Show of 07-22-2017

Tech Talk

July 22, 2017

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz, So now there is HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format) from Apple. How does this compare to JPEG & GIF? And can one go from one format to another without a lot of hassle? What do you think of HEIF? Understand this format will save space for iOS users, but may have compatibly problems. Great show with lots of good info. Thanks, Arnie, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: The High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) uses video compression technology called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) that was designed by the Motion Picture Experts Group. HEIF is the technique to compress individual frames that comprise an HEVC video. HEIF is a natural to support Apple’s Live Pic mode. It can also easily replace animated GIFs. In addition, the image quality is superior to JPG and GIF.
  • HEIF uses some similar methods as JPEG, but goes a step further. JPEG breaks an image up into blocks, each of which is compressed with a clever combination of trigonometry and matrix mathematics. One way HEIF improves on JPEG is by comparing those blocks. If one block is similar to another, HEIF records just the difference, which requires less storage space. In effect, for example, HEIF could tell a computer, “just put some blue sky here like we already have.
  • You don’t have to worry about converting HEIF images because the Apple OS will convert it automatically to JPG when you export the picture. You will simply be able to store about twice as many pictures on the iPhone and use less iCloud space for backup.
  • Email from Al: Hello Tech Talk. I use Outlook as my mail tool on a Dell desktop running Windows 7 Home Premium. The E-mail downloaded into Outlook comes from my Microsoft Outlook.com account. Recently, images in some E-mails will not display.  One sees only an empty box with a red X.  This problem occurs for most E-mails but not all.  Some display all images just fine.  Some E-Mails display some images but not all.  Some E-mails display none. I’ve done some research that indicates there’s a problem in some Outlook file but that the problem can only be fixed by going into the registry.  I’m very reluctant to tinker in the registry. Can you advise as to what the problem is and how I can safely fix it? Thanks in advance and thanks for your interesting Saturday radio show. Al
  • Tech Talk Responds: I would check your security settings first. Internet Explorer has a security setting that, when enabled, prevents Outlook from displaying images with a secure URL. Image URLs starting with “http” will display, not URLs that start with “https”. To change the setting in Internet Explorer:
    • Open Internet Explorer.
    • Go to Tools > Internet Options.
    • Click the Advanced tab.
    • Scroll down to the Security settings list, then uncheck the “Do not save encrypted pages to disk” option.
    • Click OK.
  • Before the changes take effect, it may sometimes be necessary to clear the cache in Internet Explorer and close Outlook (File > Exit to close fully). After relaunching Outlook, send yourself another email with an image that did not display previously.
  • If that did not work, Outlook itself can be configured to block images for security reasons. Assuming you have Outlook 2010, do the following:
    • Click the File > Options.
    • Click Trust Center.
    • Click the Trust Center Settings button.
    • Uncheck the box next to the “Don’t download pictures automatically in HTML e-mail messages or RSS items” option.
  • Changing the registry is only required if the configuration for image storage is pointed to the wrong subdirectory. It is most likely to be your security settings. If the security setting do not solve the problem. You can check the registry image storage issue. Microsoft has created a tool that will check and modify your registry automatically. Before you use this tool, make certain to set a restore point on the OS, so that you can revert back to the old registry settings. Here is the link to that tool: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2638687/pictures-cannot-be-displayed-and-are-shown-as-red-x-in-outlook. This would be your last resort.
  • Email form Jim Barlett: Hey Doc. Would you explain again how you use TRACERT to find the node hops? Where do you write “TRACERT”? It does not work if it is placed in front of the URL in the search line. Thanks, Jim
  • Tech Talk Responds: I discussed on the last show. TRACERT is a command line prompt and needs to use the DOS command line. To get to the command line, type “cmd” into the Start Button search field. Then click on Command Prompt (Desktop App). When the Command Prompt Window opens, type: TRACERT website address. The web address is not preceded by http. If you want to see all of the TRACERT options, just type TRACERT without a web address. This is a fun way to understand how the Internet actually works.
  • Email from Tung in Ohio: Dear Tech Talk. I have a problem with the sound coming from my HDTV when I am listening to DVD movies. The dialogue is too quiet compared to the sound effects and other noises. I can hardly understand what they are saying. If I turn up the volume to hear dialogue, everything else is too loud. How can I fix it. Love the podcast. I am currently using the stereo output from my TV. Tung in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Audio and speaker configurations are labeled by the number of different channels of audio present in the source. Headphones, regular TV sets, and systems with a pair of speakers (and no subwoofer) are referred to as 2.0 channel audio. The number before the decimal represents the number of full frequency range channels—so, regular front speakers, rear speakers, and so on. The number after the decimal represents the number of specialized, low frequency channels—output to subwoofers. So, if you add a single subwoofer to 2.0 channel audio, it becomes 2.1 channel audio. Add in rear surround speakers and a center channel front speaker, and it becomes 5.1.
  • Your are watching TV with the simple 2.0 channel speakers built into the TV and maybe a 2.0 channel soundbar with a subwoofer added in for good measure to boost it up to 2.1. When you watch media encoded with 5.1 or greater channel audio (which is pretty much any DVD) on a 2.x setup, it falls on the TV to perform a task known as “downmixing” to blend the channels together and re-balance sounds so that the 5.1 configuration sounds normal coming from a 2.0 system.
  • Your TV may be down mixing improperly. Organizations like Dolby publish ratios that provide the ideal down mixing configuration. Many cheaper TV sets just smash the channels together and push them out the speakers with little to no adjustment. That’s a perfect recipe for way-too-loud action and way-too-soft dialogue.
  • If your Blu-ray player, for example, thinks that it’s hooked up to a 5.1 channel audio system, then it’s going to put out all 5.1 channels and you’ll be at the mercy of whatever your TV does with that output. If your DVD player has the option to specify that the audio output is 2.0, then the player and not the TV can handle the down mix. That is your best option.
  • You can also reduce the difference between the high and low volumes by adjusting the dynamic range. Your DVD player may have an audio option labeled as “Dynamic Range Compression”, “Dynamic Range Control”, “DRC”, “Night Mode.” This option instructs the device to compress the range of volume in the audio track of the displayed video such that the highest and lowest points are closer together. This makes the booms not as loud and the whispers not as quiet.

Profiles in IT: Werner Hans Peter Vogels

  • Werner Hans Peter Vogels is the chief technology officer and Vice President of Amazon.com in charge of driving technology innovation within the company. Vogels has broad internal and external responsibilities.
  • Vogels was born on 3 October 1958 in Ermelo, Netherlands.
  • After his military service in the Royal Netherlands Navy, Vogels studied radiology (diagnostics and therapy). In 1985, he was hired by the Netherlands Cancer Institute.
  • In 1985 he enrolled in The Hague University of Applied Sciences and received a BS in Computer Science in 1989. He then pursued a career in computer science research.
  • In 1991, Vogels was hired a senior researcher at INESC in Porto, Portugal, working on distributed systems support for factory floor automation.
  • In 1994, he was hired as a research scientist at the Computer Science Department of Cornell University, conducting research in scalable reliable enterprise systems.
  • He is the author of many conference and journal articles, mainly on distributed systems technologies for enterprise computing systems
  • In 1997, he co-founded Reliable Network Solutions, Inc. The company possessed US patents on computer network resource monitoring and multicast protocols. He served as VP and CTO from 1999 through 2002.
  • In 2003, Vogels received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands. His advisors were Henri Bal and Andy Tanenbaum.
  • His thesis: Scalable Cluster Technologies for Mission Critical Enterprise Computing.
  • He joined Amazon in September 2004 as the director of systems research. He was named CTO in January 2005 and VP in March of that year.
  • Vogels maintains a blog focusing on “building scalable and robust distributed systems”, which he started in 2001 while a scientist at Cornell.
  • Vogels described the deep technical nature of Amazon’s infrastructure work in a paper about Amazon’s Dynamo, the storage engine for the Amazon Shopping Cart.
  • He is generally regarded as one of the world’s top experts on ultra-scalable systems and he uses his weblog to educate the community about issues such as eventual consistency.
  • Vogels was one of the architects behind Amazon’s approach to cloud computing, the Amazon Web Services (AWS). In 2008, he was continuously on the road promoting cloud computing and AWS.
  • In 2008, he was Information Week’s CIO/CTO of the Year.
  • In 2010, 2011, and 2012, he was TechTarget Top 10 Cloud Computing Leader
  • In 2014, ExecRank ranked Vogels as the #1 Chief Technology Officer.
  • Vogels is married to Annet Vogels, a former musician with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. They have two daughters.
  • Vogels blog: http://www.allthingsdistributed.com/

Bitcoin explodes above $2,500

  • Bitcoin is soaring trading up 13.01% at $2,576 a coin. The cryuptocurrency continues to rally as traders look ahead to the August 1 decision on whether or not bitcoin will be split in two.
  • Thursday’s gain has the cryptocurrency up 40% from its July 17 low of $1,852. That’s the day bitcoin tumbled 20% amid renewed fears it would be split in two.
  • The recent rally has bitcoin within 16% of its all time high near $3,000 set on June 12.

Beijing Wants AI To Be Made In China By 2030

  • According to The New York Times, If Beijing has its way, the future of artificial intelligence will be made in China. The country laid out a development plan on Thursday to become the world leader in A.I. by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion.
  • China will be investing heavily to ensure its companies, government and military leap to the front of the pack in a technology many think will one day form the basis of computing.
  • The plan comes with China preparing a multibillion-dollar national investment initiative to support “moonshot” projects, start-ups and academic research in A.I.
  • This may be a bigger threat that nuclear weapons. The first country to reach The Singularity, when computers are smarter than people, will be unstoppable according the futurist ?Ray Kurzweil. We need to pay attention!

Elon Musk Wants to Merge The Human Brain and AI

  • Elon Musk has made it clear that he is concerned about the extreme advancements being made in artificial intelligence (AI) research.
  • Ultimately, he fears that AI will, one day, overtake humanity.
  • In December 2015, Musk took his first major action, and announced the formation of OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company that hopes to advance digital intelligence in a way that will benefit humanity as a whole.
  • Just a few weeks ago, details leaked asserting that Musk is backing a brain-computer interface venture that was founded in order to allow humans to keep up with the advancements made in machine intelligence.
  • The company, called Neuralink, was still in the earliest stages of development.
  • Neuralink is a brain-machine interface development company. They want to create cutting-edge BMIs.
  • Doing this will support the growth of the company while also providing a perfect vehicle for putting their innovations to use.
  • First they are planning bring something to market that helps with certain severe brain injuries (stroke, cancer lesion, congenital) in about four years.”
  • Musk thinks the technology is 8 to 10 years away for use by individuals with no disability.
  • Musk believes that the development of AI could spell the end of the human race.
  • It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.
  • Being able to systematically and intelligently work with our neural code is the most consequential and pressing opportunity in the world today.
  • These advancements could allow us to merge with machines, they could also allow us to literally program (or reprogram) our neural code, which would allow us to transform ourselves in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Dark Web Marketplace Shut Down

  • AlphaBay, a Dark Web marketplace for illegal drugs and other underground goods, has been shut down.
  • One of the site’s operators, a Canadian citizen named Alexandre Cazes, was arrested while he was in Thailand. He was later found dead in his cell due to an apparent suitcide.
  • AlphaBay was largely considered the largest and most lucrative underground marketplace on the Dark Web.
  • AlphaBay rose in prominence after the shutdown of the Silk Road in 2013 and arrest of its operator, Ross Ulbricht.
  • Cazes, who was arrested by Thailand authorities on July 5th, the same day AlphaBay went down.
  • Members of the high-technology crime division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are currently searching Cazes’ apartment in Trois-Rivičres, Quebec, and have claimed at least some of the site’s servers, opening the possibility that other AlphaBay operators may be swept up in the investigation pending what the cybercrime unit is able to recover.
  • In addition to drugs, AlphaBay made a significant chunk of its revenue enabling the sale of stolen credit card numbers, as well as firearms.
  • The company apparently made anywhere between $600,000 and $800,000 a day.

Verizon Accused of Throttling Netflix and YouTube

  • According to an Ars Technica article, Verizon recently began experimenting with throttling of video traffic.
  • The remarkable part of this story is not that a wireless ISP would throttle video traffic, but rather that Verizon’s own Go90 video platform is also affected by the throttling.
  • Verizon Wireless customers this week noticed that Netflix’s speed test tool appears to be capped at 10Mbps, raising fears that the carrier is throttling video streaming on its mobile network.
  • Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video.
  • The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans.
  • But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling.
  • If even Verizon can get on board with throttling without paid prioritization, why is Comcast so scared of the new laws that are about to go into effect banning it?

Weird eBay Auction of the Week: Old FBI Surveillance Van

  • Someone in North Carolina is offering up what is described as a restored 1989 FBI “surveillance” van, complete with listening equipment, LCD monitors, and two DVD players, apparently.
  • The Dodge Ram 350 van has low mileage (23,500 miles to be exact), one careful previous owner, double-locking doors, and its own toilet for long stakeouts.
  • The seller, who looks legit and has dozens of good customers reviews, claims that while the van has recently been restored since leaving the bureau and being sold at government auction, the vehicle was in fact “used for FEDERAL DRUG INVESTIGATION and still has surveillance tapes inside with notebooks.” It includes other options:
    • Rear AC/heat controls
    • The ability to kill the engine from the back of the van
    • On-board propane tanks
    • An intercom
    • A number of electrical sockets
    • Two extra on-board batteries
  • The seller is also offering to throw in manuals for all of the on-board surveillance equipment and full documentation to show that the van is legit – something that will no doubt come in handy should the local police inquire as to why you’re driving around in a windowless van packed with stuff that resembles surveillance equipment.
  • The current bid for the truck is $11,100, with 27 people having already made offers.

Dangerous Malware Used Against The Ukraine Power Grid

  • In December 2016, attackers hacked a power transmission company in Ukraine and cut electricity to tens of thousands of customers for an hour around midnight.
  • Researchers who examined the malicious code say it’s a modular toolkit composed of multiple components that have the ability to launch automated assaults against industrial control systems managing the electric grid.
  • The toolkit doesn’t exploit software vulnerabilities to do its dirty tricks—the way most malware does—but instead relies on exploiting four communication protocols or standards that are used with industrial control systems in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, according to the researchers. This means the attackers could use the same toolkit to target systems in these regions, and may already have done so.
  • The 2016 attack on Ukraine’s power grid, which struck December 17 at a substation outside the capital city Kiev, was believed to be a test for refining attacks on critical infrastructure around the world.
  • It is directly applicable to every site in Europe, most of the Middle East and most of Asia. The US uses a different communication protocol known as DNP3 (Distributed Network Protocol 3), but this doesn’t make it immune to the same kind of assault.
  • With a little tweaking, the same toolkit would also work against parts of the grid in the US.