Show of 04-07-2018

Tech Talk
April 7, 2018

Best of Tech Talk Edition

  • Segments replayed from previous shows

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Doug in Baton Rouge, LA: Dear Dr. Shurtz, Before I begin, be sure to say hi to Jim and also Mr. Big Voice (if you can get his attention). Back in the days of yore, hard disc were expensive and only in megabyte sizes. The hard drive recording platters turned at low speeds and had relatively reliable recording surfaces. However, over long periods of time the recording magnetic surface would weaken and would drop bits of data. Programs were available to re-energize the hard disc recording surface data on each cylinder, sector and track. So, what is your opinion on today’s hard drives if removed from a computer and stored for about a year or so with data? Cloud storage is not preferred at this time. Do you think that the magnetic data on the cylinders will weaken and be prone to corruption? If you think that there will be some degradation, what programs would you recommend to renew the magnetic data on the entire hard drive and at what time period for refreshing? While we are on the subject of hard drives, can you give an explanation of their HEAD and CYLINDER jargon? I have seen on many hard drive labels were they state the number of CYLINDERS, HEADS, SECTORS and LBA. These labels indicate huge number of cylinders and heads. But, when I disassemble a damaged hard drive I find only one or two platters and maybe 2 or 3 recording heads. If you can demystify the cryptic meaning of cylinders, heads, sectors and LBA as related to hard drives, I would appreciate the teaching. Also, long ago, I had a program that would allow me to look at what is on a hard drive tracks and sectors and to edit them. Do you know of any good open source programs out there that would do this today? Your radio program remains consistently GREAT! Thanks-Doug in Baton Rouge, LA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Hard drives, unlike RAM, don’t need electricity to keep data once it’s been written. A standard hard drive can store and maintain your files for long periods. The actual storage lifespan will vary, though.
  • The standard hard drive warranty runs about 5 years. That number is assuming regular use, so if a drive were to be plugged in and have data written to it infrequently, and stored in a dry space with optimal temperatures, there’s no reason that it couldn’t last far longer than that—in the range of seven or even eight years. Always keep the drive safe from large magnetic fields, since they could help to degrade the data much more quickly, and keep that temperature rule in mind, since there are movable parts with grease. Keeping it somewhere between 50 and 110 degrees is a pretty safe bet. You should cycle the drive periodically, since the most common cause of failures are the bearings and motors seizing.
  • Cylinder-head-sector (CHS) is an early method for giving addresses to each physical block of data on a hard disk drive. Early hard drives didn’t come with an embedded disk controller; a separate controller card was used, and the operating system had to know the exact physical “geometry” of the drive behind the controller to use it. As the geometry became more complicated and drive sizes grew over time, the CHS addressing method became restrictive.
  • Since late 1980s, hard drives begun shipping with an embedded disk controller that had good knowledge of the physical geometry; they would report a false geometry to the computer, e.g. a larger number of heads than actually present, to gain more addressable space. These logical CHS values would be translated by the controller, thus CHS addressing no longer corresponded to any physical attributes of the drive.
  • Logical block addressing (LBA) is a common scheme used for specifying the location of blocks of data stored on computer storage devices, generally secondary storage systems such as hard disk drives. LBA is a particularly simple linear addressing scheme; blocks are located by an integer index, with the first block being LBA 0, the second LBA 1, and so on. Most hard disk drives released after 1996 implement logical block addressing.
  • Email form Thuy in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. I use Facebook quite a bit. Sometimes my friends make so many posts that they become annoying, like when they are on vacation. Is there a way to temporality block someone posts until they cool down? Love the podcast here in Ohio, Thuy
  • Tech Talk Responds: Recently, Facebook introduced Snooze, a feature that lets you hide someone from your News Feed for 30 days. This is perfect for the times that your friends are posting too often. At the moment, the only way to Snooze a person or Page is from one of their posts in your News Feed. When a post by the person or Page you want to Snooze pops up, tap or click the three little dots in the top right corner, and then choose the “Snooze XXX for 30 Days” option. The post will vanish from your News Feed, and you won’t see any more posts from that person for the next 30 days. The person will not know you’ve done anything, so you don’t have to worry about offending people when you Snooze them. If you want to un-Snooze someone, visit their Profile, and then tap or click the “Snoozed” setting. You’ll see how long they have left on Snooze, and you can select “End Snooze” to end it immediately.
  • Email from Helen in Maryland: Dear Tech Talk: I have always wanted to know how to buy a surge protector. What do all those specs mean? How can I select one that will protect my computer? Love the show. Helen in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Surge protectors also have electronics built in that help prevent power surges from damaging connected devices. Connecting a device to a surge protector provides more protection than simply connecting it to a wall outlet.
  • While common power strips and surge protectors look similar, not all power strips are surge protectors. Surge protectors are a bit more expensive. For example, you might pay $20 for a surge protector, while a similar-looking power strip costs only $10.
  • When shopping for a surge protector at a store, be sure to look for the words “surge protector” or at least “protection” or “suppression.” Surge protectors are often rated in the amount of Joules of energy they can absorb, so you’re likely to see this information clearly advertised on the surge protector. For example, the Belkin surge protector we linked above boasts a 3,940-joule energy rating. When you’re looking at ratings, a surge protector rated at 1000-2000 Joules is typically good enough for smaller electronics—networking gear, smartphones, printers, and so on. If you’re protecting home theater gear, gaming consoles, or desktop and laptop computers, look for something over 2000 Joules.
  • In the most common type of surge protector, a component called a metal oxide varistor, or MOV, diverts the extra voltage. An MOV forms a connection between the hot power line and the grounding. The MOV can be damaged during a surge. Surge protectors often (but not always) have a “Protected” or “Protection” light on them that lights up when they’re plugged in. This tells you that the surge protector is functional and doesn’t need to be replaced.
  • 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 GoogleGoogle’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: Frank S. Greene, Jr.

  • Frank S. Greene, Jr. is one of the first African-Americans to break the color barrier in Silicon Valley, as an electronics technologist, venture capitalist, and executive.
  • Greene was born on October 19, 1938, in Washington, D.C. He grew up in the highly segregated St. Louis of the 1950s.
  • In 1961, he received a BSEE from Washington University in St. Louis. He was in the second class that included black students at the university.
  • He went to sit-ins to see if they could integrate some places around the school.
  • One time, Greene and his friends went to a pizza joint, where the owners were willing to serve them. The problem was that they did not have enough money for one order. From that day, he was always prepared for opportunity when it arrives.
  • In 1962, he received a MS from Purdue University.
  • Greene was the first black cadet to make it through the four-year U.S. Air Force ROTC program in 1961. He became an Air Force captain.
  • After completing his master’s degree, Greene served in the United States Air Force as an Electronics Officer for four years, during which time he helped develop high performance computers for the National Security Agency.
  • In 1965, he started as a test engineer at Fairchild Semiconductor, and then moved into research and development in chip design. He worked on development of a patented high-speed memory chip, the fastest at the time. He held one of the key patents.
  • In 1970, he received his PhD from Santa Clara University.
  • In 1971, Greene became the founding CEO of Technology Development Corporation, a computer software and technical services company. At the same time, he served as assistant chairman of the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford until 1975.
  • By 1985 TDC was traded publicly, had more than 300 employees with annual revenues of over $30M. It was recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the top 100.
  • In 1985, after the sale of an equity interest to Penn Central, Greene launched ZeroOne Systems to sell large-scale scientific computer systems to the government market.
  • ZeroOne reached $15M in annual revenue within two years and was sold to Sterling Software, with Greene remaining as group president until 1989.
  • In 1993, he served as the founding General Partner of New Vista Capital Funds, a VC fund that focused on minority and women owned businesses.
  • Greene also launched the GO-Positive Foundation, which offers leadership programs with “core positive values” for high school and college students.
  • Greene was inducted into the Silicon Valley Hall of Fame in 2001; and was awarded the title of the Santa Clara University Distinguished Engineering Alumnus in 1993.
  • Frank was also an enthusiastic skier, squash player and contemporary music
  • Greene passed away on December 26, 2009.

Tech Trends at CES 2018

  • Wireless Charging Everywhere is Primetime. The Qi wireless standard will dominate. It works on both iPhones and Androids.
  • The All-in-One Voice Assistant has arrived. While Amazon’s Echo line and Google’s trio of Home devices brought voice assistants into more homes than ever, 2018 seems to be the year where your voice assistant will live everywhere. Google dominated this year’s event (after Alexa’s integration with basically everything at CES 2017) and showed off a plethora of new Assistant-enabled devices from companies like LG, Lenovo, and Sony, featuring “smart displays” that show off information like your schedule, cooking recipes, and other bits of visual accoutrement whenever you ask your Assistant for something.
  • VR is Good Now. Virtual reality headsets are back at CES, and this time they are a lot better. HTC showed off its Vive Pro, an upgraded version of its first VR headset, complete with a higher-resolution display and optional wireless adapter. Google and Lenovo are releasing a standalone VR headset powered by Google’s Daydream VR platform.
  • Your 4K TV is Already Outdated. Now there is 8K. LG showed off its 8K concept television, an 88-inch wide OLED screen that houses 33 million pixels.

Next-generation WI-Fi is finally coming

  • The Wi-Fi Alliance said in a statement timed for the opening of the annual Consumer Electronics Show that the new generation of the Wi-Fi Protected Access encryption protocol, called WPA3, would harden the connection between users’ devices and Wi-Fi routers.
  • The current Wi-Fi standard, WPA2, has been around for almost 15 years. WPA2 has been remarkably robust, but the discovery of the Krack vulnerability in October made it clear that it must be replaced.
  • The alliance disclosed few technical specifics, but it said WPA3 will protect against Krack by default and will be easier to set up and use, especially on screenless devices, like smartwatches and connected-home systems, such as “smart” thermostats and refrigerators.
  • It will even protect users who choose simple passwords that are easy to crack by entering random words over and over, a strategy that’s called a “dictionary attack.”
  • It will include a more secure handshake, stopping the Krack attack.
  • And it will make it much harder for hackers to snoop on your connection to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, by setting a unique encrypted data channel for each individual user on a network.
  • WPA3 will likely require newer hardware and software, meaning it will take time for it to reach industry-wide use. In the meantime, the Wi-Fi Alliance said, WPA2 will continue to be maintained and improved, starting with new tests for badly configured networks.

Supreme Court to Review Internet Sales Tax

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will consider freeing state and local governments to collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers, agreeing to revisit a 26-year-old ruling that has made much of the internet a tax-free zone.
  • Online retailers Wayfair Inc., Overstock.com Inc. and Newegg Inc. are opposing South Dakota in the court fight. Each collects sales taxes from customers in only some states.
  • The Supreme Court’s 1992 Quill v. North Dakota ruling, which involved a mail-order company, said retailers can be forced to collect taxes only in states where the company has a “physical presence.”
  • South Dakota passed its law in 2016 with an eye toward overturning the Quill decision. It requires retailers with more than $100,000 in annual sales in the state to pay a 4.5 percent tax on purchases. Soon after enacting the law, the state filed suit and asked the courts to declare the measure constitutional.
  • Wayfair, Overstock and Newegg said the court should reject the appeal and leave it to Congress to set the rules for online taxes.
  • Those supporting South Dakota at the high court include 35 other states, as well as lawmakers who say they’ve been trying for years to get Congress to address the issue.
  • Amazon backs a nationwide approach that would relieve retailers from dealing with a patchwork of state laws.

Hundreds of Smartphone Apps Are Spying You

  • The New York Times reported in late December that hundreds of apps have been found snooping on their users with the built-in microphones on smartphones.
  • Specifically, these apps are listening for TV show broadcasts, commercials, and even movies you watch in the theater, amassing information on what kind of things you like to watch.
  • The third-party software, from a company called Alphonso, has been embedded in many apps available for free.
  • Alphonso’s software uses the same technology that Shazam and similar services employ to automatically detect the song you’re listening to.
  • Why? It’s all about the advertising. Marketing firms know that people who watch certain TV shows are more likely to buy certain products.
  • That purpose is to make you more likely to buy stuff, and that makes the data collected incredibly valuable.
  • The easiest way to stop these apps from snooping in on your TV binging is simply to uninstall them, or never install them in the first place
  • The next best thing is to keep an eye on those permissions as you use apps. Simply don’t allow any permission you don’t think the app really needs to use.

Apple Battery Replacement Program Update

  • Apple promised to replace old iPhone batteries for $29 after its slowdown backlash.
  • This program created a spike in battery demand.
  • Apple won’t have batteries in stock for the 6S until late March to early April.
  • When the $29 replacement offer was first made in December, the company said the batteries would be available in late January, before updating that timeframe later in the month to available “right away.” Wait times vary from two weeks to “available without extended delays”
  • Apple first made the offer for $29 battery replacements last December, after benchmark tests showed significant slowdowns in old devices after they received the latest software updates.
  • In other words, Apple decided on behalf of its customers that they’d prefer an iPhone that performed worse for the same amount of time, than an iPhone that performed just as well for a shorter amount of time.
  • It’s a decision that does nothing to dispel the characterization of Apple as a company that does what it can to push customers into buying new phones.

Food Science: Cereals

  • The first modern and commercial cereal foods were created by the American Seventh-day Adventists.
  • The Adventists formed the Western Health Reform Institute in the 1860s.
  • It was renamed the Battle Creek Sanitarium after its location in Battle Creek, MI.
  • The Adventists manufactured, promoted, and sold wholesome cereals. Cereal or grain is a member of the grass plant family, with starchy seeds used for food. Common cereals are: wheat, rice, rye, oats, barley, corn (maize), and sorghum.
  • In 1894, Will Keith Kellogg was trying to improve the diet of hospital patients. He was searching for a digestible bread substitute using the process of boiling wheat.
  • Kellogg accidentally left a pot of boiled wheat to stand and the wheat became tempered (soften). When Kellogg rolled the tempered or softened wheat and let it dry, each grain of wheat emerged as a large thin flake. The flakes turned out to be a tasty cereal. Kellogg had invented corn flakes.
  • Kellogg received his M.D. from Bellevue Hospital Medical College, New York City, in 1875. He was a Seventh-day Adventist.
  • Will Keith Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906.
  • Rice Krispies were introduced by Kellogg in 1929.