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Monday, April 14, 2008

No Dough, No Go! Technology Disables Car if You Miss a Payment!

Concerned about defaults on car loans to sub-prime borrowers (people with bad credit histories), lenders now can insist that a clever computerized box be installed in your car to alert you when your payment is due. When the lights start flashing, you know your payment is coming due. On the day the payment is due, the box also beeps incessantly.

When you make your payment you receive a six digit code to punch into the box. Without the code, your car is disabled and with new options such as tying the devices into GPS systems, it is easy for the repo man to locate the vehicle and repossess it!

Companies such as Sekurus (who makes a device called On Time) sell the devices to financing companies at up to $250 per box. Why would the finance companies invest so heavily in the devices? Because defaults on high-risk loans are cut from 30% to 5% when devices such as On Time are installed in the vehicle and the devices can drastically cut the time and expense of repossession.

Discussion Questions for Students:
1) How would you feel about having a device such as On Time installed in your car? What if it was the only way you could obtain a car loan for a vehicle you needed to commute to work?
2) Do you think it is ethical for a company to disable a car when a customer misses a payment? Should there be extenuating circumstances that would prevent the car from being disabled or repossessed?
3) If a GPS tracking device was installed in your vehicle, what potential ethical issues could arise from people (your parents, the police, your employer, the loan company) examining the data gathered by the GPS? Does this change how you feel about having a GPS device installed in your car?

Green Maven - Find Green Websites Quickly

Although specialized search engines abound on the Web, Green Maven is the first engine specifically tailored to generate search results only from "green" Web sites. Aside from searches of green sites, Green Maven also offers a Green News Reader which pulls postings from green blogs and other green news sources. Finally, if you don't want to use the search engine, the Green Maven Directory is set up in categories so you can easily browse (by topic) the sites indexed in their search engine.

So next time you are looking for that perfect computer recycling site or a source for compost supplies, head over to Green Maven.

Shop Amazon with Text Messages

Gee, what took them so long? A new service called TextBuyIt provides Amazon customers with the ability to purchase items through text messaging on their cell phones. By sending the product name, UPC code, or ISBN number to 262966 (which is Amazon on your keypad) Amazon will send back a message allowing you to purchase the product if they stock it. You need an existing Amazon account (which is free) to take advantage of this service. Check out the details on Amazon's TextBuyIT page.

This could easily stimulate sales for Amazon. If you are shopping at an electronics store and see a camera that you like you could easily check to see if Amazon carries it at a lower price.

Discussion Questions for Students:
1) Would you use the Amazon TextBuyIt service? Do you think this is an easier way to shop than going to Amazon's web site?
2) Have you ever bought anything using your cell phone? Was it a good or bad experience? Would you buy this way again?
3) What other companies should consider offering items or services for sale by text messaging? Explain how you think this would stimulate sales.

New Optical Data Transfer Record

IBM has achieved 300 Gbps throughput using a new fiber optic chip called the "Optichip". The new chips also operate at 1/10 the power requirement of existing chips. They achieved the transfer speed by using a shorter wavelength of laser generated light. IBM is touting the chips as the answer to developing peta-flop and exa-flop supercomputers. See the full article here.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Windows Server 2008 Robot

Microsoft is billing Windows Server 2008 as "The Server Unleashed" and has created a cool Web site featuring a nice CGI robot. When you click on the different features of the OS, the robot takes slightly different poses. Aside from being amused by the robot, you can also download a trial copy of the software to evaluate it. And don't forget to grab some images for your Windows wallpaper from the Toy Box like the one below!

Recycling Technology - Dispose of Broken Computing Devices Responsibly

Here's a catchy little tune called the Dead iPod song. It describes what to do with your iPod when it inevitably dies.

Many companies now have recycling programs. Apple has an iPod and cell phone recycling program which provides you with a free (they pay the postage) way to send in your broken iPods and cell phones for environmentally responsible disposal. Dell's recycling program always provides free recycling for Dell branded products. And if you buy a new Dell system and select free recycling at the time of purchase, Dell will even recycle your old computer and monitor for free even if it isn't a Dell product.

Discussion Questions for Students:
1) Do you have any broken computing devices at home? How are you planning on disposing of them?
2) Have you ever thrown an old computing device in the regular trash? What impact do you think this had on the environment?
3) HANDS-ON ACTIVITY: Search the Web for technology recycling programs in your area that accept old computers and monitors. Are there limitations on what types of devices they accept? Is there a charge to the consumer for recycling?

Bluetooth Security Problems and Solutions

As most of our students have cell phones, many of them also have Bluetooth devices such as wireless headsets. However, most people don’t realize that Bluetooth transmissions are not a secure technology. In this video, Joshua Wright (an instructor at the SANS Institute) shows us how easy it is to listen in on a Bluetooth device and even inject your own audio into the device you’ve compromised.

Although requiring technical skills beyond the casual computer user (as it involves using Linux and other seemingly arcane protocols), a computer science student would probably have no trouble in replicating these actions. In fact there are many web sites that list Bluetooth hacking tools with links to download them. Fortunately there are simple ways to protect yourself from Bluetooth snooping and one of the best resources for Bluetooth protection is on the Bluetooth site itself. Following these guidelines should help your students (and you!) stay more secure when using Bluetooth enabled devices.

Discussion Questions for Students:
1) What types of Bluetooth devices do you use on a regular basis? Have you configured them (after pairing them with your devices) into a non-discoverable state so that other Bluetooth devices can’t find them?
2) Have you updated the firmware (for that matter, what is firmware?) in your Bluetooth devices lately? Do you know how to do this? Do you know why it is important to do this?
3) Do you have antivirus software installed on your phone or PDA? Do you keep it updated on a regular basis?