Show of 9-28-2013

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Steve in Potomac: Dear Doc, You are so knowledgeable and make the technology sound easy to understand.  I really enjoy your explanations. Can you suggest a book which can help a PC user deal with every day PC software application problems such as internet and Word? I look forward to your show tomorrow.  Your Loyal Listener Steve, Potomac, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are a lot of worthless books on the market. Since you are interested in beginner books,  I would start with free books. Take a look at Wikibooks (http://en.wikibooks.org). They have a computer beginner’s books, as well as, MS Office books. When you browse the list, you may find a programming book that peaks your interest.
  • Email from John in Woodbridge: Dear Tech Talk, I installed iOS7 on my iPhone. Now I have trouble reading the fonts. They are too small and too light. What can I do? Can I go back to the previous operating system? Love the show. John in Woodbridge, VA.
  • Tech Talk Responds: This is a common problem. You can adjust the font size by going to Settings/General/Font Size. You can also make the font bold by going to Settings/General/Accessibility. Turn on Bold Text. Some people also don’t like the parallax affect where the background screen moves as you tilt the phone. You can turn this off by going to Setting/General/Accessibility. Turn on Reduce Motion. Don’t forget to download the mini-upgrade to iOS 7.0.2. This fixes a few security issues like the lock screen by-pass.
  • Email from Shel in Arlington: Dear Tech Talk, I just read about webcam hijacking. My laptop has a webcam. I can I know that it has not been hijacked. I have a Window PC running Windows 7. Thanks, Shel in Arlington.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Use the proper security measures. The first step in protecting your webcam from being hacked is to enable your firewall. In Window go to START, ALL PROGRAMS, ACCESSORIES, SYSTEM TOOLS, SECURITY CENTER, and enable the firewall. This helps prevent hackers from gaining access. For a more sophisticated firewall fry Zone Alarm at http://www.zonealarm.com.
  • Make sure your anti-virus is working and updated to protect your webcam from being hacked. If you cannot afford McAfee or Norton you can use AGV or Avira. Install a spyware detection program as well. Your anti-virus is not enough to fight spyware that may be installed without your knowledge and which can take control of your computer including peripherals like webcams. Try Spybot Search and Destroy and Super Anti Spyware. You can find these for free.
  • Enable your WEP, WPA or other security key. If you are using a wireless router or wireless webcam enable your security key. The security key will keep out most hackers who are “war driving” or driving around with a laptop and antenna looking for open wireless networks. Always enable the highest security encryption possible. WEP encryption is now outdated and hackable.
  • Email from Diane in Kansas: Dear Doc and Jim, In Word Perfect, there was an option to insert the path to where the document was stored into the footer of the document, which was printed at the bottom. Is there any way to do this in Microsoft Word? Thanks! Diane in Leavenworth, Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: Printing the document path in Word is quite easy. You actually have more options than you did in WordPerfect. You will use “fields.”
  • What you want to do is go down to the footer of your document; edit the footer of your document; and use “insert field.” You’ll get a list of a bunch of different things that you can insert. Everything from the author’s name, to the page number, to the date, to the save date, to the print date, to just about anything you can think of. One of those things will, in fact, be the document path.
  • In Windows 7, go to Insert/Quick Parts/Field. Then select the field you want t insert. In your case, it would be Filename. Then click the Add Path option.

Profiles in IT: Ray Milton Dolby (suggested by Arnie)

  • Ray Milton Dolby invented the Dolby noise reduction system and co-invented video tape recording while at Ampex. He was the founder of Dolby Laboratories.
  • an American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system known as Dolby
  • Ray Milton Dolby was born January 18, 1933 in Portland, Oregon.
  • He was raised in San Francisco and graduated from Sequoia High School in 1951.
  • As a teenager, he held part-time and summer jobs at Ampex in Redwood City, working with their first audio tape recorder.
  • While at San Jose State College and later at Stanford University (interrupted by two years of Army service), he worked on early prototypes of video tape recorder technologies.
  • As a non-degree-holding “consultant”, Dolby played a key role in the effort that led Ampex to unveil their prototype Quadruplex videotape recorder in April 1956.
  • In 1957, Dolby received his BSEE from Stanford. University.
  • He won a Marshall Scholarship to the PhD program at the University of Cambridge.
  • He received his PhD in Physics from Pembroke College in 1961.
  • After Cambridge, Dolby acted as a technical advisor to the UN in India, until 1965.
  • While at Cambridge, he noticed the hissing noise on audio tapes. The problem continued to nag him while in India. The solution came to him at his home in Punjab.
  • He was sitting at my desk making some calculations on distortions generated by some conventional noise-reduction systems. Suddenly he realized that these problems would disappear if he separated the high levels of the signal from the low levels.
  • He returned to England and founded Dolby Laboratories in London in 1965.
  • In that same year, he officially invented the Dolby Sound System, a form of electronic filter, although his first U.S. patent was not filed until 1969.
  • Prior to Dolby’s invention solved the problem on background noise. Hiss was particularly noticeable during instrumental solos, quiet or silent passages.
  • The filter was first used by Decca Records in the UK. The first film with Dolby sound was A Clockwork Orange (1971).
  • The Dolby Laboratories grew to be an industry leader in audio technology, cutting background hiss in tape recordings and later bringing out “surround sound”.
  • Dolby moved to San Francisco in 1976 and in 1989 was awarded an Oscar.
  • He also received a Grammy award in 1995 and Emmy awards in 1989 and 2005.
  • Dolby was a Fellow and past president of the Audio Engineering Society.
  • Dolby died of leukemia on September 12, 2013, at his home in SF at the age of 80.
  • He was a member of the Forbes 400 with an estimated net worth of US$2.9 billion in 2008 although as of September 2012 it was estimated to have declined to $2.4 billion.

NSA Workers Spy on Lovers and Exes

  • Details of NSA employee abuse of data was revealed in a letter from NSA Inspector General George Ellard to Sen. Chuck Grassley.
  • In August, Grassley asked Ellard to provide details on instances documented by the inspector general’s office in which NSA personnel “intentionally and willfully abused their surveillance authorities.”
  • The request followed media reports of workers with access to NSA surveillance setups spying on their lovers.
  • The practice reportedly has its own nickname: “LOVEINT,” a play on acronyms like SIGINT and HUMINT.
  • One user of the NSA’s system queried six e-mail addresses that belonged to his ex, later testifying, as the newly released letter paraphrases it, that “he wanted to practice on the system and had decided to use his former girlfriend’s” addresses to do so.
  • Since 1 January 2003, there have been 12 substantiated instances of intentional misuse of the signals intelligence (SIGINT) authorities” of the NSA
  • Of the 12 cases, 8 involved snooping on current or past lovers or spouses. One analyst said he queried the number of his foreign-national girlfriend “out of curiosity.”
  • Another did the same, he said, because he wanted to see if his girlfried was “involved with any government officials or other activities that might get in trouble.”
  • Another discovered a foreign phone number on her husband’s cell phone and queried it to see if he had cheated.  The tasking resulted in voice collection of her husband.
  • In 5 of the 12 cases, the employee resigned before being disciplined.
  • In 1 instance, the employee retired before being disciplined, and in another the worker retired before the investigation had been finalized.
  • Half the cases were referred to the US Department of Justice. None of the workers were prosecuted.

FISA court orders feds to declassify more opinions

  • Pointing to National Security Agency documents that Snowden leaked, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor ordered the Obama administration on Friday to declassify the legal opinions that involve Section 215 of the Patriot Act written after May 2011.
  • Saylor ruled in favor of an American Civil Liberties Union FOIA lawsuit (PDF) to force more government transparency about its actions.
  • In it, Saylor basically says that now that the cat is out of the bag, it’s in the government’s interest to “contribute to an informed debate.”
  • The decision is limited to orders not currently involved in litigation because the ACLU is suing the government to disclose more FISA court rulings under FOIA in another court.
  • However, Saylor said after that case is resolved, the ACLU might be able to come back to the FISC and ask again.

Window XP Demise is Near

  • On April 8, 2014, it’s the “end of life” for Windows XP.
  • End of life means Microsoft won’t be releasing any more security updates to the average user. Any security flaws that hackers find won’t be fixed.
  • Microsoft has done the same with Windows 95, 98 and Me. Vista’s end of life is April 11, 2017 and Windows 7’s is January 14, 2020.
  • Microsoft extended XP’s end-of-life date several times.
  • XP first appeared at the end of 2001. XP will be nearly 13 years old.
  • It can’t support the latest, safest and most Web-compatible versions of Internet Explorer. It can’t take full advantage of the latest hardware advances.
  • Many third-party companies would love to stop supporting XP. It takes a lot of time and money to make sure programs and hardware work on every version of Windows.
  • Web developers will be overjoyed to see XP-only Internet Explorer versions 6, 7 and 8 go away. Those versions are so far behind other browsers, you practically have to write another website just for them.
  • I would recommend upgrading to Windows 7, rather than Windows 8. You can’t do an in-place upgrade from XP to 7. You will have to wipe your hard drive and install Windows 7 from scratch. If you buy an upgrade version of Windows 7, you will need Windows XP installation discs to prove that you are eligible. Start planning now.

Obamacare Tech Problems for October 1 Launch

  • On October 1, 2013, the health insurance marketplaces mandated by the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act are scheduled to open for business.
  • Every state will have its own online healthcare exchange, where citizens can browse and buy insurance from healthcare providers as if they were shopping for flights on a travel website.
  • Consumers will be able to find out if they qualify for financial assistance and compare plans based on pricing, quality and benefits.
  • The portals will calculate premiums and potential tax credits based on citizens’ income, eligibility for subsidies, and other parameters.
  • Behind the scenes, a number of agencies, applications and data sources must swap information to keep the systems running.
  • Homeland Security sends the citizenship information, IRS sends the income information, Social Security sends the Medicare eligibility information, and from the states you get the Medicaid eligibility.
  • Final security testing of the federal data hub, which links to databases maintained by multiple agencies and containing sensitive personal information, isn’t slated to happen until Sept. 30, one day before the rollout.
  • The District of Columbia’s DC Health Link marketplace announced that it won’t deploy on Oct. 1 the function that makes new Medicaid eligibility determinations and calculates tax credits for purchase of private insurance “due to a high error rate discovered through extensive systems testing.” Other states have reported similar functional setbacks.
  • The Associated Press is reporting that online enrollment for small businesses will be delayed and business owners initially will have to mail or fax their enrollment info.
  • There will be testing and fine-tuning during the next few days as developers and stakeholders work out the known kinks.
  • Deloitte was hired to build healthcare exchanges in Washington, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Connecticut — four of the 16 states that opted to build and run their own exchanges.
  • Seven states are partnering with the federal government in a state-federal joint effort, and 27 relying on the federal government to operate their exchanges.
  • Some are viewing the Oct. 1 opening of the exchanges as a soft launch, since coverage doesn’t begin until January.

Arrest Made for Webcam Hijacking and Extortion

  • A college student was arrested Thursday for allegedly hijacking the webcams of young women — among them reigning Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf — taking nude images, then blackmailing his victims.
  • Jared James Abrahams, a 19-year-old computer science student from Temecula, California, surrendered on Thursday to the FBI on federal extortion charges, the agency announced.
  • Authorities say he victimized young women by taking control of their computers then photographing them as they changed out of their clothes.
  • Abrahams appeared in court later in the day, and then was released “on intensive pretrial supervision and home detention with electronic monitoring” after his parents signed bond agreements totaling $50,000.
  • When he admitted what he’d done in June, Abrahams said he had 30 to 40 slave computers.
  • His arrest came six months after a teenager identified in court documents as C.W. alerted authorities.
  • She has since publicly identified herself as Cassidy Wolf, the recently crowned Miss Teen USA. She touted news reports of her alleged tormenter’s arrest on Twitter.
  • Wolf got a Facebook alert that someone had tried to change her password to the social networking site, then noticed other passwords had been changed and that her Twitter avatar was now a half-nude picture of herself.
  • A short time later, she received what would be the first of many messages.
  • The message explained “what’s going to happen if Wolf didn’t send pictures or videos or do what I tell you to do.
  • The messenger had taken great efforts to hide his online identity. But investigators were eventually able to find corresponding e-mails, IP addresses and other communications they linked to Abraham. They also tied him to online forums asking about malware, how to control webcams, and hacking into Facebook accounts.
  • Authorities executed a search warrant at Abrahams’ home on June 4, at which time he “voluntarily agreed to speak” with a pair of FBI agents.

Hacker Sentenced to 3 Years for Hacking Police Sites

  • A man said to be affiliated with the hacking collective Anonymous sentenced to prison for breaking into police and municipal Web sites in Utah, New York, Missouri, and California.
  • After pleading guilty to computer fraud for hacking into several police Web sites, John Anthony Borell III was sentenced to three years in federal prison on September 12, 2013.
  • Borell, 22, is from Ohio but was accused of breaching the Web sites of police agencies in Utah, New York, and California, and a municipal Web site in Missouri, in early 2012.
  • According to court documents, the intrusions caused thousands of dollars in damage and forced the Utah police site to be down for nearly three months.
  • Apparently, after the attack, Borell made several comments on Twitter and other Web sites, which helped law enforcement officials in their investigation.
  • Borell is said to be a member of the loose-knit hacking collective Anonymous, which has taken credit for numerous online attacks including on the US Department of Justice, Lockheed Martin, Bank of America, and more.
  • Reportedly, the attacks on Utah’s police Web sites were done in protest of proposed US anti-piracy legislation.
  • In addition to his prison sentence, Borell has also agreed to pay $227,000 in damages.

Google Tweaks Search to Challenge Apple’s Siri

  • Google announced a series of upgrades to its search engine and mobile search apps today that strengthen its ability to understand queries in the form of natural sentences like those used in conversation.
  • The changes are particularly focused on enabling more complex spoken interactions with Google’s mobile apps.
  • The new features apply to all Google searches, but were all demonstrated with queries spoken out loud to Google’s mobile apps.
  • One change sees Google better able to understand broad questions about categories of concepts.
  • Asking Google about a band brings up a list of their songs to hear. Movies and many other topics can be explored in the same way.
  • Another upgrade gives Google the ability to compare different things or concepts. For example, asking the search app to “compare coconut oil versus olive oil” produces a table contrasting their nutritional qualities.
  • Google’s new features rest on a system called Knowledge Graph, which the company unveiled last year. It gives the company’s software the ability to understand the meaning, concepts, and relationships behind text mentioning concepts and things.
  • The changes puts it into even more direct competition with Siri, which is promoted as a personal assistant people can talk to like a real person.
  • The upgraded system is known as Hummingbird, and replaces one known as Caffeine used since 2010. About 90 percent of Google searches have been affected by the change.

Facebook Uses Deep Learning to Find Meaning in Your Posts

  • A new research group within Facebook is working on an emerging and powerful approach to artificial intelligence known as deep learning, which uses simulated networks of brain cells to process data.
  • Applying this method to data shared on Facebook could allow for novel features and perhaps boost the company’s ad targeting.
  • Deep learning has shown potential as the basis for software that could work out the emotions or events described in text even if they aren’t explicitly referenced, recognize objects in photos, and make sophisticated predictions about people’s likely future behavior.
  • The eight-person group, known internally as the AI team, only recently started work, and details of its experiments are still secret.
  • But Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, will say that one obvious way to use deep learning is to improve the news feed.
  • The company already uses conventional machine learning techniques to prune the 1,500 updates that average Facebook users could possibly see down to 30 to 60.
  • Shroepfer says deep learning could also be used to help people organize their photos or choose which are the best one to share.
  • In looking into deep learning, Facebook follows its competitors Google and Microsoft, which have used the approach to impressive effect in the past year.
  • Google has hired and acquired leading talent in the field, and last year it created software that taught itself to recognize cats and other objects by reviewing stills from YouTube videos.
  • The underlying technology was later used to slash the error rate of Google’s voice recognition services.
  • Researchers at Microsoft have used deep learning to build a system that translates speech from English to Mandarin Chinese in real time
  • Chinese Web giant Baidu also recently established a Silicon Valley research lab to work on deep learning.
  • Conventional forms of machine learning are slower because before data can be fed into learning software, experts must manually choose which features of it the software should pay attention to, and they must label the data to signify, for example, that certain images contain cars.
  • Deep learning systems can learn with much less human intervention because they can figure out for themselves which features of the raw data are most significant.
  • They can even work on data that hasn’t been labeled, as Google’s cat-recognizing software did. Systems able to do that typically use software that simulates networks of brain cells, known as neural nets, to process data. They require more powerful collections of computers to run.

Apple’s iOS 7 Includes Multi-path TCP

  • For five years, researchers have worked on multi-path TCP, which is designed to make the connections to our mobile devices faster and more reliable.
  • The new Apple iOS 7 includes this feature.
  • Before multi-path TCP if your phone or tablet is connected to Wi-Fi and a cellular network at the same time, it can only use one or the other connection to transmit data.
  • But what if your Wi-Fi connection or your 3G connection drops? Whatever data was being transmitted—data for an app, a webpage, an iMessage—will fail to arrive, and you have to try again, usually after getting a frustrating error message or a blank page.
  •  Just as importantly, if one of your connections to the internet slows down, or speeds up, your phone has no ability to use its other connections to its advantage, leading to a poorer and slower experience overall.
  • Multi-path TCP allows your phone to send data by whatever way it’s connected to the internet, whether that’s Wi-Fi, 3G or Ethernet.
  • The ability to connect and maintain a continuous connection to the internet over multiple wired and wireless connections might sound is the future.
  • It’s arguably the first and most important change to the low-level architecture of the internet to reflect the fact that our connections to it are more mobile and wireless than ever.
  • In a September 2013 presentation to the Australian Network Operations Group, computer scientist Mark Smith suggested that Multi-path TCP was the beginning of a larger change in how the internet is built, in which individual devices decide how they will communicate with one another, rather than simply relying on the protocols that have already been built into the computers that pass along all our traffic to and from the internet.
  • The only way that Apple’s devices appear to be using this protocol is to communicate with Siri.