Author Archives: cafonso

IOT: Connecting all our stuff to the network of networks

What is the IOT?

The Internet of Things (IOT for short) is the common term for devices that have become integrated with “smart” or internet connectable technologies that use the global infrastructure of the Internet to bring both accessibility and highly improved product experiences to millions of users of common electronics. In this article I’ll be discussing some implications that IOT has on the landscape of the Internet, as well as some IOT devices that have become commonplace in many homes across the nation.

Some things to note about IOT

Many IOT devices offer very promising integrations with online services that make their usefulness indispensable, however, this usefulness can come at the cost of security so it’s always good to understand the implications of adding an IOT device to a network. A most notable event that underscores the importance of securing these connected devices was the Mirai Botnet attack carried out on DynDNS on Friday Oct 21 2016, relevant article here.

Some of the Things:

Amazon Echo

A smarthome hub created by Amazon with the ability to integrate with various devices and services to command and control your smart home and allow for easier access to informational resources. The Alexa service provides an easy to use interface for interacting with various services via speech, a query to Alexa can perform web searches, interact with online services, as well as control some of the devices in this article. More information can be found here.

Google Home

Google’s equivalent to Amazon’s Echo, recently released as of November 2016, the Google Home is able to integrate with about the same amount of services as the Echo, as well as integrates more directly with the Google smart home ecosystem. The ability to stream directly to a Google Chromecast device connected to the same network as the Home is one of it’s notable features.

 

Nest Product Line: Cam, Thermostat, Protect

These smart products aim to keep your home automated yet safe, the Cam is a webcam that is accessible via the internet, has the ability to perform speakerphone functions. the Thermostat is a remotely controllable thermostat that adjusts based on user presence in the home. The Protect is a smoke-detector with internet connectivity that can perform remote alertive actions as well as speaks based on the location of the source of the smoke.

Smart Lighting Products: Phillips Hue, GE Link, LIFX

Smart lighting affords users the ability to customize lighting based on their location data, as well as by time of day. Being able to remotely turn on and off lighting also affords users some peace of mind in being able to determine whether they forgot to turn of the lights before leaving the house. These products typically connect to a Zigbee based hub, which can be used with all Zigbee compatible devices.

Smart Appliances: Coffeemaker, Dishwasher, Clothes Washer and Dryer

Various smart appliances allow for remotely starting, stopping, and manually controlling settings individualized settings.

 

Smart plugs: TP-Link Smart Plug

The smart plug allows for remotely turning on and off a device that is connected to the socket. This type of smart device allows extending remote capabilities to anything that uses a standard power socket.

Smart wearables: Apple Watch, Android Wear, Tizen and Pebble

These devices allow for data to be gathered from our person, heart rate/fitness information, location based information, and remote notifications are some of the data that can be gathered on these devices for display to the user.

Be sure to secure your things, as the data they collect and create become increasingly more critical the more integrated into our lives they become.

 

 

Amazon’s Echo and Alexa: A User’s Experience

Introduction:

Over the holiday break a new acquisition in technology took place in the Afonso household, we purchased an Amazon Echo Dot. At $50, the price seemed reasonable enough that it was worth a shot to try and get on the cutting edge of smart home technologies. Unfortunately, due to a lack of smart devices in our home, we were unable to use Alexa’s greatly touted integrations with things like the Nest Products or Zigbee based lighting products. However Alexa can be used for much more that controlling a smart home, I’ll speak to some Alexa Skills (the Echo’s version of Applications) that we tried and our experiences with them.

Built-In Functionality:

Out-of-the-box, the Echo can be easily configured for integration with a wide array of streaming media services. Built-in are Pandora, Spotify (restricted to premium accounts), iHeartRadio, and Tunein Radio. This makes a the Echo a perfect candidate for the smart radio, as it has a small speaker built-in (low fidelity mono speaker so another speaker is recommended) as well as Bluetooth connectivity to connect to larger and better audio equipment. Built-in news, weather, and sports integration which at setup time needs to be configured using the Amazon Alexa app (available for both iPhone and Android) There is also built-in smart device detection which I was unable to experiment with that detects smart devices and performs a pairing procedure that allows you to perform actions with keywords like (“Turn on, Turn off”) additional smart home skills are needed to perform in-depth control of other smart-devices.

The Skills:

These can be turned on for use with your device by stating “Alexa, enable *insert skill name here*”.

To use any skill, state “Alexa, open *insert skill name here*”.

To use a skill and pass it information, state “Alexa, ask *insert skill name here* to *insert parameter name here*”

Anymote Smart Remote:

After configuring the skill using the Anymote App for iPhone (instructions are openly available), I was able to control my Roku Smart TV device using my voice. Simply stating “Alexa, open Anymote” followed by the remote input you’d like to perform such as “Volume up”, “Home Button”, “Up Button” will interact with the device you’ve configured it with. Overall, a very useful skill for those looking to remote control any of their network connected devices.

Jeopardy J6:

This is a shortened version of the classic game show that allows the user to answer questions from a recent airing of the show. Alexa will provide responses with whether the question you provided to the corresponding answer was correct. The performance of this app was superb, and really allows for an interactive experience with Echo.

Twenty Questions:

This is another classic game that allows you to think of any object (limited to a category set) and within 20 Questions, Alexa will aim to guess what you’re thinking of. The interactivity with this app is also superb, and the shock when Alexa get’s those obscure guesses correct is pretty amazing.

Ooma Telo:

This skill is perfectly utilitarian – it allows the user to place a call via the Echo, with a caveat, the call must be completed using an existing phone line and cannot proceed via the Echo. Essentially, once you ask Ooma to place a call it will initiate a three-way call between it’s VOIP service and the phone you choose, thus it’s limited to initiating calls.

Drive Time:

This skill is the perfect companion for a commuter, since Alexa has no built-in time estimation for destinations, Drive Time allows you to ask for driving times to favorited locations that the user must configure. There is no search function, and locations must be stated before-hand in the skills settings in order to use them.

Experience Summary:

Alexa can do some really remarkable things, and at this point due to it being released about 2 years ago (2014), the Skills that have been developed allow functionality to be extended to a variety of platforms and devices. The Echo Dot does beg for a better speaker, but at the $50 price point, it’s expected, and also provides incentive for buying the Dot’s larger brother, just the standard Echo. The overall versatility of the connections on the device (3.5mm output, Bluetooth Connectivity, Wireless Connectivity, and Zigbee via Wi-Fi hub) make it perfect for controlling audio and other devices.

Bittorrent: An explanation of the Protocol

What is BitTorrent as a technology?

BitTorrent Logo

BitTorrent is a technology that is mainly used in the sharing of large files, though it is also favorable in achieving maximum redundancy of a file on the internet. Basically the technology is a Peer-to-Peer system, in which clients (your personal computer) connect to a central tracking server, the “tracker”. This “tracker” keeps track of all the “peers” connected to a single file that is being shared on the network. When peers connect to the server they begin to capture bytes of the file that is being downloaded and in the same likeness begins re-uploading those bytes to allow other “peers” to get at the file being downloaded. The action of re-uploading is also called “seeding”, which allows other “peers” connected to this file to get a maximized connection for download. All in all, it can be summarized as being a file sharing service.

What’s the controversy?

The controversy around the use of BitTorrent technology lies in the notorious connotation that the technology has with enabling copyright infringement. Infamous torrent trackers make headline news as they are among some of the most trafficked websites in the world. According to the Alexa Internet Site Ranking service, the 217th most trafficked website in the world is a known torrent tracker. People are very aware of these websites, but if they are unfamiliar with the technology and what it means to be a patron to these sites, they can suffer consequences that can impact their lives severely.

What’s “seeding”?

Seeding is the act of uploading to a torrent data stream. As a key part of the technology, seeding is what allows for data redundancy when other seeders go offline, as well as a boost to overall throughput/data speeds when other peers want to download a file. As a seeder you connect to the torrent network, and other peers are able to see where to retrieve data for the file they want to download. The way the download works is based on a network identifier known as an IP Address, so every “peer” connected to the same torrent are either uploading or downloading and are known to every other “peer”.

What’s being a “peer”?

A peer is anyone connected to a torrent file, and downloading or uploading data to the collective network.

What’s being a “leech”?

A peer who rather than committing to upload and download data, is stopping their clients uploading to resist contribution to the collective network.

BitTorrent Protocol Diagram

BitTorrent for legal and legitimate use.

BitTorrent can be legally used for file transmission, when the material isn’t subject to Copyright, some materials such as open-source software or media with Creative-Commons licenses can be subject to a lesser extent of Copyright, and are often okay to distribute freely. One such site that takes advantage of the BitTorrent protocol is http://linuxtracker.org/ where individuals can download various distributions of the free and open-source Linux Operating System using BitTorrent.

What are the consequences of infringing copyright?

DMCA Logo

Because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act enacted in 1998, any person caught violating a copyright owners exclusive rights, can be penalized in ways where the violator would have to pay damages, being forced via injunction to stop infringing activities, and potential jail-time. As a UMass student you are also subject to the policies of Copyright and Fair Use instituted by the University, which outlines penalties for violating Copyright.

UMass Copyright Policies: http://www.it.umass.edu/copyright/copyright-umass-amherst-higher-education-opportunity-act-information

Source: https://www.lib.purdue.edu/uco/CopyrightBasics/penalties.html

Net Neutrality: The Impact on Students

What is “Net Neutrality”?

Net Neutrality Symbol

The concept that the Internet should be a right for all people, and should be unrestricted by the companies that provide the networks that connect people to the internet. By restricting network access, the companies providing access can throttle or limit connection speeds based on the online content you are trying to get hold of, which is the antithesis of the concept of the free and open internet.

Who are the key players?

President Obama: The president recently announced his support of “net neutrality” in the form of taking a stance on the way internet is delivered to the American people. He is looking to back legislation which would declare internet as a Utility, much like the electricity, cable and telephone companies are regulated in the way they provide services to American households, Internet service will also receive the same treatment as those other services.

Obama Letter

ISP’s (Internet Service Providers): ISP’s are the companies/entities paid by consumers to provide them with Internet Access. Some big names in the industry would be Comcast/Universal, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Cox, just to name a few. Here at the university, the campus is its own ISP, fulfilling the role of getting you connected to the Internet.

The FCC/Chairman Wheeler: As of February 26th 2015, the FCC completed a ruling that favored net neutrality, which enables the free internet, by amending the Communications Act of 1934. In his justification, he is quoted as saying, “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept.”

Quote from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/net-neutrality-fcc-vote_n_6761702.html

What are the implications on me?

Since a free and open internet has been what users have been accustomed to since the inception of the internet, the lack of such freedom would definitely impact the way people use the internet as a resource. If people were forced to pay for access to sites that were outside of a certain subscription model, people would eventually catch on to the fact that they were getting taken advantage of by these corporations that have the power to charge twice for a certain service. For example, the video subscription service Netflix (a leader in passing net neutrality legislation) , which costs $8.99 at the writing of this article, may have to vary subscription costs based on the way the ISP charges for access to their content. This ultimately demonstrates that the only real entities that would gain from a throttled internet would be the people providing access (ISP’s) and not the content creators (users of the Internet).

How can these decisions affect the future of the Internet?

Although the FCC has released the specifications of the new legislation which classifies the Internet as a utility, which subjects it to laws regarding blocking of some content, other advances have yet to be made, where individuals will have unfiltered access to some media streaming services. There are some companies looking to sidestep the FCC’s legislation, such as Sony or HBO potentially filing for classification as non-BIAS (non-broadband internet access service), which would prioritize these sites traffic by grouping them outside common internet access.

By allowing these internet companies to regulate how the internet is accessed, even if by just limiting the speed, they are in a way censoring content for the general public and would have the capabilities to extort certain companies for prioritized access speed. With the recent amendment in February, they have staved off the companies that are fighting so hard to undermine the “Open Internet”, but as with all legislation, how long will it take until these companies find a loophole on which to further their agenda?

http://deadline.com/2015/03/hbo-showtime-sony-fcc-net-neutrality-rules-1201395721/

Google’s Chromecast: Turn your TV into a Smart TV

What is it?

Google’s Chromecast is currently the best-selling Electronic product on Amazon, and there’s a good reason why. People have been looking for the quickest and cheapest way to get content from the services they subscribe to their TV’s. Although there are gaming consoles, and set-top boxes that achieve this, Chromecast’s a little different. It’s a simple HDMI dongle, in a shape similar to a USB Drive. All it needs to operate is some USB power, which most TV’s can already provide via their USB servicing port and a connection to a wireless network, which in the age of everything wireless, many people are apt to have.

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