Show of 04-04-2015

Tech Talk

April 4, 2015

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Ian in Greenbelt: Dear Doc and Jim. I have both an iPhone and an iPad. Is it possible to answer and make iPhone calls using my iPad? Sometimes my iPhone is in another room and I only have my iPad. I really enjoy the show every Saturday morning. Thanks, Ian in Greenbelt, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: Now with Continuity on iOS 8 you can actually make and receive phone calls on your iPad.  As long as your iPad and iPhone are both running iOS 8, and are on the same Wi-Fi connection, making and receiving calls on your iPad is both simple and convenient.
  • Incoming calls will show the name of the caller, their phone number and their profile picture–just like they appear in your contacts.  When the notification displays the incoming call all you have to do is either click on it, or swipe the notification to answer the call.  In addition, you can also respond with a quick text message if it is inconvenient at the moment to take the call.  To make a call on your iPad, just tap on a phone number from your contacts list or any phone number displayed in Safari.
  • To set-up your iPad so that you can make and receive calls go to Settings–> FaceTime and toggle iPhone Cellular calls to the “on” position.  
  • You can also elect to receive FaceTime calls, too, and choose which of your connected phone numbers and email addresses will share your cellular connection between your iPad to your iPhone while on the same Wi-Fi connection.
  • Email from Peggy: Doc Shurtz, I would be grateful for you to address Google’s entre into offering cellular service plans. When is it coming?  It can’t come soon enough!! I assume you have Verizon, but am wondering if you have an opinion on T-Mobile? I own an iPhone5. When Google’s offering is available will they likely not care whose phone a customer owns or mandate customer buys their phone? Thanks, Mary
  • Tech Talk Responds: Since you own your phone, you need a contract-free cellular plan. They are cheaper because they don’t bake in the cost of a new phone every two years. T-Mobile has such a plan. Verizon also has one. The cheapest plan is offered by Walmart. They are simply reselling Verizon, T-Mobile, or ATT 3G networks. The nice thing about a contractls plan is that you can change after a month or so if you don’t like the coverage. Verizon has the best coverage, followed by ATT. T-Mobile is last in their coverage.
  • Email from Mary: Dr Shurtz, I downloaded this but BEFORE I install it, do you believe this is safe to install on my iMAC? Thanks. Sat Morning fanclub :  )
  • Tech Talk Responds: You could just use a free online pdf-to-word converter. I have used this one: http://www.pdfonline.com/pdf-to-word-converter/. Just upload your pdf. Then copy and paste the output into a blank word document. Formatting is pretty good. I can’t tell whether you download is safe. I would only install programs have received good reviews. If you only need to convert one document, I would use one of the free online conversion tools. Just search for pdf-to-word conversion online.
  • Email from Ngoc in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. In the last six months, I’ve had to cancel my credit card three times due to fraudulent activities. I frequently shop online. I have Windows 7; I use a firewall, etc. I use reliable sites for commerce. I don’t let them save credit card info. I always check for https, etc. I seldom use my credit card at stores and when I do, I watch it carefully. How can I determine where the leak is and how on earth can I shop safely online? Thanks, Ngoc in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: First, check for malware. I like Malwarebytes Anti-malware, which has a reputation for catching a lot of things that many other tools do not. Make sure that all of your anti-malware software is up-to-date, running the most recent versions, and running its most recent database. Remember, the version of the software may change every year or six months or so, but the database it uses will change daily.
  • Make sure that other machines on your network aren’t compromised. If you have more than one machine at home, and they are connected to a single router, then by definition you have a local network. Make sure that all the other machines on that network are free of malware.
  • Watch your credit card. When you give your credit card to waiter, it’s out of your eyesight while they process it!1 There definitely have been stories of clerks who take your credit card and clone or otherwise compromise it. 
  • Every once in a while you’ll hear about bank machines or gas station pumps that have had what’s called a “skimmer” installed in front of the card slot. It looks like a regular card slot. The hackers let the skimmers collect card data for a while, and then come back and remove it.
  • Also be careful when you use a public computer. I have known people who made a purchase at the hotel business office and the next day their credit card was compromised. The hotel computer was infected with malware.
  • Finally, the biggest problem is when a large database of credit card and other information are stolen. Ethical companies inform you immediately. All are not so ethical. 
  • Email from Leslie in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I think that my neighbor is using my Wi-Fi connection. How can tell if he is? How can I stop it? Thanks. Leslie in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Leslie you can log onto your Wi-Fi router and look at the log to see which computers are using the router. You will need the user name and password for your router. It is located at one two web addresses depending on the brand: 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1. Make certain to encrypt with WPA2. 
  • The WPA protocol implements much of the IEEE 802.11i standard. Specifically, the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) was adopted for WPA. WEP used a 40-bit or 104-bit encryption key that must be manually entered on wireless access points and devices and does not change. TKIP employs a per-packet key, meaning that it dynamically generates a new 128-bit key for each packet and thus prevents the types of attacks that compromised WEP. I can hack a WEP network in a few minutes.
Profiles in IT: Michael Stonebraker
  • Michael Stonebraker is widely regarded as the “father of big data.”
  • Michael Stonebraker was born October 11, 1943 in Milton, New Hampshire
  • He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Princeton University in 1965.
  • He received an MS in 1967 and a PhD from the University of Michigan in 1971.
  • Stonebraker joined UC Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1971. It was there that he did his pioneering work on relational databases, based on the work of Edward Codd.
  • In 1980 Stonebraker founded Ingres (Interactive Graphics and Retrieval System). Ingres Corp. was purchased by Computer Associates in 1994.
  • Ingres introduced the notion of query modification for integrity constraints and views.
  • He was an early rival of Larry Ellison, who founded Oracle, a competing database system that ran on DEC minicomputers instead of UNIX.
  • Stonebraker went on to develop Postgres, which introduced the object-relational model, effectively merging databases with abstract data types while keeping the database separate from the programming language. 
  • In 1992, he implemented Postgres commercially as Montage, which was renamed Illustra. It was bought by Informix, and re-renamed Informix Universal Server. 
  • He released these systems as open software which allowed their widespread adoption. 
  • This system was shamelessly copies by Oracle and Ellison won again.
  • In 2001, he became adjunct professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL), where he is also co-founder and co-director of the Intel Science and Technology Center for Big Data. 
  • In the Aurora Project, Stonebraker focused on data management for streaming data, using a new data model and query language. 
  • In 2003, Stonebraker co-founded StreamBase Systems  to commercialize the it.
  • In 2005, Stonebraker developed a column oriented database. By dividing and storing data in columns, C-Store is able to perform less I/O and get better compression ratios. 
  • In 2005, Stonebraker co-founded Vertica to commercialize the technology.
  • In 2006, Stonebraker started the Morpheus, a data integration system which relies on a collection of “transforms” to mediate between data sources. 
  • In 2009, Stonebraker co-founded Goby, a local search company based on ideas from Morpheus, for people to explore new things to do in free time.
  • In 2007, Stonebraker started H-Store to provide very high throughput on transaction processing workloads. In 2009, he co-founded VoltDB to commercialize H-Store.
  • In 2008, Stonebraker started SciDB for scientific research applications.
  • In 2013, Stonebraker et al founded Tamr to tackle the challenge of connecting and enriching diverse data at scale, quickly and cost effectively.
  • In March, 2015, he will be awarded the 2014 Turing Award for fundamental contributions to the concepts and practices underlying modern database systems.
Produce of the Week: Amazon Echo
  • The Echo is Amazon’s latest futuristic gadget experiment. It’s one part speaker and one part personal voice assistant. 
  • It is invitation only for Prime members. I finally got mine last week after a two month wait. It lists for $199, but Prime members get it for $99.
  • You control the Echo with your voice; you can tell it to do things like play music, read news briefs aloud, add items to your to-do and shopping lists, and tell you the weather. 
  • Echo is like the realization of HAL 9000 in a black canister, only without the frightening pulsating red camera eye, and not nearly as intelligent.
  • Apple has Siri and Amazon has Alexa.
  • The Echo is housed in a 9.25-inch tall plastic tube. Perforated speaker holes line the lower half of its cylindrical body. There are only two buttons on the Echo, and they’re both for turning things off, not on: a microphone-off button and an “action” button.
  • You press the microphone-off button to block the Echo from listening for voice commands and the action button for turning off alarms and timers.
  • The twistable volume dial at the top is adorned with a light-up indicator ring. The light ring glows blue to indicate it’s ready for your commands and red when it’s muted. 
  • The Echo isn’t portable; it has to connect to power in order to work. Setting it up easy. Download the Echo app and log into your Amazon account, follow a few prompts to set up Wi-Fi and you’re done. 
  • The device will start listening to your commands the moment you speak her name, “Alexa….” You can change her name to “Amazon,” but you should only really do that if someone in your household is named Alexa. 
  • You can say “Alexa, play music” and she’ll start playing a Prime Playlist she thinks you’ll like based on your music preferences. 
  • She can play music from Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. You can also tell Alexa to play specific songs, artists and genres.
  • It’s easy to buy songs as well: After listening to a preview, you can say “Alexa, add this song.”
  • The Echo can also stream music from a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. To my surprise, I found you can even control Spotify and iTunes with Alexa. 
  • Alexa is also good at: Getting the weather, creating shopping and to-do lists, setting alarms and timers, and reading news summaries.
  • You can ask Alexa to search Wikipedia for something or someone, convert units like currency and weights, define words and look up general facts and trivia. 
  • She tells jokes. “What do you call a fake noodle?” she asked me. “An impasta.”
Apple Watch Pre-Orders Start April 10th
  • Apple Watch pre-orders will officially begin at 12:01 a.m. PDT on April 10th, according to a just updated Apple Store front page. That’s 3 a.m. EST.
  • Why might Apple fire sales up at such a late hour? The company generally doesn’t explain its reasoning for anything, but we can make a few assumptions:
  • Traffic control. Apple’s pre-order pages consistently buckle under the weight of a zillion Apple devotees pounding the refresh key.
  • Apple generally goes by a west coast clock; by starting it at midnight, their “first day sales” numbers will account for a full 24 hours.
Microsoft Will Remove Default “Do Not Track” 
  • Microsoft today announced that it will not turn on the “Do Not Track” feature in the upcoming versions of Internet Explorer and Spartan by default.
  • The “Do Not Track” setting in many popular browsers tells websites and their advertisers that you want to opt out of third-party tracking for advertising purposes. All of the major browser vendors, including Google, Mozilla, Opera, Apple and Microsoft, support this feature, but whether advertisers honor the user’s request is up to them. And most probably don’t.
  • Microsoft started enabling “Do Not Track” as the default setting with the launch of Internet Explorer 10. This created a bit of a controversy. 
  • Previous to Microsoft’s decision, advertisers had agreed to honor Do Not Track, as long as it wasn’t the default setting. They argued that the decision not to be tracked should be made by the user and not the browser vendor.
  • Microsoft stuck to its guns saying users could always opt out during the setup process, and “Do Not Track” remained the default — until now.
  • Chrome and Firefox leave “Do Not Track” off by default.
  • Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch argues that it’s doing so in order to comply with the latest draft of the official W3C standard for “Do Not Track.” 
  • Given the voluntary nature of “Do Not Track,” it probably doesn’t matter all that much whether you turn it on or off anyway.
Food Science: Easter Egg Dye
  • Most food dyes are acid dyes, so called because they only work in acidic conditions.
  • The vinegar—a solution of 5 percent acetic acid in water—is there to bring the pH low enough that the dye will actually bind. 
  • But is there an ideal pH for perfect egg-dying saturation? A normal box of food dye says to add 1 teaspoon of vinegar for every half-cup of water—but would tweaking that acidity by adding more or less vinegar get you better results?
  • The colored molecules themselves are sodium salts of a phenolic acid. Once those dyes get thrown into water, the sodium ions fall off, leaving behind the negatively-charged part of the molecule.
  • Add vinegar, and you’re adding lots of free protons—positively charged hydrogen ions—which take the place of those missing sodium. 
  • The hydrogens, now associated with the dye molecules, are important because they allow hydrogen bonding. 
  • Their slightly positive charge acts like a magnet, attracting it (and the dye, in tow) to slightly negative atoms in the protein molecules and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the eggshell.
  • The color you see on the egg—red, yellow, blue, green–depends on how each particular dye molecule absorbs and reflects different wavelengths of light. 
  • But the saturation of that color depends on how strong a bond you can get between the egg’s calcium-filled surface and the dye molecules. 
  • Wired tested the effects of different levels of normal white vinegar, 5 percent acetic acid, on the color of a hard-boiled egg, while tracking its pH. 
  • They tested six different conditions: Pure water (pH 7), a cup of water with 1/8 teaspoon of vinegar (pH 6), a cup of water with 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar (pH 5), a cup of water with 2 teaspoons of vinegar in it (pH 4), half and half water and vinegar (pH 3), and pure vinegar (also pH 3). 
  • Pure vinegar was good at dying the eggs a vibrant color, but it presented a different problem. There was so much bubbling on the surface of the egg when we dropped it into the vinegar that it actually left spots on the surface of the egg where the dye wasn’t able to attach.
  • In the end Wired found the boxed instructions are pretty good. A teaspoon of vinegar per half-cup of water gives you a pH around 4, and it consistently gave smooth color. 
  • A lower pH—the half-and-half water and vinegar—created a more saturated color. 
  • But that extra acid still caused a little bit of the bubbly splotching that plagued the all-vinegar dye solution. Any more basic than pH 4 and you’ll get splotches of white.
  • If you can’t stand the smell of vinegar, you have options! Lose the vinegar, and replace it with any other edible household acid, maybe the citric acid in some strained lemon juice. Then buy some cheap pH strips on Amazon, add just enough acid to get you to pH 4.