly is Bitcoin Based On?

Conventional currency has been based on gold or silver. Because of this you knew that if you handed over a dollar at the bank, you could get some gold back (although this does not really work today). However bitcoin is not based on gold; it’s based on mathematics (yes mathematics).

Around the world, people are using software programs that follow a mathematical formula to produce bitcoins. The mathematical formula is freely available, so that anyone can check it. The software is also open source, meaning that anyone can look at it to make sure that it does what it is supposed to.

What are Bitcoin’s characteristics?

Bitcoin has several important features that set it apart from normal currencies.

1. It Is decentralized

The bitcoin network isn’t controlled by one central authority. Every machine that mines bitcoin and processes transactions makes up a part of the network, and the machines work together. That means that, in theory, one central authority can’t tinker with monetary policy and cause a meltdown.

2. It Is easy to set up

Conventional banks make you jump through hoops simply to open a bank account. Setting up merchant accounts for payment is another complex task. However, you can set up a bitcoin address in seconds, no questions asked, and with no fees payable.

3. It Is anonymous

Well, kind of. Users can hold multiple bitcoin addresses, and they aren’t linked to names, addresses, or other personally identifying information.

4. It Is completely transparent

…bitcoin stores details of every single transaction that ever happened in the network in a huge version of a general ledger (pictured below), called the block chain. The block chain tells all. If you have a publicly used bitcoin address, anyone can tell how many bitcoins are stored at that address. They just don’t know that it’s yours.

A Bitcoin transaction log showing addresses.

A Bitcoin transaction log showing addresses.

5. Transaction fees are miniscule

Your bank may charge you a fee for transactions. Bitcoin does not.

6. It’s fast

You can send money anywhere and it will arrive minutes later, as soon as the bitcoin network processes the payment.

7. It’s non-refundable

When your bitcoins are sent, there’s no getting them back, unless the recipient voluntarily returns them to you.

So, bitcoin has a lot going for it, in theory however there are many questions and unknowns and adoption has been almost non-existent. The world has been using currency in one form or the other since the dawn of civilization and I really do not see that changing for quite some time. The idea of Bitcoins is exciting I get it, after all if you watch Star Trek you quickly find out currency has been retired “centuries ago” and something very close to the bitcoin system is described by the characters from time to time.

And no… I have no bitcoins myself and I do not intend to enter that system for the foreseeable future.

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Office 2013 Gets It’s First SP

Microsoft has released Office 2013 Service Pack 1, which includes new updates that improve security, performance, and stability of the company’s flagship productivity suite and also rolls together all previously released updates. You can download SP1 for Office 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Exchange Server 2013 now directly from the Microsoft Download Center: 32-bit(643.6MB) and 64-bit (774.0MB).

download

Here’s the Office 2013 SP1 changelog (full list of SP1 fixes):

  • Compatibility fixes for Windows 8.1 and Internet Explorer 11.
  • Better support for modern hardware, such as high DPI devices and the precision touchpad.
  • New apps for Office capabilities and APIs for developers.
  • Power Map for Excel, a 3D visualization tool for mapping, exploring, and interacting with geographical and temporal data in Excel, is now available to Office 365 ProPlus subscription customers.
  • Improvements to the Click-to-Run virtualization technology that installs and updates Office 365 desktop applications.
  • SkyDrive Pro is now OneDrive for Business.

If you’re running Office 2013, you will want to install SP1 as soon as possible. For more details, check out the two engineering blog posts linked below.

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RIP @facebook.com

facebook_email1Some things just don’t work well together and just are not meant to be. For Facebook this was email. Facebook since 2010 was dreaming of a world where they also dominated our email, but that was simply never to be and very few people trusted Facebook with their email.

So after 4 years of trying Facebook has finally decided to terminate their email  system that gave all users a @facebook.com mailing account, although no one seemed to care or use it. I bet that many of you reading this did not even know that you had a @facebook.com email address.

As recently reported by the Verge, those that actually have been using the service will soon receive an email telling them that any mail sent to their @facebook.com account will be forwarded to the primary email address listed on their account.

Launched back in November 2010, the service was another effort by the social networking company to streamline all communications under a single umbrella.

Although the idea of using Facebook for email might have sounded like a good idea it never resonated with users. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the news in a statement to the Verge, “Most people have not been using their @facebook.com email address.”

Goodbye Facebook email – you only lasted 4 years and I wonder how many users there actually was in all that time.

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22 Amazing Internet Security Tips

Here are 22 amazing internet security tips. Check each one out and if you follow each one you are very likely to keep your computer running properly while protecting your identity and personal information.

securitytips
1. While giving away personal or financial information on any website, check and make sure that the URL begins with ‘https’. Also look for the lock icon, which indicates that the connection is secure.
2. Never shop online or make financial transactions over free, unsecured WiFi networks.
3. Create long, unique, and hard to guess passwords. Never keep the same password for different online accounts.
4. Enable Secure Browsing for your Facebook account.
5. Keep your computer’s Firewall ON. If an application asks you to disable it – do not install the application.
6. Avoid making your personal information public on social media sites.
7. Avoid checking ‘Keep me logged in’ or ‘Remember me’ options on websites, especially on public or shared computers.
8. Use your primary email address to stay in touch with people you know or are acquainted with.
9. Never use your official email address for social media sites. Use a secondary email address.
10. Tighten your privacy settings on Facebook so that only your friends are notified about your activity.
11. Never trust email messages asking for your personal or banking information. Be extra cautions against links or attachments in unknown or unwanted emails. Verify any such communication with the sender first.
12. Do away with old accounts that you do not use anymore.
13. Do not make your photos or videos public on social media sites. Keep them visible to friends you know, and your family.
14. Never respond to pop up ads that may come up on your screen. You can close these pop ups from the  task manager by pressing Alt+Ctrl+Delete and selecting the program you want to force close.
15. Before downloading any free software, do a little research on the software and the website hosting it.
16. Avoid visiting inappropriate websites or websites that you are not fully aware of.
17. Beware of files with multiple extensions.
18. Always log out of online accounts when you are done. This is especially important when you are using a public computer.
19. Do not click or share posts on Facebook that claim to show any unusual content such as shocking videos or magical illusions.
20. Do not install software that comes as an attachment in emails.
21. Always shop from reputed and know online stores.
22. Update the Internet browsers and software on your computer.

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An Elevator To The Stars

It’s Friday so it must be “Science & Space Friday” here at the West Chester Technology Blog.

Massive elevators, connecting the surface of the Earth with outer space, have been a staple of “hard science fiction” since 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovskypublished a proposal for a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit. While such structures might be hard for us to imagine, they might someday actually provide us with a transport into space more cheaply and efficiently than any rocket. This has been the center of many of great science fiction novels I have enjoyed over the years. Two of my favorite novels featuring “space elevators” in our future include Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise and Joe Haldeman’s “Marsbound”.

Why we'll probably never build a space elevator

A new study into the possibilities of space elevators has recently concluded, giving us a glimpse of what these impossible-seeming structures might actually look like someday.

Conducted by a diverse field of experts working for the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the study has come to two encouraging conclusions.

First, space elevators seem possible. Or at least, there’s no scientific evidence that the IAA researchers found that rules them out. Second, if we band together as an international community, we could actually fund one of these almost unimaginable elevators.

Here you can see a Rotating Carbon Nanotube

Why are space elevators so exciting to so many people? It is because unlike rockets, a space elevator would travel at speeds similar to a high speed train. A trip from the surface to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) would take as long as a week. That may not sound very fast at all, but in terms of cost, it is more efficient and safer than a rocket. A space elevator would run on solar power generated by a solar array on the orbital docking platform. Along with carbon nanotube tech (for the cable), advances in solar panels are the chief technology that needs to advance in order for a space elevator to become a reality.

Maybe, in another ten years, reports study leader Peter Swan, another such study will find that technology has advanced enough to start construction on humanity’s first elevator to space. Then again, it might take us until 2050, or even 2100. Either way, Swan and his team seem confident that, if we want one, humanity can someday have its own elevator to the stars.

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The New Office.com

Microsoft yesterday officially launched Office.com. This is a online version of Microsoft Office.

You may not know that Microsoft has an online version and that’s why this post is here. If you’re already using Office Online on OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) or on SharePoint at work, you should really check this out.

All you need to get started is a Microsoft Account (available with any email address) and once you log in, you can use these free online versions of the Office applications. Your files are automatically saved to OneDrive, so you can share them with others and  work together on documents, presentations, spreadsheets and notebooks in real-time.

Get started with Office Online at Office.com

There are hundreds of Word, PowerPoint and Excel templates available with just a click. Budgets, resumes, calendars and more, all available online, for free at Office.com.

This is a very cohesive Microsoft experience, including in one place, OneDrive and Outlook.com, Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online and OneNote Online. Included now in an app switcher which lets you easily switch between email, storage and the files that you are working on without having to navigate in and out of our online services.

Simply choose from the dropdown in the upper left hand corner to access the service you need. A new browser tab will open up for you, and now you can move back and forth effortlessly across the Microsoft tools you use to get things done.

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A Warning About the Cloud & Backups

Do NOT rely on CLOUD Storage solutions like Dropbox or SkyDrive (soon to be OneDrive) as your backup solution. Backup solutions like Carbonite act in a very different way then cloud storage solutions, and this difference could really present a problem.

First, I will explain what these services do.

Cloud Storage Solutions

One of the greatest advantages of using cloud storage solutions is having access to your files from wherever you are and from whatever device you are using. When you work on a file the file is synced to any other computers or devices that are linked to your cloud account. And here is where the problem can show itself and in fact this very scenario happened to me a year or so ago. After working on a rather large Excel file I went to open it again and you guessed it – it would not open. The file for some reason was corrupted and I could not open it. As I checked the file on my mobile device and home PC the file was – you guessed it – corrupt there as well.

Dropbox and other cloud storage solutions immediately sync your files to your devices, damaged or not.

Dropbox and other cloud storage solutions immediately sync your files to your devices, damaged or not.

 

Cloud storage solutions are there to save and sync your changes. If a file is damaged or even deleted it will be that way on your other devices.

Backup Solutions

Backup services like Mozy and Carbonite  act very differently. With these true backup services your files are copied, often with more then one revision at scheduled times. Here if a file is damaged or mistakenly deleted you will be able to restore your file from a specific backup time. Many times this is what you will need – not a synced damaged file. I also recommend backing up both locally – to a external USB drive as well as a backup cloud service.

Most backup services work like this with the addition of the ability of setting how many "revisions" you choose to store.

Most backup services work like this with the addition of the ability of setting how many “revisions” you choose to store.

Relying on cloud storage services like Dropbox as a backup is a mistake. Each of these unique services have a different mission and it could save you some headaches if you know the difference.

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