Show of 01-20-2018

Tech Talk

January 20, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Feroze in Fredericksburg: Dear Tech Talk. I have tried to take sunset photos and have not really be satisfied with the results. Do you have an suggestions for a good sunset photos? Love the show. Feroze in Fredericksburg
  • Everyone, at some point, tries to take a photo of a spectacular sunset. Sunset photos are all about light and color. Light levels change rapidly at sunset, so there are no one-size-fits-all settings. The light drops as the sun does, but it also falls when the sun’s obscured by clouds or anything else
  • If you’ve got a tripod, I’d recommend using one for sunset photos. There are two reasons: first, you can keep a tight aperture and low ISO even as your shutter speed gets slower, and second, you can shoot HDR (high dynamic range) images.
  • When I’m doing sunset shots, you shoot a few different exposures, one darker than what it should be and one brighter than what it should be. This means I’ll have details from everything in the scene. In post-production, you can combine them into one image using HDR.
  • If you are simply using an iPhone, you can take HDR photos directly. Make certain to brace the camera, if you don’t have a tripod.
  • In a sunset photo, the sun should never be the main subject. Use the light it creates to show off another subject. Start by finding something interesting to photograph. Cool landscapes, landmarks, models, your dogs, or anything else are better than a boring shot of the sky from an industrial park.
  • One more thing. Try taking multiple exposures. A slightly underexposed sunset photo often looks better than a correctly exposed one. The colors will seem deeper and richer.
  • Email from Macy in San Francisco: Dear Doc and Jim. A neighbor has named his unprotected wireless network after my own. I immediately changed my network’s SSID and increased the security level to WPA. However, as the neighbor’s network has a strong signal and is unprotected, my laptop insisted on logging on to it until I realized what was going on and deleted it from the preferred nets list. However, I would feel safer if I could simply block the network altogether. Is that possible? By the way, could this be what I think it is? The neighbor setting up an unprotected network with the same name as mine in the hope that my computer would connect to his net if mine happened to be down? Macy from San Francisco
  • Tech Talk Responds: On the surface, it certainly seems like your neighbor is up to something. If you use his access point, he may be able to sniff you passwords if you are not using https.
    • Rename your wireless access point. You will have to log into your router to do this.
    • Make sure your wireless access point has WPA2 enabled, with a good password. Once again, exactly how you set this will vary based on your specific device.
    • Make sure you connect only to your preferred connections. It sounds like you may already have done this. Click on the wireless network icon in your taskbar, and then on Network settings. In the resulting Settings app, click on Manage known networks. This is a list of wireless access points you’ve connected to in the past, which will be remembered and connected to automatically in the future. Scan through this list, click on any you don’t want to connect to automatically, and click on Forget to remove them from the list.
  • There is one additional change that, while not adding a lot of real security, would at least confirm your neighbor’s bad intentions, if compromised. Configure your access point to stop broadcasting the SSID (aka network name), and then change the SSID.
  • The downside here is that Windows won’t automatically detect your network; you’ll have to configure it manually; fortunately, you should only need to do this once.
  • This prevents your neighbor from seeing your new network name – at least from seeing it easily. If your neighbor is technically savvy enough to sniff your wireless packets, the SSID can still be viewed. But if another open access point appears with your new, “hidden” network name, you’ll know your neighbor is up to no good.
  • Email from Sophia in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I would like my kids to learn programming. They are all in elementary school now. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough to help them. What resources are available for parents in this area. Love the show. Sophia in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Introducing computer programming to your kids can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t familiar with code. Here are a few good resources for you to use.
    • Programming Tutorials from Made With Code by Google. Google’s Made With Code project has a mission of encouraging girls to pursue careers in computer science.
    • Resources for Parents From MIT Media Lab’s Scratch Team. Scratch is one of the most popular coding tools for kids, and it’s designed to help students with little to no coding experience. The software lets students create animations and stories with building blocks that mimic the structure of computer code. Luckily, the team behind the software has made it easy for beginners.
    • Tynker’s Hour of Code Free Activities. Tynker is a fun, intuitive suite of games that make it easy for kids to learn basic “computational thinking and programming skills.”
    • Lessons and Tutorials From Code.org.org was launched in 2013 to advocate for wider access to computer science learning in schools and for underrepresented students of color.
    • Computing Lessons on Khan Academy. Khan Academy’s self-paced courses introduce a number of fascinating coding concepts to kids. From learning the basics of computer programming and animation, to more complex computer science subjects, these lessons are the perfect jumping off point for curious students.
  • Email from Wendy in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk I am considering taking an online class and am wondering whether distance education as effective as traditional classroom delivery? Enjoy the show. Richelle in Falls Church
  • Tech Talk Responds: Yes, it is if the student is mature and disciplined. The real value of online delivery is not the presentation of lecture material remotely, but rather the ability to allow the students to interact with the teacher and the other students. Threaded discussions allow the students to reason online. If the teacher can engage the students through thoughtful discussion and questions, the critical thinking within the classroom is better than in a tradition classroom because it is written.
  • For this reason, the best delivery method is blended. The students have a classroom session with interaction, questions, and some lecture. Then they complete a challenge question online to demonstrate critical thinking in written form. This form of delivery can be effective for most students.

 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) to implement Codd’s relational database ideas commercially.
  • Ingres Corp. was purchased by Computer Associates in 1994.
  • 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, effective merging databases with abstract data types while keeping the database separate from the programming language. NASA was an early customer.
  • 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 copied 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.

SEC Rejects Cryptocurrency Funds

  • This week the Securities and Exchange Commission sent a letter listing more than 30 questions to cryptocurrency trade groups.
  • Among the concerns in the letter: How would funds determine the value of their holdings when prices for digital currencies are so volatile?
  • And, what steps would funds take to ensure they can cash out investors who want their money back each day?
  • The SEC also expressed concern that digital currency markets have higher opportunities for fraud and manipulation than traditional securities markets.
  • Until the industry is able to answer these questions, the SEC does not “believe that it is appropriate for fund sponsors to initiate registration of funds that intend to invest substantially in cryptocurrency and related products, and has asked sponsors that have registration statements filed for such products to withdraw them.”
  • An exchange-traded fund is similar to a traditional mutual fund, except that investors can buy and sell it throughout the trading day. A digital currency ETF would allow investors to own bitcoin and other digital currencies without going onto the private exchanges they trade on.
  • Bitcoin and other digital currencies have skyrocketed in recent years. Bitcoin is up more than 10-fold from early 2017, when it was worth less than $1,000.
  • But bitcoin has been particularly volatile recently, and is down by nearly half from its peak of more than $19,000 last month.
  • The currencies trade on private exchanges with little regulation or protection for investors, and no country or central bank is behind them.

Your Biggest Cyberthreat Is Cryptocurrency Miners

  • The practice of surreptitiously mining cryptocurrency on other people’s hardware is becoming pervasive, overtaking ransomware as a tool of choice for extorting money online.
  • This week, cybersecurity firm Check Point published its regular Global Threat Index.
  • It shows that Coinhive, a piece of software that uses processing power on someone’s device in order to mine cryptocurrency, has become the most prevalent form of malware on the Internet.
  • Another piece of cryptojacking malware, called Cryptoloot, is now the third most prevalent.
  • Bitcoin and many of its newer rivals are given as rewards for performing the computationally demanding cryptographic operations that underpin the transaction records of the currencies—a process known as mining.
  • Steal someone’s computing power by embedding such code in websites or software, and you can make money.

Apple Update Will Let Users Opt Out of OS Slow Down

  • Late last year, Apple acknowledged it was using software updates to slow down batteries in an effort to prevent them from shutting off suddenly.
  • Apple’s next iOS update will be more transparent about the health of the phone battery. Users will also be able to decide whether to reduce the phone’s performance to extend battery life.
  • Apple will be giving people the visibility of the health of their battery. The user can choose how to respond: slow the phone or not.
  • The iOS update will be rolled out to developers next month. An update for consumers will follow.
  • Although users will be able to opt out, Apple doesn’t recommend users do so. The performance of lithium-ion batteries worsens over time and this can lead to phones turning off abruptly to protect their components.
  • The company has also temporarily reduced the price of replacement batteries for the iPhone 6 and later to $29. The price will return to $79 in 2019.

Facebook Latest Attempt to Fix Newsfeed

  • Last week Facebook announce that it will prioritize posts from friends and family members over those from brands and publishers.
  • This week Mark Zuckerberg announced that it would prioritize news feeds using user survey.
  • As part of ongoing quality surveys Facebook conducts with users, the social network will begin asking if people know a news source and whether they trust it.
  • Ultimately, this will help Facebook determine what’s a trustworthy source and what isn’t.
  • The move marks Facebook’s latest effort to respond to concerns its service was twisted into a propaganda machine during the 2016 US election.
  • Zuckerberg made the announcement on his own Facebook page.
  • He has made it his goal to spend this year fixing issues that have spread on his service, like hate and abuse.

Twitter Reveals Extend of Russian Propaganda during Election

  • Twitter released a new set of statistics related to its investigation on Russia propaganda efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
  • It noted that that 677,775 people were exposed to social media posts from more than 50,000 automated accounts with links to the Russian government.
  • Many of the new accounts uncovered have been traced back to an organization called the the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, with known ties to the Kremlin.
  • The data was first presented in an incomplete form to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee last November, which held hearings to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter on the role the respective platforms and products played in the Russian effort.
  • Twitter says it’s now uncovered more accounts and new information on the wide-reaching Russian cyberintelligence campaign.
  • Twitter is emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period.
  • Twitter says it’s improving its automated detection methods to weed out suspicious accounts, as well as beefing up its security measures to prevent third-party applications from controlling large numbers of bots.

Russian Cyber Forces Stealing U.S. Technological Edge

  • The U.S. military is losing its technological edge, in part because Russian cyber forces have penetrated the defense industry and are stealing information, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman said on November 15, 2017.
  • Today their cyber is so capable, even though most of the defense industry will not publicly admit it, but they’re right in from the beginning of the program with their cyber capability, so there is almost no development lag.
  • In order to combat the leak of information, Lehman called for a quicker U.S. acquisition process to allow industry and the Pentagon to more quickly bring high-tech systems to the field.
  • Lehman said while the U.S. has a 22-year process to get a major weapon system to the field, Russia and China have about a seven-year cycle.
  • We have really fallen behind in technology, and we need to get back into that game.
  • During the Cold War, the Russians stole major U.S. submarine secrets that were, in turn, adapted into their own submarine construction programs.
  • Likewise, the Chinese have had a long history of adapting Western weapon designs for their own uses – from adaptions of U.S. stealth fighters to infantry small arms.
  • Beijing stole terabytes of data from the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program in 2007 that helped in developing the People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-20 stealth fighter.

Social Media or Social Disease?

  • Is social media evolving into an antisocial medium?
  • Chamath Palihapitiya, former VP for Growth at Facebook, told an audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business last week.
    • “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works”.
  • Some people feel bad after using social media, but others do not. It it really comes down to how you use the technology.
  • Interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the sidelines may make you feel worse.
  • To help foster interaction, Facebook has made a number of changes to its services.
    • It has started demoting clickbait headlines and false news, and prioritizing posts from people users care about to foster more meaningful interactions and reduce passive consumption of low-quality content.
    • It also added a “snooze” feature allowing users to hide posts from a person, group or page for 30 days.
  • There is a connection between increased depressive symptoms and the increased proportion of social media friends you don’t know in real life to those you do know.
  • Limiting the number of social platforms you participate in can be beneficial, as the number of platforms a person uses can be a predictor of poor mental health.