Internet speed, surfing incognito, USB-C flaws
Bob's Tech Talk
September 1, 2019
Q. The Internet in my house seems slower than at my local coffee shop. How do I measure the speed and compare the two?
A. My favorite test site is located at http://www.speedof.me.
Each connection has three numbers: Ping, Download, and Upload. Ping measures the latency, or “raw” speed. Upload and download measure bandwidth, which is to say how long will it take to move a quantity of bits each second.
When comparing connections, smaller latency means faster. Bandwidth is reversed, so that bigger is better.
Here is how to think about it. Imagine a road filled with cars. The car’s speed is latency. In other words, how long do you have to wait for the car to arrive at its destination. The total number of lanes on our imaginary road is the connection’s bandwidth. The more lanes, the more cars it can carry at one time. However, more lanes does not always mean faster. With enough traffic, any highway can slow to a crawl, or stop altogether.
Internet bandwidth is specified in Mbps (megabits per second). While slow by modern standards, even a 1 Mbps connection will seem fast for web browsing and email. For large files, like video, 15 Mbps is a good starting point.
Speed tests are useful to compare, but they have limits. Speeds vary frequently due to traffic congestion. To get a good measurement, test multiple times. Test when things are working normally, to get a sense of what average means in everyday use.
Q. Is Incognito mode really private?
A. That depends on what you mean by private. Incognito mode is one kind of private.
All the major Web browsers have the ability to open a tab for private browsing. Browsers use different words for the feature, most commonly “Private” or “Incognito.” Different words, same behavior.
Anyone who casually looks at your computer or phone will not see any of the “private browsing” sites in the history bookmarks, and browsers take various steps to avoid leaving other traces on your device itself.
But as I have written many times before, practically every site you visit silently tracks you. Turning on private browsing does nothing to prevent that kind of tracking.
Private browsing will keep your secrets from casual observers who have access to your device, but beyond that assume everything else has been recorded in multiple places. It is not a pleasant thought, but that is reality in 2019.
Q. I have several USB-C cables. One came with my Android phone, another with my digital camera, and I purchased one as a spare. Sometimes they work, sometimes they do not. Is there a reliable way to test a cable?
A. USB-C cables have a design flaw that will probably cause a lot of people to assume a cable is broken.
Up until now in the tech world, each cable had a different connector. For decades, cables were easily identifiable with a casual glance. Different tasks required different cables, and it was possible to tell which cable was required by the shape of the device port. USB-C changes all that.
All six variations of USB-C cables use the same connector. Each connector should be embossed with an icon describing the cable, but that is not always the case. The icons themselves are not especially descriptive, and worse still, device ports are often not marked at all.
Users can Google search for a USB-C icon chart to help identify a cable’s capability. But that is a lot to ask. My only other advice is to use the cable with the device it came with despite the fact they may look interchangeable.
Because USB-C cables contain a microchip, there is a provision that would allow a device to present an error if you plug in a mismatched cable. That is very poorly supported right now, but it gives a bit of hope for the future.
Sadly, until devices get better at reporting cable errors, the idea of one connector to rule them all is a big fail.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
This site features comprehensive, clearly- written articles on technical topics related to light and digital photography.
Most of my readers will find something to like on this YouTube channel. Unfortunately the URL here is the best available. Search YouTube for “Technology Connections” instead.
A Wonderland for Pen Enthusiasts
Pen and paper is one of the most important technologies ever invented. Penaddict is both a website and a podcast that celebrates beautiful writing instruments. http://www.penaddict.com
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.