Show of 01-27-2018

Tech Talk

January 27, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a Windows 10 laptop and recently the updates have failed in install properly. What could be the problem? Enjoy the show. Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: Failure to install could be caused by a couple things. First I would check whether your hard drive is filled to capacity. This stops updates in their tracks. Second, I would check whether your registry has been corrupted. You can fix the registry error by performing a system restore, using a restore date prior to the last successful update. You don’t need any type of registry cleaner software, none of which are recommended by Microsoft.
  • Email from Susan in Baltimore: Dear Tech Talk. I have enjoyed your journey to cut the cord. I would like to operate without any paid streaming services and use only OTA television and whatever I can stream for free over the Internet. What are my options for free services? Love the show. Susan in Baltimore
  • Tech Talk Responds: You will need to install a streaming device to the television, which do cost some money. Your choices are: Apple TV, Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire TV. They all have installable applications and are easier use than Google Chromecast. The best free movie sites include: Freeform, Crackle, The CW, Vudu, and Tubi TV. They all have ad-supported movies. If you are an Amazon Prime member, Amazon Prime video is free and has a great selection of movies. The best free news sites include: SkyNEWS, newsy, Newsmax TV, and Haystack TV. The best paid movie site continues to be Netflix.
  • Email from Valerie in Occoquan: Dear Tech Talk. I enjoyed you segment on cutting the cord to save money. I would now like to know how to save money on our exorbitant cell phone bills. What do you suggest? Valerie in Occoquan.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Cell phone bills have become an increasingly difficult problem. The carrier would like you to autopay so you don’t see the steady increase in charges. Verizon changed me to unlimited data, without asking, and my bill went through the roof. When we called, they said they were concerned that I would exceed my data limit so they changed the plan.
  • You best bet to get a prepaid plan from your carrier. You will pay cash for you phone whenever you want to upgrade. You can change carriers at will and the price is the best. They don’t push these plans because they make less month. For instance, I can get a prepaid plan with Verizon, with unlimited text and minutes and 10GB of data, for $45 per month. Two phone would be only $90 per months. I am currently paying $160 per month for two phone, with unlimited text and minutes with a total of 10GB. I was over $200 when they upped me to unlimited data. When my contract expires in May, I am getting a prepaid plan. The pre-paid plans are similar to Walmart’s Straight Talk where you can get 10GB of data for $45 per month. Walmart will, however, finance you phone on their credit card with zero percent interest. The contract price always includes payments for your “free phone.” And then you are forced to upgrade every two years. I plan to keep my iPhone6S for another two years, after getting the $29 battery replacement from Apple.
  • Email from Jacob in Ashburn: Dear Tech Talk. I was given an old Windows 7 laptop for school. I would like to upgrade the OS to Windows 10, but the free offer for upgrade has expired. What are my options? Enjoy the show. Jacob in Ashburn
  • Tech Talk Responds: Windows 10’s free upgrade offer is officially over. But, unofficially, free copies of Windows 10 are still available. While you can no longer use the “Get Windows 10” tool to upgrade from within Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, it is still possible to download Windows 10 installation media from Microsoft and then provide a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 key when you install it.
  • You will need your product key. If you don’t have access to it from your computer label or associated documents, you can retrieve it from the registry. Unfortunately the key is encrypted and difficult to find.
  • They Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder program is a free utility that retrieves product keys from the registry. It also has the ability to find product keys for Microsoft Office programs, along with product keys from many other non-Microsoft programs.
  • Windows will contact Microsoft’s activation servers and confirm the key to the previous version of Windows is real. If it is, Windows 10 will be installed and activated on your PC. Your PC acquires a “digital license” and you can continue using and reinstalling Windows 10 on it in the future.
  • Email from Lynn in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. Can I use any charging block to charge my cell phone? I have so many of these in my house and all have USB output. Are they interchangeable? Enjoy the show. Lynn in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: Most mobile phone chargers came in two varieties: 5V/1A and 5V/2.1A. The smaller chargers were built for smartphones, and the larger for tablets. Any phone charger could be used with any phone, and most tablet chargers would work on any tablet.. All Micro-USB chargers are rated for 5V, so you never really have to worry about accidentally plugging your phone into a charger with too high of a voltage. You can use any charging block you wish. The 1A will just charge slower.
  • There are several quick charging methods form a variety of different manufacturers and they are not cross-compatible. That means just because your device supports some form of “quick charge” technology and your buddy’s charger does too, you can’t automatically guarantee you’ll get a faster charge. If they are not using the same quick charge technology, it will still charge you phone—it’ll just do it a bit slower.
  • Laptops are often a different story. If it has a proprietary charging port, I would not use anything outside of the stock charger.
  • Email from Lois in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. We watch lots of Netflix movies and have recently been told that our data usage will be capped by our ISP. How much data is used when we watch a Netflix movie? Enjoy the show. Lois in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: The data used depends on the resolution of the movie. Most videos you play on Netflix should be 23.976 frames per second, so the following table should apply for most of what you play.
    • 480p (720×480) is 792 MB per hour
    • 720p (1280×720) is 1.3 GB per hour
    • 1080p (1920×1080) is 1.9 GB to 2.55 GB per hour
    • 1440p (2560×1440) is 2.8 GB per hour
    • 4K (3840×2160) is 3.5 GB to 7 GB per hour
  • Here’s the problem: If you use the “High” setting, Netflix will stream at the highest possible resolution available to your TV. But if you have a 4K TV, that’s a lot of data—up to 7GB per hour! If you want to use less than that, Netflix basically makes you drop all the way down to standard definition with the “Medium” setting, which isn’t ideal.
  • However, there’s a trick to get around this. Let’s say you don’t want the high data usage of 4K video, but you’re okay with 1080p video—still high definition, but around half the data usage. To do this, you can change the resolution of your streaming box instead, so that it only asks for the 1080p stream from Netflix (and other streaming video services).

Profiles in IT: Mustafa Suleyman

  • Mustafa “Moose” Suleyman is best known as co-founder of DeepMind Technologies, an AI machine learning company acquired by Google.
  • He was born in 1985 in London to a Syrian taxi-driver father and English mother.
  • Suleyman went to Thornhill Primary School and Queen Elizabeth Boys School.
  • He also had a passion for business and entrepreneurship from an early age. When he started secondary school, he sold sweets in the playground. He bought from a wholesaler and hired classmates to sell a break.
  • He then published, with friends, an 80-page guide to London for disabled people after travelling London in a borrowed wheelchair during the summer.
  • Suleyman attended Oxford’s Mansfield College, majoring in philosophy and theology, but dropped out at 19 because he didn’t feel his degree was useful.
  • Suleyman and a friend then set up the Muslim Youth Helpline, which became one of the largest UK mental health support services of its kind.
  • At 22, Suleyman left Muslim Youth Helpline and went on to work for former London mayor Ken Livingstone, hoping to fight systematic injustices in society.
  • He left City Hall when he realized that government did not move fast enough.
  • He then helped to cofound a consultancy called Reos Partners, which aims to help drive change on global issues like food production, waste, and diversity.
  • Realizing the potential that technology and AI have to benefit the world, Suleyman set up DeepMind in 2010 with his childhood friend Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg.
  • Before incorporating DeepMind in 2009, Suleyman and Hassabis had many deep discussions and debates about how to improve the world.
  • They started DeepMind with the single purpose of building AI and using it to solve the world’s toughest problems, feeling it was their best shot at having a transformative, large scale impact on society’s most pressing challenges.
  • In the company’s early days, Suleyman made several trips to Silicon Valley and successfully convinced like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk to invest in DeepMind.
  • They planned to assemble the best minds in Europe to tackle this problem.
  • DeepMind was bought by Google in 2014 for US$500M.
  • DeepMind’s system is not pre-programmed. It learns from experience, using only raw pixels as data input, a form of model-free reinforcement learning.
  • In October 2015, a computer Go program called AlphaGo, developed by DeepMind, beat the European Go champion Fan Hui, five to zero. This is the first time a computer defeated a professional Go player.
  • Now they are moving beyond games to real world problems.
  • Suleyman is now focused on health projects including a patient monitoring app for clinicians and an AI system that can learn to spot early signs of cancer.

Idea of the Week: Listen to a Video Game Soundtrack to Focus a Work

  • Over at Popular Science has a compelling argument for listening to video game sound tracks.
  • Listen to music from video games when you need to focus.
  • It’s a whole genre designed to simultaneously stimulate your senses and blend into the background of your brain, because that is the point of the soundtrack.
  • It has to engage you, the player, in a task without distracting from it. In fact, the best music would actually direct the listener to the task.
  • Link to article: https://www.popsci.com/work-productivity-listening-music

AT&T calls for net neutrality laws after fighting to end FCC rules

  • CEO Randall Stephenson has posted an open letter calling on Congress to write an “Internet Bill of Rights” that enforces “neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection” for American internet users.
  • Stephenson argues that Congress could establish “consistent rules of the road” that give internet companies and telecoms an idea of what they can expect.
  • The company chief also insisted that AT&T honored an open internet and doesn’t
  • block, throttle or otherwise hinder access to content.
  • AT&T spent over $16 million in lobbying just in 2017 and it maintained its anti-regulatory stance throughout the FCC’s repeal process.
  • It argued that FCC regulation is not predictable (policies tend to swing back and forth depending on who’s in power).
  • AT&T prefers congressional action. It is clear and permanent.
  • AT&T says it will not slow down content, but it may charge more for the fast lane.
  • that doesn’t mean it’s advocating for a strictly level playing field.
  • AT&T is one of multiple providers who pushed Netflix into peering deals to ensure smooth traffic.

ICE Will Track License Plates Across the US

  • The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database.
  • The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.
  • The data came from Vigilant Solutions, the leading network for license plate recognition data.
  • ICE is not seeking to build a license plate reader database, and will not collect nor contribute any data to a national public or private database through this contract.
  • While it collects few photos itself, Vigilant Solutions has amassed a database of more than 2 billion license plate photos by using data from partners like vehicle repossession agencies and other private groups.
  • Vigilant also partners with local law enforcement agencies, often collecting even more data from camera-equipped police cars.
  • The result is a massive vehicle-tracking network generating as many as 100 million sightings per month, each tagged with a date, time, and GPS coordinates of the sighting.
  • ICE agents would be able to query that database in two ways. A historical search would turn up every place a given license plate has been spotted in the last five years, a detailed record of the target’s movements. That data could be used to find a given subject’s residence or even identify associates if a given car is regularly spotted in a specific parking lot.
  • ICE agents can also receive instantaneous email alerts whenever a new record of a particular plate is found — a system known internally as a “hot list.”
  • ICE won’t upload new data to Vigilant’s system but simply scan through the data that’s already there.
  • License plates on the hot list will also expire after one year, and the system retains extensive audit logs to help supervisors trace back any abuse of the system.

Ransomware Attacks Are Less Frequent

  • According to a report from Malwarebytes, hackers launched fewer ransomware attacks in 2017 starting in August.
  • Ransomware is malicious software that can lock up your files until you send hackers a ransom payment.
  • It featured in the WannaCry attacks in May and the NotPetya attacks in June, both of which swept through hospitals, banks and governments in several countries. But after July, the rates of ransomware infections dropped sharply, according to a report from Malwarebytes.
  • If the trend continues, it would mean a reprieve from an attack that targeted institutions where time is money, like banks, or where lives could hang in the balance, like hospitals.
  • So why would hackers ditch one of their favorite attacks? It turns out that computer users have a really valuable tool against ransomware: backing up their files.
  • That’s according to Chris Boyd, a malware analyst at Malwarebytes, who told ZDNet that publicity around the major ransomware attacks probably helped educate people about how to avoid needing to pay by uploading files to the cloud or a backup device.
  • That’s not to say hackers aren’t hacking. They’ve simply turned to other kinds of attacks to steal money, such as banking trojans and adware, both of which are old-school hacking tricks.

Japanese exchange says hackers stole over $400M in cryptocurrency

  • A Japanese cryptocurrency exchange has claimed it lost more than $400 million in tokens following an alleged hack on its service.
  • Coincheck said Friday that some 500 million tokens of NEM, worth around $400 million at the time.
  • NEM, the tenth largest cryptocurrency based on total coin market cap, is a distributed ledger platform primarily aimed at enabling payments and other financial services.
  • The apparent heist is larger than the Mt. Gox hack in 2014 — in U.S. dollar value — but its impact is unlikely to be as significant given the sheer number of cryptocurrencies in the market today and the increased value of bitcoin.
  • Coincheck said it isn’t aware of how its service was compromised. It is said to be considering compensating users who were affected. Japan is the first country to license crypto exchanges, with its first 11 licenses handed out in September.
  • Coincheck had applied for a license but it is currently waiting for a decision.

Facebook staff reportedly interviewed in Mueller investigation

  • At least one Facebook employee has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into potential Russian interference with the 2016 election.
  • Since Facebook is had so many Russia-related inquiries, it makes perfect sense that someone acting as go-between or advisor for the company and the campaign would be interviewed as a matter of course.
  • As Facebook was more strongly targeted by Russian bots and trolls during the election than its rivals, it makes sense that it would be pulled in like this.

Texting While Driving May Affect Insurance Rates

  • Arity, a unit of insurance giant Allstate, is tracking in-car smartphone use so that insurance companies can either punish or reward drivers, depending on how they use their phone while driving.
  • The technology works by using the smartphone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to sense whether the device is being moved — likely in a driver’s hand — or lying flat on a surface. Arity can also tell whether the phone is unlocked and apps are being used.
  • Allstate (ALL) may soon use the technology to determine consumers’ car insurance rates. In a statement, it described the technology as a way to promote safe driving.
  • Arity analyzed data from 160 million trips by hundreds of thousands of Allstate drivers. What it found confirmed research showing that drivers on their phones are more dangerous.
  • Arity then went a step farther and used Allstate claims data to see how expensive distracted driving is. It says it found that the most distracted drivers cost insurance companies 160% more than the least distracted drivers.
  • Drivers using smartphones are more likely to get into accidents, and these crashes tend to be more severe. Paying out claims for these crashes racks up big costs for insurance companies.
  • Hallgren expects smartphone data to become commonly used by car insurers in the coming years. Insurance companies who don’t use this data risk losing their best drivers to other companies that offer discounts related to rates of distracted driving.
  • Arity still need regulatory approval from state insurance offices. And car insurance companies such as Allstate won’t be able to use the technology without drivers agreeing to it. Arity requires drivers to download an app so that it can track how a phone is being used while driving.
  • If a navigation app must be used, she suggests setting it before departing, and not touching it during the trip.
  • Arity’s software is less likely to identify a driver as distracted if the phone is mounted in a cradle, instead of being held in a driver’s hand.

50 Cent has made millions from Bitcoin

  • 50 Cent’s gamble on Bitcoin has paid off after the rapper discovered his investment in the cryptocurrency is now worth millions.
  • The American performer and businessman, whose real name is Curtis James Jackson III, admitted he had forgotten he even owned some of the volatile cryptocurrency.
  • He let fans purchase his album Animal Ambition for just a fraction of a Bitcoin in 2014, when its price hovered around $662, with the rapper making 700 Bitcoin from sales.
  • The Bitcoin has remained untouched in his bank account for the past four years, reports say, and is now worth millions.
  • Bitcoin’s price exploded to a high of above $19,000 in December last year but has fallen to just above the $11,000 mark in the early weeks of 2018.
  • Despite the recent price fall, 50 Cent’s Bitcoin stash today is worth between $7m and $8.5m.