Show of 10-17-2015

Tech Talk

October 17, 2015

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Carl Tyler: Dear Dr. Shurtz: I recently read the book “The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution”. The book profiles Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce who independently hit upon the discovery that would make possible the silicon microchip. This is great book in which the author also briefly profiles other people who made discoveries leading to advances in computer science. Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2000 for his work even though he never had any training in physics. If you haven’t already done so in a past episode of Tech Talk Radio perhaps you could profile these two giants in computer science. Thanks to you and Jim for the great podcast you produce each week. Carl Tyler
  • Tech Talk Responds: I did cover them in a previous show. But here is a quick synopsis. One day in late July of 1958, the engineer Jack Kilby was sitting alone at Texas Instruments. Kilby had been hired only a month earlier and so he wasn’t able to take vacation time when practically everyone else did. The halls were deserted, and he had lots of time to think. It suddenly occurred to him that all parts of a circuit, not just the transistor, could be made out of silicon. At the time, nobody was making capacitors or resistors out of semiconductors. If it could be done then the entire circuit could be built out of a single crystal—making it smaller and much easier to produce. Kilby’s solution to this problem has come to be called the monolithic idea. By September 12, Kilby had built a working model and on February 6th, Texas Instruments filed a patent.
  • But in California, Robert Noyce was working at a small startup company—Fairchild Semiconductor. He also realized a whole circuit could be made on a single chip. While Kilby had hammered out the details of making individual components, Noyce thought of a much better way to connect the parts. That spring, Fairchild began a push to build what they called “unitary circuits” and they also applied for a patent on the idea. Knowing that TI had already filed a patent on something similar, Fairchild wrote out a highly detailed application.
  • On April 25, 1961, the patent office awarded the first patent for an integrated circuit to Robert Noyce while Kilby’s application, filed 5 months earlier than Noyce’s, was still being analyzed and the patent was granted as late as June, 1964. Today, both men are acknowledged as having independently conceived of the idea. Noyce went on to cofound Intel.
  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Dear Doc and Jim. FORTRAN, the first modern computer language, is shared with the coding community for the first time on October 15, 1956. Wasn’t Grace Hopper involved with FORTRAN? Arnie, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: Grace invented the compiler and was involved with the development of COBOL, a business programming language. COBOL was developed around the same time as FORTRAN. FORTRAN was developed in 1953 John W. Backus, who worked at IBM at the time. Arnie, I love your suggestions.
  • Email from Wendy in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I call often internationally and am always looking for low rates and better way to connect. I have recently heard of Wi-Fi calling being supported by the carriers and don’t understand it. Could you please help? Love the show. Wendy in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: On October 8, 2015, AT&T became the third major carrier to offer free voice and text services over Wi-Fi connections. T-Mobile became the first major carrier to offer Wi-Fi Calling back in 2011. Sprint began offering it in the spring of 2014. Verizon is still delaying, saying only that it intends to offer WiFi calling at some unspecified future date. If WiFi calling is enabled, domestic calls and text messages made while connected to WiFi are free.
    • AT&T offers WiFi Calling only on Apple iPhone models 6, 6 Plus, 6S, and 6S Plus running iOS 9. In other words, only the most expensive top-of-the line iPhone models are supported, and Android users are out of luck. There is not technical reason for this restriction.
    • Sprint’s WiFi Calling works on iPhone 6 models, as well as the older 5S and 5C. You just have to make sure the iOS software is updated to v8.3 or later. Sprint supports WiFi Calling on Androids, too. 
    • T-Mobile also supports both iPhone and Android. Their website lists 23 smartphones that are compatible with WiFi Calling. 
    • You have to enable WiFi Calling; it’s not turned on by default. WiFi Calling is not always free. Roaming charges and international calling rates may apply.
  • This really is not a alternative for international calling. For that you can use Viber or Skype, both VoIP connections. The real advantage here is for receiving calls when the cellular network is weak and you have a strong WiFi signal. This could be at a remote home or cabin or inside of a building.
  • Email from Mai in Vietnam: Dear Doc and Jim, I am worried about ransomware. I heard that there is new strain out called TeslaCrypt. BTW, I am running Windows 10 on my Sony Vaio Laptop. Love the show, Mai in Vietnam.
  • Tech Talk Responds: TeslaCrypt is growing quickly. There are thousands of people who have contracted this malware program that imprisons personal files on a computer until a monetary reward is paid. There already are tools that can deal with certain versions of this ransomware program. The good news is that Microsoft decided to help. They released a rescue tool.in the Patch Tuesday on October 13, 2015.  The company created the malware-removal instrument in response to a spike in malware installations detected in August. TeslaCrypt infections grew from below 1,000 per day in late August to over 3,500 on August 25. Since then, the number of detections spiked and fell but remained higher than before that first peak.
  • TeslaCrypt was first spotted in early 2015 when it started locking down computers with AES 256 encryption and demanding payment in Bitcoin in exchange for a key to unlock the files. The ransomware locked certain file types that affected gamers and also financial and tax software. The malware demanded rewards in the range of hundreds of dollars, depending on the Bitcoin-to-dollar ratio. Computers all over the world were and still are being affected by the attack. Good luck and stay away for suspicious websites.
  • Email from Liz in Kansas: Dear Doc and Jim. I am tired of running out of memory on my iPhone5S. I only have 16GB of memory. I shot video at a wedding last weekend and ran out of memory before the ceremony was half over. Is there anything that I can do to solve my memory problem? I love to take videos to the grandkids and of family events. Is there anything that I can do to solve my memory problem? Love the show.  Liz in Kansas
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  • Tech Talk Responds: This is a very common problem with iPhone owners. And Liz, you are in luck. An external memory option for the iPhone has just been released by Leef. It is the Leef iAccess iOS microSD Reader. This device plugs into you into the Apple Lightning connector and contains a MicroSD slot for memory. It folds under the phone to a compact feel. It will support a memory card up to 128GB in size. Once you plug this device into your iPhone, you can save your pictures and videos directly to this card. This should solve your problem. The device is $49, without the memory card. A memory card might another $60 to $80, depending on the speed. Leef also has options available for the Android operating system.
Profiles in IT: Jef Raskin
  • Jef Raskin is a computer interface expert best known for conceiving and starting the Macintosh project for Apple. He is often remembers a “Father of the Macintosh.”
  • Jef Raskin was born March 9, 1943 in New York City.
  • In 1965, he received a BA in math and a BS in physics from the State Univ. of NY. 
  • In 1967, he received a MS in computer science from Pennsylvania State University. 
  • His first computer program, a music program, was part of his master’s thesis.
  • In 1968, he was hired as an assistant professor in the UCSD Visual Arts Department and developed the Flow Programming Language to teach programming non-techies.
  • He changed spelling of his name from Jeff to Jef to eliminate extraneous letters.
  • Raskin first met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at the 1977 West Coast Computer Fair. Steve hired him to write the Apple II BASIC Programming Manual. 
  • In January 1978 Raskin joined Apple as Manager of Publications (Employee 31).
  • Raskin had great influence on early engineering projects and lobbied Apple to create a radically different kind of computer. He sought simplicity.
  • In 1979, he started the Macintosh project to implement some of these ideas. He named the Macintosh after his favorite apple but altered the spelling for copyright reasons. The prototype had a 9-inch B&W monitor and an Apple II processor.
  • Raskin pioneered the word “font” to refer to digital typefaces, and was among the creators of the “click and drag” method of manipulating icons on a computer screen.
  • In 1981 Steve Jobs directed his attention to Raskin’s Macintosh project, intending to marry the Xerox PARC-inspired GUI-based Lisa design to Raskin’s appliance. Jobs and Raskin had differing visions of what the Macintosh should be.
  • On the day of Apple’s IPO in 1980, Raskin bought a hilltop lot, where he built a house, with an attached concert hall. He played the organ and the recorder.
  • Mr. Raskin left Apple in 1982 after his relationship with Steve Jobs, the company’s co-founder, soured. Jobs took over the project releasing, the first Mac in 1984.After Mr. Raskin left Apple, he founded his own company, Information Appliance, and created the Canon Cat, a computer that had little impact on the industry.
  • In 2000, after a decade studying cognitive psychology, he established a scientific basis for the design of man-machine interfaces with his book The Humane Interface. 
  • The interface, Archy, it was an open source version of the Canon Cat. He believed that the person was important and that the computer was not. He wanted to eliminate the separation between OS and application. It included universal undo; saving not required. It was stateless and would operate as the user wanted at that moment.
  • Raskin was a Renaissance man. He was an accomplished musician, composer, conductor and painter, a mathematician, book author and model airplane designer.
  • He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2004 and died in Pacifica, California on February 26, 2005, at age 61.
Tesla Introduces Autopilot Upgrade
  • Tesla has introduced its first autopilot features for the Model S.
  • They features don’t turn the Model S into a full blown self-driving car. Instead, these features are meant more to make your long highway commutes less painful.
  • Elon Musk says thinks that full automation coming within about 3 years.
  • Once you’re on the highway, an auto steering feature can maintain your speed, keep an appropriate distance from the cars around you, and keep you in your lane, even around big bends and turns. It doesn’t just let out a loud beep when you start to drift out of your lane; it physically controls the wheel.
  • It’ll also change lanes for you — just pop on your turn signal, loosen your grip on the wheel, and it’ll merge over as soon as the way is clear.
  • The auto steer features will work on city streets — but given that the car currently doesn’t recognize things like stop lights, it’s not advised. 
  • Tesla is being pretty careful to caution that the features are really meant for the highway only, right now.
  • Tesla’s autopilot/auto steering stuff works by combining data from four sources: ultrasonic (SONAR) sensors to look for cars around you, a forward-facing radar that can see through fog and rain, a forward-facing camera that handles computer vision like looking for speed limit signs, and high-precision GPS mapping data that acts as something of a second layer for when the built-in vision system needs a check.
  • It will parallel park for you, too. That feature has made its way into other cars, of course — but it works well in the Model S. 
  • Tesla’s autopilot features will work on Model Xs and Model S built after September 2014, though a one-time fee of $2,500 is required to turn the features on. 
  • Tesla Model is around $75K, but depends of which options you select.
US will reportedly require consumers to register their drones
  • If you get a new drone this holiday season, you might have to register it with the US government. 
  • According to a report from NBC News, the US is ready to announce new requirements for consumers purchasing drones, the most notable of which is that you’ll need to register it with the department of transportation.
  • It’s part of a plan to make sure that drones don’t end up colliding with aircraft flying in and out of airports, something that has the government rightly concerned.
  • The plan is expected to be announced will be in place by Christmas.
  • It’s not clear yet what exactly will be required of consumers and how much information they’ll need to share with the government, but knowing that the government can track you down if your drone causes an accident would probably make it owners use them with a little more caution.
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New rifle shoots drones out of the sky without firing a single bullet
  • Ohio-based nonprofit research and development firm Battelle this week unveiled a device it calls the Drone Defender.
  • The device, which looks like a modern rifle with an antenna mechanism attached to the front uses targeted radio waves to force drones out of the sky. 
  • The nondestructive tech “utilizes a non-kinetic solution to defend airspace up to 400m against UAS, such as quadcopters and hexacopters, without compromising safety or risking collateral damage.”
  • Regulations in many regions obviously prevent people from firing conventional weapons at drones as a means of defense, so the DroneDefender rifle could be an ideal workaround. 
  • The device also has a range of more than 1,300 feet, and that may even improve in future versions.
Teen Entrepreneur to get White House award
  • Swetha Prabhakaran, an Indian American teen entrepreneur and founder-CEO of Everybody Code Now!, received the ‘Champions of Change’ award at the White House on September 14, 2015. 
  • Ms. Prabhakaran, 15, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Virginia, founded the non-profit Everybody Code Now! to empower the next generation of youth to become engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. 
  • Everybody Code Now! has taught hundreds of students how to code and has raised thousands of dollars for STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities in schools. 
  • Her mentorship programs have transformed shy young girls into confident students, community leaders, and budding technologists, according to the White House.
  • Ms. Prabhakaran is among 11 young women selected by the White House as recipients of ‘Champions of Change’.
  • Web Address: http://everybodycodenow.github.io/
iPhone Chipgate: Two A9 Processor Vendors, Performance Differs
  • Teardowns of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have revealed two different A9 chips inside the devices, one created by TSMC and one developed by Samsung, which is slightly smaller in size, having been manufactured on a 14-nanometer process instead of a 16-nanometer process. 
  • Hiraku Wang has created an app that’s able to determine whether an iPhone has a TSMC chip or a Samsung chip, and has shared some data on results gathered from users who have installed his app. 
  • Install Lirum Device Info Lite from the App Store for free. Launch the app and look at the Model number under the Home tab. 
    • If you have model N66AP (6s Plus) or model N71AP (6s) then you have the Samsung chip. 
    • If you have model N66MAP (6s Plus) or N71MAP (6s) then you have the TSMC chip.
  • According to results from approximately 2,500 iPhones, there are more TSMC chips than Samsung chips. TSMC chips were found to be installed on 58.96 percent of devices, compared to 41.04 percent for Samsung chips. 
  • The TSMC chips runs cooler and some have concluded has a better battery life than the Samsung chip. Some testers has said the difference is as much as two hours.
  • Apple says the difference under normal operating condition is less than 3%.
  • The app that identifies the chip has been pulled from the app store. The vendor says it was flawed and needed to be updated.
  • On customer kept buying iPhones until he got the TSMC chip. As it turns out, he returned 9 phones before getting the one he wanted.
First Computer Virus: Elk Cloner
  • When Rich Skrenta, created Elk Cloner as a prank in February 1982, he was a 15-year-old high school student with the ability to program and an interest in computers.
  • The boot sector virus was written for Apple II systems, the dominant home computers of the time, and infected floppy discs.
  • If an Apple II booted from an infected floppy disk, Elk Cloner became resident in the computer’s memory. Uninfected discs inserted into the same computer were infected just as soon as a user keyed in the command catalog for a list of files.
  • Infected computers would display a short poem, also written by Skrenta, on every fiftieth boot from an infected disk:
    • Elk Cloner: The program with a personality 
    • It will get on all your disks It will infiltrate your chips Yes it’s Cloner! 
    • It will stick to you like glue It will modify ram too Send in the Cloner! 
  • Computer viruses had been created before, but Skrenta’s prank app was the first to spread in the wild, outside the computer system or network on which it was created.
  • Skrenta received an Apple II Computer as a Christmas gift in 1980
  • The Apple II came with two floppy disk drives, and enthusiasts shared software and games through computer clubs. 
  • Software piracy was the norm and Skrenta was right in the middle.
  • He was a member of a computer club in Pittsburgh. He used to copy software and share it with friends. There was a thriving pirate software market and people used to exchange games and software on floppy discs,” he explains.
  • He wondered if he could alter the contents of a floppy disc without touching it? His experiments led him to develop program that would run in the background, checking for the presence of a new disk and, if it found one, could modify files stored on the disk.
  • The result of this work was a program that, in effect, was coded to hop from disk to disk, propagating itself from machine to machine. 
  • Elk Cloner took about two weeks to write in assembly language.
  • Elk Cloner created a rattling noise when the program started. If a disc was infected you could hear it. If you inserted an infected disc in an Apple II you can hear the head swoosh sound, an audible signature.