Show of 03-15-2014

Tech Talk

March 15, 2014

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Alice: Dear Tech Talk, I’ve had several people tell me that I have too much stuff on my desktop and that is why my computer is so slow. I think my computer is slow because it’s old. It’s six years old. What should I tell them? Thanks, Alice
  • Tech Talk Responds: Clutter on the desktop does not affect your computer’s speed. That being said, I hate a cluttered desktop. It implies a lack or organization and efficiency. I only have a few icons on my desktop.
  • When you install programs, very often those programs will create icons on the desktop. Lots of icons on the desktop could mean that you have lots of software installed on your machine. Often that means a lot of software that you don’t need or use.
  • And it’s very possible that having lots of software installed on your machine, particularly software that includes components that start automatically, could indeed slow your machine down.
  • Some people take a cluttered desktop as a sign that you’re not paying attention to what you install. Think about it: You install an application and a few more icons show up. You install another application, and a few more icons show up. After a while, you end up with a lot of icons on your desktop. The icons themselves aren’t the problem. It’s all that stuff that’s been installed.
  • Email from John in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. I am worried about my accounts being hacked. How long should a password be to be safe? Thanks John in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds; For years, the standard practice has been to assume that eight-character passwords made up of sufficiently random characters was enough. Large scale attacks are making this obsolete.
  • Randomness remains important, but as it turns out, size matters more. Password today should have a minimum of 12 characters, and ideally, 16 or even more.
  • When you hear about large numbers of accounts being stolen by a hack at some service provider, you are naturally concerned that the hacker might now have access to your account names and passwords. If the service was storing your actual passwords, that could indeed be the case.
  • In fact, most services will store an encrypted (technically, a “hashed”) form of your password. A hash is a mathematical formula that takes a collection of digital data, like a file, and calculates from it a number.
  • What that means is that hackers do not get a list of user names and passwords. What they get is a list of usernames and password hashes.
  • And what’s great about hashes is that you can calculate a hash from a password, but you cannot do the reverse – you cannot calculate the password from the hash.
  • As a result, one would think that by being hashed it’d be pretty unhackable, right?
  • The most common type of password attack is simply a high-speed guessing game. This doesn’t work when pounding on an actual login page – they’re slow and will quickly deny further access after too many failures. But this technique works wonderfully if the hacker has the entire database of account and password hashes sitting on his computer.
  • These attacks involve starting with an exhaustive list of possible words and known common passwords (including names, profanities, acronyms, and more) and perhaps a few rules to try interesting and common ways that people try to obfuscate words. They calculate the hash of each guess and if it matches what was found in the compromised database of account information that they’re working against, they’ve figured out the password for that account.
  • As we’ll see in a moment, it’s easy for hackers to make an amazing number of guesses is a short amount of time.
  • That’s why a password created from a totally random combination of characters is best; it forces hackers to move on to a true brute force attack of every possible combination to gain access.
  • Creating a password hash is not a simple operation on purpose. However, it’s still something that on most machines today can be done very quickly. Spread the work over a number of machines – perhaps a botnet – and the amount of processing power that can be thrown at password cracking is amazing.
  • The net impact is that it’s now feasible to calculate the encrypted hash values for all possible eight-character passwords comprised of upper and lowercase alphabetic characters and digits.
  • 62 possible characters (26 lower case, 26 upper case, 10 digits), in each of the eight positions gives us 221,919,451,578,0902, or over 221 trillion, combinations.3
  • This seems like a lot, until you realize that an off-line attack, which is easily performed once you’ve stolen a database of usernames and encrypted passwords, could be completed in a few hours.
  • It doesn’t matter what your password is; if it’s eight characters and is comprised of upper and lower case letters and numbers, the hackers now have it – even if it was hashed by the service that they stole it from.
  • Why 12 is better and 16 better still
  • As we’ve seen, eight-character passwords give you over 221 trillion combinations, which can be reasonably brute force guessed offline in hours.
  • A Good Password of Twelve characters gives you over three sextillion and the offline brute force guessing time would be measured in centuries. Sixteen takes the calculation off the chart.
  • A Good, Memorable Pass-phrase is a good idea. The yellow brick road led to the Wizard of Oz is long and secure. The biggest problem with pass-phrases? Many services that use passwords don’t allow spaces and don’t allow such lengthy passwords. You can drop the spaces and adjust the passphrase length to be secure.
  • Email form Don in Reston: Dear Tech Talk, I want to connect HDMI to my new flat panel TV that is mounted on the wall. However I don’t want to run ugly cables from my Xbox to the TV. What are my option? Thanks. Don in Reston
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to use a wireless HDMI connection. In order to ensure that it does not interfere with your Wi-Fi or other wireless appliances in the house, I would recommend that you only use a Wireless HDMI that operates in the 5.8GHz unlicensed band. Your Wi-Fi is operating in the 2.4GHz band. Here are a couple of options.
  • According to Wirecutter, the best HDTV transmitter is $200 IOGear Wireless HD Digital Kit.  This device transmits 1080p video to a small receiver attached to your TV from up to a claimed 100 feet away.
  • The IOGear transmitter base unit has two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output. This means you can have a TV, transmitter and two sources (Blu-ray, cable/satellite box, etc).  The IOGear receiver unit can be powered using only a USB port (which is convenient since most modern TVs have USB inputs). This means the IOGear can draw power from the TV without extra wires connecting to a power outlet. This makes it easy to hide and an effective alternative to cutting holes in your walls to hide cables.
  • Wireless is always going be more temperamental than wired, taking a few moments to sync up (connect) and potentially/occasionally dropping out.
  • Every wireless HDTV product will transmit up to 1080p video from whatever HDMI source you send it.
  • However, it won’t do Ultra HD 4K for example. This has four times as many horizontal scans.
  • Email from Jim: Dear Tech Talk. I sometimes create audio files that are over 80MB and I have to break them into four or five segments to email them to the station. Then they have to be reassembled for delivery. Is there a better way? Thanks, Jim from across the counters.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to transfer the files using cloud storage, rather than email which limits the size of the attachment. If you both have iPhone, you can use iMessage to send very large attachments. If you want to send it to anyone, I would suggest that you use Dropbox. You can install the Dropbox client on your PC and then transfer the large file to the share subdirectory. You can right click on this file and create a share link. Simply paste this share link into an email from the clipboard. The station can download file directly from your Dropbox.

Profiles in IT: Dong Nguyen

  • Dong Nguyen is the creator of Flappy Bird, a very popular mobile game
  • Dong Nguyen was born in 1986 in Van Phuc, Vietnam, just outside of Hanoi.
  • His father owned a hardware store and his mother worked for the government.
  • They were able to purchase a Nintendo clone. Nguyen loved Super Mario.
  • By 16, Nguyen had learned to code his own computer chess game.
  • Three years later, while studying CS at a university in Hanoi, he placed in the top 20 of a programming competition and got an internship with Punch Entertainment.
  • He was fascinated with the touch screen of his new iPhone as a gaming interface.
  • Few games captured the simple power of Super Mario. Angry Birds was too busy.
  • In April 2014, instead of celebrating Reunification Day, he spent the weekend in his bedroom creating a new game. He had released one game earlier in the month, Shuriken Block, but he felt it was too complicated. You had to tap on falling stars.
  • For his new game, Nguyen realized went even simpler: Let the player tap anywhere.
  • The year before, he’d drawn a pixelated bird on his computer called Cheep Cheeps.
  • He drew green pipes, a homage to Super Mario,  that the bird would have to navigate.
  • The bird was fighting gravity so strong, even the slightest wrong tap would kill it.
  • Death would be by face plant with a kung-fu-style thwack sound to look funny.
  • The game went live on the iOS App Store on May 24th. Instead of charging for Flappy Bird, Nguyen made it free, and hoped to get revenue from in-game ads.
  • By the end of December, players swarmed social media to talk about Flappy Bird.
  • On January 17th, Flappy Bird hit Number One on the iPhone App store. A week later, it topped the Google Play store, too.
  • February, it was topping the charts in more than 100 countries and had been downloaded more than 50 million times. Nguyen was earning an $50,000 a day.
  • Before long, Shuriken Block and a new game, Super Ball Juggling were in the top 10.
  • He hadn’t yet even bothered to tell his parents, because they didn’t understand games.
  • They first learned about it from the TV news, which covered VN’s new celebrity.
  • The local paparazzi soon besieged his parents’ house, and he couldn’t go out.
  • He got a message from one mother who accused him of “distracting the children of the world.” Another user complained that 13 kids at their school broke their phones.
  • He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, and didn’t want to go outdoors. He felt that game had ruined his simple life. He realized there was one thing to do: Pull the game.
  • After tweeting that he was taking it down, 10 million people downloaded it in 22 hours. Then he hit a button, and Flappy Bird disappeared.
  • He finally moved out of his parent’s house and is living with a friend.
  • The millions of people who downloaded Flappy Bird are still generating tens of thousands of dollars for him. He’s finally quit his job.
  • He is thinking of releasing Flappy Birds again, but this time with a warning.

The Selfiest Cities in the World: TIME’s Ranking

  • Makati City, known as the financial center of the Philippines is the Selfie Capital of the World.
  • To investigate the geography of selfie-taking, TIME built a database of more than 400,000 Instagram photos tagged “selfie” that included geographic coordinates.  In total, they ranked 459 cities to determine the selfiest places on earth.
  • Here are the top 25 cities. I included that many be Washington DC is 25th on the list.
  1. Makati City and Pasig, Philippine.s 258 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  2. Manhattan, N.Y. 202. selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  3. Miami, Fla. 155 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  4. Anaheim and Santa Ana, Calif. 147 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  5. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.  141 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  6. Tel Aviv, Israel.  139 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  7. Manchester, England. 114 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  8. Milan, Italy. 108 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  9. Cebu City, Philippines. 99 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  10. George Town, Malaysia. 95 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  11. San Francisco, US: 91 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  12. Oslo, NO: 89 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  13. Boston, US: 88 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  14. Newark, US: 84 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  15. Honolulu, US: 82 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  16. Baguio, PH: 82 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  17. Paris, FR: 80 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  18. Denpasar, ID: 75 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  19. Leeds, GB: 72 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  20. Las Vegas, US: 72 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  21. Kuala Lumpur, MY: 72 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  22. Firenze, IT: 69 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  23. Copenhagen, DK: 69 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  24. Helsinki, FI: 69 selfie-takers per 100,000 people
  25. Washington, D. C., US: 66 selfie-takers per 100,000 people

25th Annivesary of World Wide Web

  • On March 12, 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee published his proposal for an information management system built on top of the internet.
  •  It stipulated that the internet could be made more useful with some sort of graphical representation of the information being shared around the network.
  •  At that point in time, the internet had been around for a couple of decades but was used mainly by scientists and had no real interface.
  • Berners-Lee’s proposal was specific to CERN, but the web itself would soon grow much larger than a single lab.
  • The World Wide Web and the internet are not the same thing. The web simply makes it easier to navigate the vast system of connected computers that is the internet.
  • Visiting any website or webpage, as the names imply, means you’re using the web.
  • However, when you use an app or make a Skype call or get email through a client, you’re just using the internet.
  • It might be most accurate to say that the World Wide Web is being left behind by applications that control what is presented to the user.
  • It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, the new model fits the lives of the users better.
  • Even I use Flipboard to do my research for Tech Talk each week. It saves me the time of surfing the web and going to my favorite website.
  • Companies like it when you skip the web and use their app because they can offer an optimized experience (with revenue model).
  • Optimized experiences are great, but they come at a price. Enabling companies to stray from the free and open format of the web stands to throw off the power dynamic of the whole network.
  • Tim Berners-Lee fears that the loss of net neutrality is the greatest threat to the web.

Buttonless Apple mouse was created accidentally

  • Sometimes, the biggest innovations and most important discoveries come not as a result of a group of creative minds pitting their energies together in efforts to create a single product, but by pure chance.
  • That what happened when the Apple created the buttonless mouse.
  • Abraham Farag, the former Apple Senior Mechanical of Product Design, the events that led up to this design. It all started back in 1999.
  • They had made six of these great form models to show Steve. They were fully done, with all the parting lines cut in for buttons and different plastic parts, and all the colors just right.”
  • However, at the 11th hour, the engineers who worked on these proposed designed opted to add a new addition to the mix. There was just one problem: it wasn’t completely hashed out, and the team didn’t have time to outline where the buttons on that prototype would be.
  • Farag and the crew weren’t exactly proud of their creation. It looked like a grey blob. They were going to put that model into a box so people wouldn’t see it.”
  • Steve Jobs showed up to the meeting, and that’s where everything changed.
  • Steve looked at the lineup of potential forms and made straight for the unfinished one.
  • “That’s genius,” Jobs said. “We don’t want to have any buttons.”
  • Someone in the room chimed in with: “That’s right, Steve. No buttons at all.”
  • The rest is history.

US Mobile Data Revenues Outweighed Voice In 2013

  • Mobile data revenues in the US were $90 billion for 2013, and that this year it will become the first country to pass $100 billion annually.
  • The US is not the first country to do this, however: it’s actually seventh.
  • Japan was first, in 2011.
  • In 2013, smartphone penetration reached 66%, with 92% of all mobile handsets sold are smartphones. Tablets accounted for 49% of the volume.
  • Apple and Android dominated the smartphone market.  BlackBerry, or Windows Phone/Nokia got the crumbs.

Who Made That Progress Bar?

  • At a 1985 conference on the nascent field of computer-human interactions, a graduate student named Brad A. Myers presented a paper on the importance of what he called “percent-done progress indicators.” “I had the sense that they were useful and important, and not used as much as they should have been,” Myers says today.
  • He’s now on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.
  •  He told his colleagues that progress bars made computer users less anxious and more efficient, and could even help them to “relax effectively” at work.
  • The problem is how the user feels about waiting. At the time, machines were often slow and unreliable, and users didn’t always know when their programs crashed. A “progress bar” might mitigate frustration.
  • To prove his point, Myers asked 48 fellow students to run searches on a computer database, with and without a progress bar for guidance.
  • He used a capsule that filled from left to right — like a giant thermometer from a charity drive, tipped on its side.
  • Then he had them rate their experience. Eighty-six percent said they liked the bars.
  • They have become ubiquitous.

Pi Day is March 14

  • Across the country, math geeks in museums, schools, private groups and elsewhere gather to celebrate the number Pi, approximately 3.14. That’s why March 14 — 3-14 — is Pi Day. Albert Einstein was born on this day.
  • Pi is defined as the distance around a perfect circle, or the circumference, divided by the distance across it, or the diameter.
  • Throughout history, people have been captivated by this number because there is no way to calculate it exactly by a simple division on your calculator.
  • What’s more, its digits go on infinitely, without any pattern in the numbers. 3.1415926535897932 … etc.
  • The House of Representatives supported the designation of March 14 as National Pi Day in 2009.
  • Larry Shaw, who worked in the electronics group at the San Francisco’s Exploratorium, began the tradition in 1988.
  • Last year was Pi Day’s 25th anniversary there.
  • Pi Day began as a small gathering with mostly museum staff. Now it’s a public pi extravaganza featuring a “Pi procession,” whose attendees get a number — 0 to 9 — and line up in the order of pi’s digits: 3.14159265 … you get the idea.
  • Princeton, New Jersey, kicks off Pi Day weekend on Thursday night with a reading by physicist Charles Adler, then heads into a full day of activities on Friday, including a walking tour of Einstein’s neighborhood and a pizza pie-making contest.
  • The pie-eating contest takes place at McCaffrey’s supermarket, while an Einstein look-alike competition will match mustaches and wild gray hair at the Princeton Public Library.
  • In Princeton, New Jersey, a child dresses up as Albert Einstein for Pi Day 2013.
  • Bostonians can head to Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Pi Time (3:14 p.m.) for pi-themed activities such as “Throw Pie at Your Best Friend on High-Speed Camera.”
  • Next year (2015) will be even bigger.
  • March 14, 2015 at 9:26 AM symbolizes the first six digits Pi: 3.15926
  • There are plenty of online resources too, such as piday.org.
  • We need to party.