Mobile Devices Dangerous? I Think Not

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about the possibility that cell phones could be hazardous to our health because of the radiation they emit in close proximity to our bodies. The recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that mobile devices are possibly carcinogenic has brought this issue to the fore once again. Since many of us web marketers and IT people use mobile devices daily, I thought it would be worthwhile to put on my radio-geek hat and offer some thoughts on this topic.

RF Exposure and You

There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about the possibility that cell phones could be hazardous to our health because of the radiation they emit in close proximity to our bodies. The recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that mobile devices are possibly carcinogenic has brought this issue to the fore once again. Since many of us web marketers and IT people use mobile devices daily, I thought it would be worthwhile to put on my radio-geek hat and offer some thoughts on this topic.

It’s important to keep in mind a couple different quotes from the USA Today article I linked to above:

Cancer researcher Peter Shields of Georgetown University Medical Center cites three categories of risk: possible, probable and known. Cellphone radiation falls under “possible.” “This is nothing like asbestos or smoking, which causes cancer in one of 10 people who smoke cigarettes.”

The WHO is talking about a possible risk, not a sure-fire thing.

Donald Berry of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston notes that there has been no increase in U.S. brain cancer rates despite huge growth in cellphone use. The notion that cellphones cause brain cancer is “just an urban myth that keeps coming up,” Berry says. “The panel somehow decided that there is maybe something here that’s possibly carcinogenic, which ranks with everything else in the world.”

It seems to me if there were a high risk here, there would be some correlation between increased mobile use and cancer. There doesn’t appear to be such a correlation.

As I wrote in my article about mobile device antennas last year, the FCC very strictly regulates radio frequency (RF) energy exposure limits because RF is absorbed by the body, especially in the microwave frequencies used by mobile devices.

A little background
Microwave ovens have been commonly available since the 1970s. One of the first brands was the Amana Radarange; so called because it used RF energy in the same frequency bands as radars used at the time. Amana, in those days, was a subsidiary of Ratheon, a manufacturer of radars and radar parts. Radars and microwave ovens use magnetrons, high-powered microwave transmitters.

Microwave RF energy causes molecules of certain substances to vibrate rapidly. The rapid vibration generates a great deal of heat. This heat is what warms up your burrito or leftover pizza when you zap it in your microwave oven. Water is especially susceptible to this vibration – and almost any organic material contains water, including you.

Some other background info
Thinking about exposure to RF energy there are four things to keep track of:

  • Frequency – the items we discuss all use frequencies in the microwave part of the radio spectrum
  • Power – RF energy is measured in watts. Mobile device output is typically are measured in milliwatts, thousandths of a watt.
  • Time – RF energy exposure can become a problem if it is for a long duration.
  • Distance – The further away one is from the source of the RF, the less energy they are exposed to.

There’s nothing to be done about the frequencies. Each device and the transmission modes they use are regulated by the FCC (or other government agency). Power levels are also set by the FCC. They are not usually adjustable by the end user. So, there’s nothing much we can do about that, either. Power levels over time are measured as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). You can read about FCC guidelines on their web site.

The SAR of mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets, Wi-Fi hotspots, Mi-Fi devices, Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, tablet devices, wireless game controllers and such can be found on the FCC web site as well. The power output of these devices is low enough that they pose little risk to users’ health. Still, keeping in mind that most things are OK in moderation, it’s not a bad idea to moderate your exposure to RF energy.

What You Can Do
That leaves us with distance and time as the two things we can change to limit our exposure. While the health risks of low-level RF exposure is small, here are some ideas on how you can limit it and further reduce that risk:

  • Don’t wear your mobile device on your person all the time. When you are at home or at the office, set it more-than-arms-length away when you’re not actually using it.
  • If you’re going to talk on the phone for an extended period of time, use a Bluetooth headset. While these still use RF to operate, the power output is much lower, still, than your phone. For even less RF exposure, use a wired headset.
  • Put your home Wi-Fi router up and out of the way of people.
  • If you can, turn the Wi-Fi feature off on your notebook and plug it into a router with a cable. Of course, if you’re plugging into a router which also does Wi-Fi, use a longer cable.
  • If you can, turn your wireless devices off when they’re not in use.
  • Even though your microwave oven is shielded to avoid microwave “leakage,” there is still a possibility that some could “escape.” When running your microwave, don’t stand directly in front of it.

What say you? How do you feel about the announcement by WHO? Do you think there are significant risks to mobile device use or is this much ado about nothing? Please feel free to share in the comments.

iPad Is A Great Productivity Tool

I won an iPad earlier this year from Trackur. It was one of those gadgets I really wanted, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to part with the cash to purchase one. I’m glad I got one, though, because it is really a handy tool. Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I can’t imagine not having one.

I won an iPad earlier this year from the great folks at Trackur. It was a gadget I really wanted, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to part with the cash to purchase one. I’m glad I got one, though, because it is really a handy tool. Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I can’t imagine not having one.

To be sure, I play games on it. I play Words with Friends, Chess with Friends, Monopoly, Angry Birds, etc. But I also use it as a tool to make my life easier and more productive. For instance: I play bass with the band at church. Since getting the iPad, I’ve been converting my music binder from paper sheets to PDFs. Carrying the iPad is quite a bit easier than toting around a ten-pound binder full of paper. It’s easy to copy the PDFs to the “Books” section of iTunes and let them sync to the device.

Another way I use the iPad is taking notes. I bring it to meetings and jot down notes using the Notes app and then email the document to myself and anyone else with whom I might want to share. This is much more efficient for me than taking notes on paper and then typing them into an electronic document.

At the recent PubCon South, I used the iPad to build my summaries for the blog. Just for this purpose, I purchased the Apple Wireless Keyboard (Bluetooth – Amazon Affiliate link) because I found I couldn’t type fast enough with the on-screen keyboard. At each session, I set up my iPad and took notes in the CleanWriter app. At the end of the day, I copied the notes and pasted them into my blog using the BlogPress app. BlogPress is not a WYSIWYG editor, so I did have to code some HTML to put the notes in unordered lists. Still, using copy and paste didn’t take very long. I think it worked out pretty well.

I also use the iPad to read my Kindle books, go through my email, and surf the web. It has really enhanced my productivity in many ways.

If you’re thinking about getting an iPad (or any other tablet device) and are afraid that it’s not much more than a toy I say “Get it!” People may look at you askance, but they don’t know what they are missing.

What about you? Do you an iPad or similar device. How do you use it to be more productive. Please share in the comments.

What’s Up With Webresource.axd Errors

If you’ve been working with Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS) for very long, and you check out your log files on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen error messages regarding the webresource.axd file with an Exception type: System.Security.Cryptography.CryptographicException. Here’s an explanation as to why they might occur.

Warning: Major Geek Content

If you’ve been working with Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS), and you check out your log files on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen error messages with content similar to this:

Process Information:
Process ID: 3264
Process name: w3wp.exe
Account name: NT AUTHORITYNETWORK SERVICE

Exception Information:
Exception type: System.Security.Cryptography.CryptographicException
Exception message: Padding is invalid and cannot be removed.

Request Information:
Request URL: http://www.yourdomain.com/webresource.axd?d=d8qwertyu9a7asdfghjklzxcvn1&t=123456789012345678
Request path: /webresource.axd
User host address: 255.255.255.255

I often wondered what these were about, but all I ever saw in searches on the topic mentioned incompatibility with certain browsers (especially Safari) and miscommunication between the server and the browser. Not really good answers, but enough to know it wasn’t some serious hack attempt.

That was, until a few weeks ago when we started having some major trouble with timeout errors between our web server and the SQL Server which holds the data for our sites. We went round and round trying to figure out the issue ourselves to no avail. Thankfully, we have a subscription to Microsoft’s telephone tech support, so we finally decided to punt.

I have to give Microsoft some serious props when it comes to their top level support. When you get one of these folks on the phone you are dealing with a true professional; one with a lot of knowledge, background and experience to help you work through your problem. The service isn’t cheap, but it’s good.

We worked with a networking engineer who helped us narrow down the issue. He ended up calling in one of his colleagues on the IIS support team to help us find a resolution. 45 minutes on the phone with those two guys was about a week’s worth of education.

In the end, it turned out to be some errant code we put in for error handling. Rather ironic, I have to say, that the error handling caused the errors themselves.

But, the real education was in learning about the webresource.axd and what causes these System.Security.Cryptography.CryptographicException errors.

The webresouce.axd file is generated by the system. Like the web.config, it’s not a file that someone can just “browse” to. It’s requested automatically by the browser and is a helper file to assist with using script files.

The interesting thing is that the “d” portion of the URL string is supposed to be mixed case, but in every instance where I see this type of error, all the letters are lower case, like from the completely fake example I noted above:

d=d8qwertyu9a7asdfghjklzxcvn1

It should be more along the lines of something like this:

d=d8QWErtyU9a7ASDfghJKLzxcVn1

If you go through your server logs, you can track down the requests which cause the errors, compare them to other requests for the webresource.axd file and clearly see the difference. I didn’t notice this until I looked at the logs closely trying to troubleshoot my problem.

Checking closely in the log files, I can also see where sometimes the “&” between then end of the “d” string and the “t=” is sent like “&” – which apparently also causes issues.

There you have it – a “not to technical” explanation as to why you might see this type of error message in your log files. Apparently, so long as your server is patched and set up according to best security practices, this shouldn’t cause you any problems other than possibly filling your log files with messages.

Paper.li – Your Twitter Newspaper

A couple weeks ago I started seeing tweets from some I follow in the web marketing space which read something like this: “The xxxx Daily is out” with a link. Curious I clicked on one of them and found Paper.li, the twitter aggregator that arranges tweets into a newspaper-like format.

A couple weeks ago I started seeing tweets from some of those I follow in the web marketing space which read something like this: “The xxxx Daily is out” with a link. Curious, I clicked on one of them and found Paper.li, the twitter aggregator that arranges tweets into a newspaper-like format.

From their site:

paper.li organizes links shared on Twitter into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Newspapers can be created for any Twitter user, list or #tag.

A great way to stay on top of all that is shared by the people you follow – even if you are not connected 24/7!

I have my Twitter streams broken up into lists, which helps me keep track of those I want to follow closely. Even using lists, it’s hard to stay on top of all the great content shared by all these people. Paper.li keeps track of all the tweets with links in them and puts them together into a nicely organized web page and emails me when it’s ready. Here’s a screen shot of my Web Marketing list’s paper.ly edition:

Paper.li screen shot

Paper.li even grabs links to videos and images and puts displays them right in the daily update.

The site’s text indicates the service is in “alpha” which means updates and improvements are bound to come around. Still, it seems to work quite well as it is right now. I highly recommend you check it out.

Escape From Microsoft Activation Phone Tree

The downside comes when you need to reactivate a Windows license. As I’m sure many of you know if you significantly change the hardware on a Windows server or workstation, Microsoft requires reactivation of the operating system license. Normally this isn’t a big deal because you can do it automatically when starting the machine for the first time

I’ve been working on a project where I’m taking old Windows servers running legacy applications and “virtualizing” them. This works out great for us because it allows us to keep the few old servers running for a bit until we can upgrade the applications which won’t work on newer operating systems. I have to say, Microsoft’s Virtual Server and new Hyper-V server are excellent applications.

The downside comes when you need to reactivate a Windows license. As I’m sure many of you know if you significantly change the hardware on a Windows server or workstation, Microsoft requires reactivation of the operating system license. Normally this isn’t a big deal because you can do it automatically when starting the machine for the first time.

Except if you don’t have a working connection to the Internet, then you have to call.

When you call the number shown on the reactivation screen, a nice computerized voice walks you through the process, including the hint that doing the activation online is much faster. (Well, DUH! I know that and wouldn’t call if I didn’t have to). The voice asks goes through a list of operating systems eligible for activation, to which you’re supposed to respond.

I don’t know about you, but I hate talking to a computer. Most of the time they don’t understand what I’m saying and I have to repeat myself half-a-dozen times until it gets it right. This last time I got so exasperated with the system, that just on a whim, I hit “1” on my phone’s keypad to answer “yes.” It worked!

This time, the operating system I was activating was WindowsXP, which is the first choice given. I hit “1” and got to the part where you’re supposed to read the 9 6-digit groups. Instead of speaking, I just started hitting the numbers when the voice told me to say the numbers. It worked! The only hitch was the last group, which I had to enter three times before the computer got it.

Once my activation was approved, the computer read off some groups of numbers for me to enter into the computer to complete the activation. In this one, each time the voice finished it asked if it should go on. Here, “1” means repeat and “2” means to continue to the next group.

If you’re like me and hate talking to computers, let this be your guide to touch tone nirvana.