Show of 03-04-2017

Tech Talk

March 4, 2017

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Mike from Maryland: Hello Mr. Big Voice, Are there different levels of cellphone service? I talk to many different people on a daily basis. On some days and the time of day, when I talk on my cellphone, there are times that the conversation is clear and times that the connection is terrible to the point that we have to end the call because we cannot hear each other. I suspect that when there are a lot of people using a particular cellphone tower, that can make the calls difficult to understand. I have a prepaid AT&T cellphone plan and can cancel at anytime. If I decide to go to a Contact cellphone plan, typically would I have better connections most of the time? Do the cellphone companies have different levels of service and perhaps make some type of better service to their customers that they have locked into a contract ? OH, P.S. I was going to ask your mom, Mrs. Big Voice out for a date, but I think that she might be more woman that I can handle. Plus, I suspect that your employee “Richard” and your mom might already have something going on, because at the end of every show, Richard rushes out the door, while you and Jim are still finishing up your duties of each show. With that said, “Do you have a Sister?” I Love the Podcast. Mike from Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: You are probably running on one of AT&Ts older networks. They offer the 2G and 3G networks to prepaid customers. They also resell the through resellers using a different brand. Prepaid phones tend to high rates per minute and are no a good deal if you use your phone a lot, particularly if you use data. You might want to look at Walmart’s Straight Talk program. They resell AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. They will also finance your phone interest free and do not have a contract. Google Pi is a good option too. It uses all three networks (picking the strongest one at the time). There is no contract. Data is $10GB. However, you need an Android phone to use.
  • Email from Carl Tyler: Dear Dr. Shurtz: In recent days I have heard news of a SHA 1 collision. Could you explain in non-technical language what SHA 1 is and what is a SHA 1 collision? P.S. Professor Brian Greene of Columbia University recently tweeted that if you take a one-year round trip space journey at 99.9999999% of light speed when you return, 22,361 years will have elapsed on Earth. Please explain. Loyal podcast listener, Carl Tyler
  • Tech Talk Responds: A cryptographic hash function is a special class of hash function that has certain properties which make it suitable for use in cryptography. It is a mathematical algorithm that maps data of arbitrary size to a bit string of a fixed size (a hash function) which is designed to also be a one-way function, that is, a function which is infeasible to invert.
  • In cryptography, SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm 1) is a cryptographic hash function designed by the United States National Security Agency and is a U.S. Federal Information Processing Standard published by the United States NIST.[3] SHA-1 produces a 160-bit (20-byte) hash value known as a message digest. A SHA-1 hash value is typically rendered as a hexadecimal number, 40 digits long.
  • In cryptography, a collision attack on a cryptographic hash tries to find two inputs producing the same hash value. On February 23, 2017 CWI Amsterdam and Google announced a practical collision attack against SHA-1, publishing two dissimilar PDF files which produce the same SHA-1 hash as proof of concept.
  • The SHA-1 hash algorithm is no longer secure. Weaknesses in SHA-1 could allow an attacker to spoof content, execute phishing attacks, or perform man-in-the-middle attacks when browsing the web. Microsoft, in collaboration with other members of the industry, is working to phase out SHA-1 by mid-2017.
  • The time travel question related to a relativistic effect called Time Dilation. As move faster, time slows down. When you travel at the speed of light, time stops. So the traveler ages more slowly and when he returned is younger than his twin. This effect is caused by the observation that the speed of light is constant, regardless of the frame of reference.
  • Email from Lynn is Ohio: Dear Tech Talk. What is Verizon Hum? I am thinking of getting this as gift for a friend. He is very technical. Is it a good idea? I love the TV ads, but don’t understand. Love the podcast. Lynn in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: I would not recommend this as a gift. Verizon Hum consists of an OBD-II dongle (On-Board Diagnostics) , a Bluetooth-enabled speaker/control unit that clips to your car’s sun visor, a USB charging cable for the speaker with a cigarette lighter adapter, and a companion Android and iOS smartphone app. Hum costs $14.99 per month. The equipment comes at no extra cost with the service, and additional vehicles cost $12.99 each per month.
  • For this monthly fee you get roadside assistance up to four times a year by pressing a button on the control unit labeled with an operator symbol (or via the smartphone app). You can also press another button with a cross symbol to get emergency assistance via a 911 call. The system automatically detects when a crash has occurred and an airbag has deployed, and will immediately call the driver to assess the situation. If the driver doesn’t respond, Hum will call 911 for emergency assistance, relay your location, and stay on the line until help arrives. If your car is stolen, Hum can send its location to local law enforcement once you file a police report
  • Hum offers other features, mainly through the smartphone app, but also via a Web portal. Using data collected from your car through the ODB-II port, the app keeps tabs on fuel economy, battery charge level, transmission coolant temperature, and engine diagnostic error codes, and will notify you of any issues. If your car generates an error code, the app explains what it means, recommend repairs, and even provide an estimate for what it will cost. If your car has a problem, a hotline can connect you to a mechanic who will help to diagnose it. Hum can also remind you where you parked your car. the Bluetooth speakerphone unit can be used to make hands-free calls.
  • Email from Tuc in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I love social media and would like to check out whether some the pictures are real or fake. Is there a way to check whether these pictures appear anywhere else on the web. I want to unfriend all connections with fake pictures. Love the podcast. Tuc in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can use various image searching tools online to find other copies of the image, track down the origin, and discover more information. Two good options are Google and Tineye. I actually prefer the Google search.
  • Google Image Search
    • Go to http://images.google.com
    • Click the Camera button on the right side of the search field.
    • There are two ways to search by image: Select “Paste image URL” and paste the copied address into the field. Or Select “Upload an image” and browse for the image that you saved to your computer.
    • Click “Search by image.”
    • If the image was found in other sizes, these will be displayed at the top. Pages where the same image can be found will be displayed beneath, and visually similar images can be found at the bottom of the first page of results.
  • Tineye Image Search
    • Go to http://tineye.com
    • Click the Upload button to browse your computer for an image file, or paste the copied image URL into the field.
    • Click Search Symbol
    • TinyEye will only return results for the same image, so browse through the results to find the origin of the image file.

 

Profiles in IT: Charles Ingerham Peddle

  • Chuck Peddle is fondly remembered as founder of the personal computer industry.
  • Chuck Peddle was born in 1937 in Bangor, Maine.
  • He worked in a radio station while in high school and joined the Marines in 1955.
  • In 1960, he received his BS in Engineering Physics from the University of Maine.
  • He took Information Theory (binary & algebraic concepts) in his final year.
  • In 1961, he started working for General Electric where he implemented the concept of time sharing mainframes developed the Electronic Cash Register.
  • In 1970, GE decided to get out of computers so they gave Chuck and three colleagues a severance package, which they used to start a register business. It ultimately failed.
  • In 1973, Chuck took the job at Motorola to help complete the 6800 microprocessor.
  • Chuck fixed several problems with the 6800 and developed several peripheral chips.
  • Peddle wanted to build a low cost chip. Motorola management was not pleased.
  • In 1975, he took Bill Mensch and five other key Motorola 6800 engineers to work for an old GE colleague, who ran a small “fab” called MOS Technologies.
  • He began working on a low cost chip with only an essential instruction set.
  • MOS invented a process to correct chips before they entered primary manufacturing stage and was able to produce chips with a 70% yield.
  • By producing the 6502 and selling it for only $25, Peddle made the PC possible.
  • In 1975, they displayed their new chip at Western Electronics Show and Convention.
  • Soon after the show, Motorola sued MOS for infringement of 6800 patents.
  • The new 6502 chips sold like hotcakes. They sold 6502s to Atari and Steve Jobs.
  • MOS eventually settled the claims with a $200,000 payment to Motorola.
  • Chuck designed two 6502 trainers to teach engineers how to use a microprocessor.
  • Chuck had built the first single board computers. Personal Computer was born.
  • When the calculator market collapsed in 1975, Commodore decided to buy MOS.
  • Using a motherboard based on the 6502 processor, Chuck designed and built the world’s first Personal Computer, which would later be named the Commodore PET.
  • Chuck had beat Apple by six months and Radio Shack by four months.
  • Chuck tried unsuccessfully to get Commodore to produce a business computer.
  • Chuck quit started Sirius Systems to produce a business desktop computer.
  • Commodore sued Chuck and revoked his stock options, nearly destroying him.
  • Chuck created the Sirius ($5K, 8088 CPU, 8087 math coprocessor, 16-bit, hard drive) business computer. Also marketed as the Victor 9000 in a licensing agreement with Victor Monroe. It ran both MSDOS and CP/M and was well positioned.
  • It ultimately lost out to IBM and the IBM-compatible business.
  • In 1985, Chuck went to work for Tandon and started to build IBM PC clones.
  • In 1993, Tandon was bankrupt and Chuck went on to work with Celetron.
  • He lives a global traveler life style spending time between Nevada, Sri Lanka

Website of the Week: NASA Software Catalog

  • Website Link: https://software.nasa.gov/
  • On Wednesday, the space agency released its latest online software catalog of over 1,000 code descriptions related to topics such as guidance systems, robotics, aeronautics, climate simulators, biological sensors and design tools.
  • The codes are free but have varying levels of access restrictions. Some are open to all US citizens. Others are restricted for use by other federal agencies. Some are available to people outside the US. Others are open source.
  • The open-source material can be downloaded directly, but many items require at least the creation of an account. Some codes have stiffer access requirements, such as a current government contract or the signing of a usage agreement.
  • NASA published the first edition of its software catalog in 2014. According to NASA, it was the “first comprehensive listing of publicly available software to be compiled by a federal government agency — the largest creator of custom code.”
  • This year’s NASA software catalog provides codes for projects such as past shuttle missions and the Curiosity rover. The catalog features 15 broad categories, including system testing, propulsion, electronics and electrical power, environmental science, design and integration tools, crew and life support, and autonomous systems.
  • For instance, I was interested in image segmentation and did a quick search. I found Core RHSEG Software Package, which is a hierarchical image segmentation package designed to analyze satellite imagery, developed by James Tilton.

The Typo the Took Down Amazon Web Services

  • Amazon Web Services suffered a major outage a few days ago. It turns out one mistyped command is to blame for hours of chaos.
  • Companies around the world rely on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to form the backbone of their presence on the Internet. So when AWS suffers a problem, everybody notices.
  • On Tuesday, February 28, the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), which is the cloud storage part of AWS, was disrupted. Websites and online services started disappearing offline and spewing out errors to visitors. It took Amazon several hours to get a handle on the problem, but we now know the cause: a typo.
  • Amazon explained that the S3 engineering team was looking into an issue causing the S3 billing system to function slowly.
  • In order to fix the problem a small number of servers for a subsystem of S3 needed to be taken offline.
  • However, when the command to take them offline was input, a mistake was made. This resulted in a lot more servers being taken down.
  • That in itself shouldn’t have caused a major outage, but some of these additional servers were key to a couple of other S3 subsystems functioning. One of those was the index subsystem, which handles metadata and location information for all S3 objects in the US-EAST-1 region. The other was the placement subsystem, which handles storage allocation for new S3 objects.
  • Both subsystems required rebooting, and while that was happening other parts of AWS started to fail, including the Amazon S3 console, Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Elastic Block Stores (EBS), AWS Lambda, and the S3 APIs couldn’t be accessed.
  • So basically, a complete meltdown of the system taking several hours to fix all because of a mistyped command.
  • It should come as no surprise that Amazon is now going to make several changes to the way in which AWS operates in future to avoid this ever happening again.
  • But it just goes to show, it doesn’t matter how big and robust a service becomes, it only takes one human with admin privileges to bring it all crashing down.

AI Playing Poker Better than Pros

  • We are in the middle of a poker tournament between Libratus, an AI system built by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, and four of the world’s top pros.
  • With a little over 80,000 hands played, out of 120,000 total, the humans are down by roughly $750,000.
  • So far the AI’s main advantage is its ability to remain unpredictable. While the pros appreciate the way Libratus is playing, they don’t believe there are many tricks they can pick up from the system.
  • However, they are really only possible because they are mixed and randomized by the reasoning of a computer.
  • One of the things Libratus does well is bluff. At times, the bot will wager all its chips with a poor hand.
  • Libratus has also been over-betting frequently, wagering far more to win a hand than is currently up for grabs in the pot.
  • But humans don’t really like that. It feels like you’re risking a lot of money to win so little. The computer does not have that psychology. It just looks at the best play.
  • Mastering the art of the bluff requires AI that can calculate risk and reward in real time without having perfect information about what its opponent can do in return.
  • It implies the system does more than simply play a perfectly safe game where it only grinds out wins when it has the stronger hand.
  • The team from Carnegie Mellon University that built the Libratus poker bot hopes this kind of system can, after being tested on games like poker, learn how to tackle difficult decisions in the world of military strategy, cybersecurity, and even medicine.
  • Regardless of the pure ability of the humans and the AI, it seems clear that the pros will be less effective as the tournament goes on.
  • The bot gets better and better every day as it learn from the pros.