Show of 06-03-2017

Tech Talk

June 3, 2017

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Mai in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. I recently bought a new TV with HDMI inputs. The salesman tried to sell a new set of cable that support HDMI 2.0. Do I really have to buy a new set of cables or will my old cable work? Love the podcast. Mai in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are only four cable designations that are legitimate and recognized by the HDMI organization: High Speed and Standard Speed.
  • Standard Speed cables have the bandwidth to handle up to 1080i and High Speed cables have the bandwidth to handle 1080p and 4K. There is a very good chance that your old HDMI cables will work fine with your new 4K TV, unless you purchased them before 2009. Because HDMI is a purely digital signal either the cable works or it doesn’t.
  • However, hardware was have version. Your receiver and other gear will also need to support 4K
    • HDMI 1.4, released in 2009: Supports 4K video, HDMI Ethernet, Audio Return Channel (ARC), and 3D over HDMI.
    • HDMI 2.0, released in 2013: Supports 4K video at 60 frames per second.
    • HDMI 2.0a , released in 2015: Supports for High-Dynamic Range (HDR) Video.
  • Email from Tracy in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. My Wi-Fi router has Ethernet connections on the back. Is it better to connect to the Internet with Ethernet or just use Wi-Fi? My computer is right beside the router, so I actually have a choice. Just wondering. Love the show. Tracy in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Wi-Fi is more convenient than wired Ethernet cables, but Ethernet still offers significant advantages. The three main advantages of using Ethernet over Wi-Fi are faster speeds, lower latency, reliable connections, security.
    • Ethernet is faster than Wi-Fi. The new standards like 802.11ac and 802.11n, which offer maximum speeds of 866.7 Mb/s and 150 Mb/s, respectively. On the other hand, a wired Ethernet connection can theoretically offer up to 10 Gb/s, if you have a Cat6 cable. However, your real limit with be the speed of your Internet connection. If you have multiple devices that back up to a NAS, backup server, or shared hard drive, backups will go faster over an Ethernet connection.
    • If reducing latency as much as possible is your concern. If you’re playing online games and need reaction time to be as quick as possible, you’re probably better off with a wired Ethernet connection.
    • Ethernet offers a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is subject to a lot more interference than a wired connection. The layout of your home, objects blocking the signal, interference from electrical devices or your neighbors Wi-Fi networks—all these things contribute to Wi-Fi being generally less reliable.
    • Wi-Fi is broadcast to you neighbors and they can hack your system with the proper tools. They can’t see you Ethernet signals, if you turn off your Wi-Fi signal completely.
  • On the other hand, Wi-Fi is speedy, super convenient, and perfectly serviceable for most of what we do on our networks. Wii-Fi is essential if you’ve got mobile devices.
  • Email from Lacy in San Francisco: Dear Doc and Jim. I have heard a lot about zero-day exploits after the NSA and CIA hacking tools were released on Wikileaks. Can you tell me more about zero-day drive-by attacks? I experienced one on my fully updated and patched Windows computer which has the latest anti-malware tools. I saw the hacked behavior and immediately turned off my computer. Scanning both before and after this attack showed no prior or present malware infection. Love the show. Lacy in San Francisco
  • Tech Talk Responds: The very nature of “zero day” exploits is that your virus scanner would show that you were clean both before and after being infected. It’s not until your anti-virus software provider updates their virus databases and you take that update that your scanner knows what to look for.
  • There are security vulnerabilities in Windows (and all operating systems) that have not yet been discovered. If no one knows about them, then it’s not an immediate threat. Hackers can’t exploit things they don’t know about.
  • When a “good guy” will discover a vulnerability, they contact Microsoft so a fix can be made available before the vulnerability becomes general knowledge.
  • If a malware author discovers the problem and releases malware that exploits it, then systems can become infected before anti-virus software providers can update their databases and release the update to their users. If malware exploiting a specific vulnerability is discovered “in the wild” before a fix for that vulnerability is available, then Microsoft has zero days to fix the problem. Hence, it’s called a “zero day” exploit, vulnerability, or attack.
  • There were a number of “zero day” exploits revealed in the WikiLeaks data dumps. Vendors rushed to patch them. Microsoft issued a patch in March to fix the exploit used by WannaCry Ransomware. Windows 7 machines that were not patched got infected.
  • You best to fix you computer, now that it is infected is to restore your disk from a backup or from a previous set point.

Profiles in IT: Verner Edward “Vern” Suomi

  • Verner Edward “Vern” Suomi is best known as the “father of satellite meteorology.”
  • Suomi was born in 1915 in Eveleth, Minnesota.
  • In 1938, Suomi received BS in engineering from Winona Teachers College.
  • After teaching high school science for several years, he enrolled in a Civil Air Patrol course at the start of World War II, where he discovered the field of meteorology.
  • This new love led him to the University of Chicago, where he continued his meteorology studies and trained air cadets in basic forecasting.
  • In 1948, he became one of the first faculty members in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
  • Suomi received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1953. For his doctoral thesis, he measured the heat budget of a cornfield. This led him to think about Earth’s heat budget. The obvious way to measure such a thing was to use satellites.
  • By 1959, Suomi’s flat plate radiometer was in orbit. Suomi established the important role played by clouds in absorbing radiated solar energy.
  • In 1964, Dr. Suomi served as chief scientist for the US Weather Bureau.
  • In 1965, he co-founded the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin with funding from NASA and NSF.
  • When he found out about NASA’s new geostationary Advanced Technology Satellite (ATS), the imagined whole Earth weather imagers using a spin-scan radiometer.
  • The Suomi’s spin-scan radiometer was launched on ATS-I in 1966. Mounted aboard the spin-stabilized satellite, the camera scanned a small strip of the Earth with each rotation. By tilting the camera slightly for the next rotation, an image of Earth could be created in less than 30 minutes.
  • This camera allowed scientists to observe weather systems as they developed. The weather satellite images are a direct result of Suomi’s invention.
  • The subsequent ATS-3, launched in November 1967, using a spin scan camera, made what would be known as the first color images of the whole earth.
  • In 1974, Suomi led the development of McIDAS (Man-computer Interactive Data Access System) in 1972, displaying the images produced by his satellites. He got this idea when watching instant replay during a football game.
  • The Visible-Infrared Spin-Scan Radiometric Atmospheric Sounder (VAS) was a modification of the original spin-scan design with additional spectral bands.
  • When the VAS was finally launched in 1980 aboard the GOES-4 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite). Itallowed the tracking of severe weather patterns, as Suomi had predicted in his 1971 proposal.
  • A very popular professor, he formally retired from teaching in 1986.
  • On January 24, 2012, NASA renamed a recently launched NPP Earth monitoring satellite after Dr. Suomi, which was used to make the Blue Marble photo of Earth.
  • In 1995, Suomi died in Madison, Wisconsin at age 79.

The Bots Are Coming. Fasten Your Seatbelt

  • A new study finds that robots could destroy up to 7.5 million jobs over the next 10 years.
  • That could be a bigger hit for the retail industry than when automation came for manufacturing jobs.
  • Retail has already suffered massive hits as its overbuilding bubble bursts and shoppers increasingly skip the mall for shopping online.
  • Just this weekend Sears said it was closing an additional 30 stores this spring on top of those already announced, bringing the total to almost 200.
  • But that retail downsizing trend is about to accelerate. Robots will replace workers in certain jobs, or make workers so efficient you don’t need as many of them.
  • Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy.
  • Many sales job are at risk. More customers will make use of in-store smartphones and computer kiosks, reducing the need for as many salespeople on the floor.
  • While robots won’t be stocking retail store shelves, improvements in computerized inventory control means you won’t need as many to do it.
  • And, although successful demands for higher wages may have improved the lives of the workers they lifted up, higher pay can be a double-edged sword. Fewer workers, earning more.
  • While old industries are always being killed off and new ones created, the pace at which workers are being asked to learn new skills and new jobs is happening faster than it ever has in human history.
  • Can society and government keep up with the bots?

Memory Lane: A Few Tech Talk Remotes to Remember

  • Phone Booth in Southern France
  • Cell Call from the Shore of Prince William Sound in Alaska
  • Hotel in Beijing (when I cracked the Chinese Firewall)
  • Call from Near Arctic Circle from a Bar (Manly Hot Springs)
  • Satellite Remote on United Flight from Las Vegas

Battle for Bandwidth

  • Dividing the frequency spectrum among many users is difficult and time consuming. The demand for bandwidth has driven this fight to a fever pitch.
  • The increasing number of wireless devices being used in the U.S. is crowding the radio frequency spectrum.
  • Analysts predict that there will be more than 100 billion connected devices demanding space in the radio frequency spectrum by 2020.
  • If that’s the case, under current static spectrum allocation policies, managed by the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, we could see more communications black-out scenarios caused by high traffic.
  • These traffic jams happen, not because the entire radio frequency spectrum is occupied, but because it has been sectioned off and allocated for specific uses, and overloaded sections can become inundated with users.
  • We experience this spectrum congestion phenomenon in slowed internet connection speeds or dropped calls on a crowded train or bus when everyone is trying to connect to the same wireless network.
  • At the same time, there are other sections of nearby RF spectrum that are barely used.
  • Right now, commercial wireless network providers like ATT and Verizon pay exorbitant fees to the FCC to purchase exclusive rights to use sections of spectrum for their customers. The FCC has also allocated a limited amount of unlicensed spectrum for anyone to operate their WiFi or Bluetooth radios.
  • For the Department of Defense, the NTIA keeps track of the U.S. Federal bands used by military, police, fire and emergency workers. A major challenge for the NTIA is the growing trend in deallocating federal spectrum and reallocating it for civilian use, increasing the spectrum crunch felt by federal users. This is forcing DoD to shift their communication to higher frequencies with greater attenuation.
  • There simply is not enough spectrum for static assignments of users to sections – especially as everyone’s need for additional spectrum increases over time.
  • The DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge is designed to solve this problem.
  • DARPA is challenging competitors to “reimagine spectrum access strategies and develop a new wireless paradigm in which radio networks will autonomously collaborate and reason about how to share the radio frequency spectrum, avoid interference, and jointly exploit opportunities to achieve the most efficient use of the available spectrum.”
  • DARPA is challenging teams to create wireless networks that can collaborate to share space on the radio frequency spectrum.
  • The Spectrum Collaboration Challenge is basically asking engineers to come up with a better system – an automated AirBNB for spectrum sharing.
  • To compete, each participant in the challenge must create their own software-defined radio design that is intelligently and autonomously controlled.
  • The DARPA challenge program introduces the concept of permitting different radio networks to exchange collaboration messages, which allows them to negotiate how each radio network accesses the shared spectrum.
  • These collaborative intelligent radio networks use a language to trade spectrum allocations and jointly maximize their performance in the shared spectrum.
  • Teams will submit its final code in November and winners will receive additional funding and advance to a series of preliminary events held over the next two years. DARPA will crown the champion in September of 2019.
  • Others are working on adaptive antennas to solve the bandwidth problem. By focusing the signal on just one device, multiple devices can use the same spectrum without interference. This technique might be used in future cellular networks and may be adapted more broadly.

The Challenge of Spectral Reallocation

  • The U.S. government is opening up prime spectrum for commercial use, but where does that leave the government?
  • President Obama issued an executive order in 2013 directing federal agencies to make 500 MHz of spectrum available for both mobile and fixed wireless commercial broadband within a decade. This bandwidth is required for 5G cellular networks.
  • This transfer comes with one serious side effect: It’s intruding on the military’s wavelengths. The result is a spectrum migration that could take upwards of a decade to complete.
  • A big portion of this newly freed-up spectrum will come from UHF bands. UHF is the sweet spot where the short, high frequency waves that offer bandwidth wireless devices need are combined with the ability to travel relatively long distances and penetrate walls and buildings.
  • The U.S. military uses this spectrum for radars, unmanned aircraft systems, telemetry, meteorological satellites, computed tomography, and classified systems.
  • The continued sale of spectrum is forcing the military to move to different frequencies—or else share existing bands with commercial users. This electronic mass migration will go on for as long as a decade. The cost of this whole operation will be more than $3 billion. The Feds have also set aside $500 million for research and development to ease the transition.
  • In most cases, government and military users will move to higher frequencies. While these frequencies theoretically provide plenty of bandwidth, their shorter radio waves don’t travel as far and often get blocked by buildings or other structures. To make up the difference, higher frequencies require using different waveforms and more power.
  • They hope get around the power/range problem using a different signal amplification technique called Amplitude Phase-Shift Keying.
  • On the plus side, the move also makes it harder for adversaries trying to gather intel.
  • The FCC expects that most of the military and other government services will make the transition within five years.
  • So far, the FCC has turned over 245 MHz of spectrum to commercial users. Future auctions will turn over the remaining spectrum in years to come, essentially adding new lanes to the information super highway—a few megahertz at a time.