Show of 02-23-2019

Tech Talk

February 23, 2019

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Tom Schum: Dear Doc and Jim. You explained inertial propulsion incorrectly. It is more like a bicycle that works in space. It is not anything like perpetual motion. You have to pedal the bicycle to get anywhere. Tom Schum
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the feedback. They are based on asymmetric spinning wheels, where the motion is rectified; much like AC current can be rectified into DC current. The theory is that such rectification produces a thrust in one direction. Sceptics believe this violates Newton’s Third Law of Motion (for every action, there is equal and opposite reaction). Some suggest that this laws needs revision.
  • Email from Sharon in Richmond: Dear Doc and Jim. I was curious about the Windows 10 operating system. What is the difference between Windows and Windows Server? They look the same to me. Love the show. Sharon in Richmond.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Microsoft offers desktop and server versions of Windows. At first glance Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 look similar, but each has different uses. Windows 10 excels at everyday use, while Windows Server manages many computers, files, and services.
  • If you load up a clean copy of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, it would be easy to confuse the two at first. They can have the same desktop, same start button, and even the same task view button. They use the same kernel and can feasibly run the same software.
  • But the similarities stop there. Microsoft designed Windows 10 for use as a desktop you sit in front of, and Windows Server as a server that runs services people access across a network.
  • While Windows Server does have a desktop option, Microsoft recommends installing Windows Server without a Graphical User Interface (or removing it), leaving just a command line to work which reduces the overhead needed to run the server.
  • If you have the GUI enabled, moments after Windows Server loads, a Server Manager program launches. Here you can add on server-specific features like Windows Deployment services, DHCP services, and Active Directory Domain Services. These features allow deployment of an OS remotely to other machines, the creation of static IP address for client machines, control of a network domain for joining other computers to a domain, and creating domain users.
  • Features like these aren’t available for Windows 10 natively, although you could install third-party software like the Apache web server.
  • Windows Server supports features like SMB (Server Message Block) Direct for faster file sharing, greater support for Resilient File System, the only way to get similar features without Server is to use Windows 10 Pro for Workstations.
  • Windows Server also supports more powerful hardware. While Windows 10 Pro has a max limit of 2 TB of RAM, Windows Server allows for 24 TB.
  • A desktop user is unlikely even to consider such a large amount of RAM, but servers can make good use of their greater RAM capacity, between managing many users, computers, and potential VMs through Hyper-V.
  • Email from Lois in Kansas: I am thinking of getting an inkjet printer to print pictures that I take with my cell phone. I was wondering whether printing pictures myself is cheaper than printing through a service. What is your opinion? Lois in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: For the sake of convenience, we’re only going to look at the cost of 4×6 prints. Shutterfly, one of the most popular photo printing services, charges $0.12 for every 4×6 print. Not bad, but Amazon, Snapfish, and Walmart will print your 4×6 photos for $0.09 each.
  • Now we need to compare those prices to an at-home photo printing setup. We need a solid inkjet printer, some 4×6 photo paper, and some ink. The Canon Pixma IP8720 is one of the most popular at-home inkjet photo printers. It produces pictures with a 9600 color DPI, and only costs $180. That set of ink cartridges will cost $55. Canon claims that these ink cartridges will yield up to 780 photos (questionable), which means that, at best, we’re paying $0.07 in ink for every 4×6 print. A 400 pack of CanonInk’s of 4×6 glossy photo paper for $20—that’s $0.05 per sheet. So in addition to the $180 printer cost, you are paying $0.12 for every 4×6 photo.
  • Of course, this math is idealistic. If you e only use our $75 of paper and ink to produce 20 photos, then we’re dropping $3.75 per photo, not $0.12.
  • The only real downside to online photo printing is the wait time. Shipping can take a couple of days, although some services like Walmart allow you to pick photos up in-store a few hours after you submit your order.
  • Email from Dennis in Oklahoma: Dear Tech Talk. I just bought a new router and it support both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands. What is the best one to use? Love the show. Dennis in Oklahoma
  • Tech Talk Respons: Wi-Fi can run on two different “bands” of radio frequency: 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. 5 GHz Wi-Fi went mainstream with 802.11n. 5 GHz Wi-Fi is newer, faster, and less congested, but it has a weakness. 2.4 GHz is better at covering large areas and penetrating through solid objects.
  • 5 GHz uses shorter radio waves, and that provides faster speeds. There’s also much less congestion with 5 GHz. That means a more solid, reliable wireless connection, especially in dense areas (like apartments) with a lot of networks and devices. Traaditional cordless telephones and wireless baby monitors also operate on 2.4 GHz, so they only interfere with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi—not 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
  • Modern routers are generally “dual-band” routers and can simultaneously operate separate Wi-Fi networks on the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz frequencies. Some are “tri-band routers” that can provide a 2.4 GHz signal along with two separate 5 GHz signals for less congestion among Wi-Fi devices operating on 5 GHz.
  • Routers can be configured in one of two ways: They can hide the difference between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks or expose it. It all depends on how you name the two separate Wi-Fi networks.
  • To choose between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, go into your router’s web interface and find the wireless network settings. Give the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network separate SSIDs, or names. You can put “2.4 GHz” and “5 GHz” in the names to make it easier to remember. In addition, you can use the same wireless passphrase for each.
  • Email from Paula in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. Can you suggest some low cost or free options to learn coding on my own. I love computers and think that I could learn a lot in my free time. Love the show. Paula in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: Learning how to code is no longer just for IT professionals and software engineers. Here are a few suggestions to learn coding with minimal cost.
  • TREEHOUSE — Students will be able to learn from more than 1,000 videos that have been created by experts on the topics of web design, coding, etc. Students practice what they have learned by taking quizzes and completing interactive code challenges. Users can choose the basic plan for $25 per month, or the pro plan for $49 per month.
  • KHAN_ACADEMY — This site offers education in the form of practice exercises, a personalized learning dashboard, and instructional videos. There are courses for beginners that don’t know where to start, all the way up to professionals that are just looking to sharpen their skills.
  • CODE SCHOOL — This is an interactive learning destination for those who are aspiring or experienced developers. Students can choose HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Ruby, Elixir, PHP, .NET, Python, iOS, Git, SQL, and even some electives. Students will have experienced and engaging instructors that take them through the material with high quality video lessons. Code will be practiced right in the browser through course challenges, and students will receive immediate feedback. Students can expect to pay monthly at $29 per month, or pay for a year at $228 one time.
  • EDX — This leading online learning platform is not for-profit; it is open source. It was founded in 2012 by MIT and Harvard. EdX has over 90 partners around the world. Open edX is the actual platform and is available for free.
  • COURSERA — Coursera has matured into a large for-profit educational and technological company that offers over 1,000 courses that come from 119 institutions. There are a number of introductory programming courses that are advanced courses available for a fee. The courses are normally priced from about $29 to $99.
  • UDACITY — The mission of UdaCity is to provide affordable, accessible, highly effective, and engaging higher education to the entire world. The nanodegree programs are put together with today’s leading companies. Students can learn the basis of Javascript for free, while the more intense courses have a nominal fee.

Profiles in IT: Mary Allen Wilkes

  • Mary Allen Wilkes is most known for designing the OS for the LINC computer, now recognized by many as the world’s first “personal computer”.
  • Mary Allen Wilkes was born September 25, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Wilkes graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 where she majored in philosophy and theology. She remembered a suggestion from her 8th grade geography teacher to become a computer programmer. Her friends discouraged her from entering law.
  • After graduation, she drove to MIT and applied for a computer-programming job.
  • As a philosophy major, she had studied symbolic logic, which involves creating arguments and inferences by stringing and/or statements that resembles coding.
  • Wilkes quickly became a programming whiz. She first worked on the IBM 704, which required her to write assembly language. IBM 704 could only handle 4,000 words of code in its memory. So every command was concise and elegant.
  • Wilkes wrote programs on paper for punch cards, which were batch processed.
  • In 1961, Wilkes was assigned to the creation of the LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer), the world’s first interactive personal computer. It could fit in a single office or lab and would even have its own keyboard and screen.
  • The male designers knew they could make the hardware. They needed a Wilkes, a woman, to write the software that would let a user control the computer in real time.
  • Wilkes simulated the operation of the LINC during its design phase, designed the console for the prototype, and wrote the first 1024-word LINC Assembly Program.
  • In the summer of 1964 a core group from the LINC development team left MIT to form the Computer Systems Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Wilkes joined the group, but worked on a LINC from her parents’ home in Baltimore.
  • By 1965 the LINC memory was doubled to 2048 12-bit words, which enabled Wilkes to develop the more sophisticated operating system, LAP6.
  • LAP6, which provided the user the ability to prepare, edit, and manipulate documents interactively in real time, using the keyboard and display, much like later PCs.
  • The LINC tapes could scroll and provide interactive filing capabilities for documents.
  • Program documents could be converted to binary and run. Users could integrate their own programs with LAP6 using a link provided by the system.
  • LINC tapes could be swapped to share programs, an early “open source” capability.
  • The groups next project was the design of Macromodules, computer building blocks.
  • Wilkes designed the multiply macromodule, the most complex of the set.
  • Wilkes left the computer field in 1972 to attend the Harvard Law School.
  • She practiced as a trial lawyer for many years, both in private practice and as head of the Economic Crime and Consumer Protection Division in Massachusetts.
  • In 2001 she became an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association.

Cord Cutting Hits another Record

  • Over 850,000 pay TV customers dropped service in the fourth quarter of 2018.
  • The rate of consumers dropping their cable and satellite TV packages hit the highest level ever in the last three months of 2018.
  • The total number of pay TV subscribers dropped 4.1% from a year earlier, the highest rate of decline since the trend of cord cutting emerged in 2010.
  • It may not be an overstatement to say that the pay TV business as we know it is beginning to unravel.
  • Most providers, like Google’s YouTube TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, had to raise prices last year to account for higher costs charged by cable programmers, so subscriber growth has slowed.
  • The number of additional people who signed up for the Internet packages totaled 740,000 in the fourth quarter, down from a 900,000 gain a year earlier.
  • The cable bundle has become increasingly unappealing as consumers have turned to more flexible and less expensive video offerings, from services like and Hulu that feature traditional TV and movie formats, to shorter programming from YouTube, Facebook, and others.
  • The cord-cutting trend, which started decades ago with consumers dropping landline phones for mobile numbers, is even starting to hit Internet service.
  • It’s also prompting more people to go back to using an antenna to pick up free TV broadcast over the air.

Europe Gets First Global Consumer IoT Security Standard

  • The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has released a standard for cybersecurity in the Internet of Things (IoT).
  • The new specification, TS 103645, seeks to establish a security baseline for internet-connected consumer products and provide a basis for future IoT certification schemes.
  • ETSI said its scope covers consumer IoT products such as connected children’s toys and baby monitors, smoke detectors and door locks, smart cameras, TVs and speakers, wearable health trackers, connected home automation and alarm systems, connected appliances (e.g. washing machines, fridges) or smart home assistants.
  • Poorly secured products threaten consumer’s privacy and some devices are exploited to launch large-scale DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) cyber attacks.
  • ETSI said TS 103 645 requires implementers to forgo the use of universal default passwords, which have been the source of many security issues, and provide a means to manage reports of vulnerabilities.
  • It also requires manufacturers to keep software updated, minimize expose attack surfaces, ensure software integrity, ensure that personal data is protected, and make systems resilient to outages.
  • Other requirements include provisions for securely storing credentials and security-sensitive data, examining system telemetry data collected from IoT devices and services, and making it easy for consumers to delete personal data and to install and maintain devices.
  • The specification is expected to help ensure compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), according to the standards body.

Russia Bans Smartphones for Soldiers

  • Russia’s parliament has voted to ban soldiers from using smartphones while on duty, after their social media use raised issues of national security.
  • The bill forbids military personnel from using a phone with the ability to take pictures, record videos and access the internet.
  • Soldiers also cannot write about the military or talk to journalists.
  • Phones with basic calling and messaging facilities could still be used, but tablets and laptops would also subject to the new ban.
  • Soldiers’ social media data has allowed open-source journalism sites like Bellingcat to expose secret military activity by Russian forces, sometimes in real time.
  • Russian officials said the move was necessary to protect military information from foreign intelligence services.
  • Social media posts by servicemen have revealed Russia’s military presence in eastern Ukraine and Syria, sometimes contradicting the government’s official claim of not having troops there.
  • Since 2017, Russian soldiers have been warned against sharing any information online, including selfies.
  • Russia is not the first country to take steps to introduce stricter digital practices for military personnel following security issues.
  • US military security concerns were raised when a fitness tracking firm showed the exercise routes of military personnel in bases around the world – including in Syria and Afghanistan during conflict time.
  • US soldiers are still allowed to use social media, but must follow guidelines.

Facebook Grew Too Big to Care About Privacy

  • Once it became indispensable, it gained the power to reverse promises it had made not to gather certain data.
  • Two years ago, a Yale Law School student published what became an influential paper about how antitrust law should apply to Facebook.
  • Now, another academic paper is arguing that Facebook Inc. abuses its power.
  • Titled in part “The Antitrust Case Against Facebook,” its author, Dina Srinivasan, offers a deeply researched analysis of Facebook’s pattern of backtracking on the user data collection that allowed the company to become a star.
  • In Facebook’s early years, Srinivasan says, Facebook competed against once-popular social networks like MySpace in part by pitching itself as protective of people’s privacy. But once Facebook became an indispensable tool of digital life, it gained the power to reverse promises it had made not to gather certain types of information on people’s online activity.
  • In one particularly compelling example from Srinivasan, she focuses on Facebook’s “like” and “share” buttons. The company started to introduce the features in 2010, and now they’re on millions of websites. Many Facebook users don’t know it, but those bits of software code enable the company to collect information as people roam non-Facebook websites — whether or not people click them.
  • In a 2018 survey of young Americans, a minority of respondents said big technology companies could be trusted to “do the right thing”
  • Initially, Facebook told partners and the public that it wasn’t tracking people’s web surfing, nor would it use that information for personalized advertising.
  • Facebook was at least cautious about such practices. There were enough competitive social networks that there was blowback each time the company overreached.
  • Then, in 2014, Facebook changed its policy to allow for use of web activity data in ad targeting. The company, Srinivasan writes, “would do precisely what it had spent seven years promising it did not and would not do, and finally accomplished what the previous competitive market had restrained it from doing.”
  • This was part of Facebook’s pattern of bait-and-switch tactics surrounding data harvesting. Facebook grew so popular, the company could change the rules.

Cyberattack on Email Provider Destroys 18 Years of Data

  • An unknown attacker appears to have deleted 18 years’ worth of customer emails, along with all backup copies of the data, at email provider VFEmail.
  • A note on the firm’s website Tuesday described the attack as causing “catastrophic destruction.”
  • Accoriding to the Website, “This person has destroyed all data in the US, both primary and backup systems. We are working to recover what data we can,”
  • VFEmail was established in 2001 and provides free and paid email services, including bulk email services in the US and elsewhere.
  • The attack, described in a series of tweets from the firm, seems to have occurred on Monday and had targeted all VFEmail’s externally facing servers across data centers.
  • Though the servers were running different operating systems and not all shared the same authentication, the attacker managed to access each one and reformat them all the same.
  • The firm apparently caught the perpetrator in the middle of formatting a VFEmail backup server hosted in the Netherlands. But by that time, the attacker had already
  • The attacker sent no ransom notes and appears not to have made any attempt at contacting VFEmail. The motive seems to have been “just attack and destroy,” the company said.
  • The system used in the attack on the server hosted in the Netherlands had an IP address belonging to a service provider in Bulgaria.
  • Several security experts are viewing the attack as an example of the devastating consequences of not having a well thought-out strategy for secure data backup and recovery.

Scientists Just Solved The Mystery Of Zebras Stripes

  • Why do zebras have stripes? To hide from predators? To stay cool? To attract a mate?
  • Researchers at the University of Bristol and UC Davis, think they have the answer.
  • To set-up the experiment, researchers at the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences used video analysis on tabanid horse flies and captive zebras and domestic horses at a livery in North Somerset, UK.
  • At a distance, the zebra’s stripes made no difference, and the horse flies began circling the zebras and horses alike. However, when the horse flies got closer to the zebras, they failed to slow down, so could not land.
  • Horse flies just seem to fly over zebra stripes or bump into them, but this didn’t happen with horses.
  • This research paper builds on previous research into zebras, which revealed that zebras in parts of Africa with more biting flies have greater striping.
  • Why zebras evolved anti-fly stripes is to avoid horse flies, which in Africa often carry dangerous diseases.
  • In a second experiment, horses were dressed in different colored cloth coats: black, white and zebra-striped livery. The horses wearing coats with striped patterns experienced fewer horse fly landings compared to when they wore single-color coats.

Ancient Turing Pattern Builds Feathers, Hair

  • In 1952, well before developmental biologists understood DNA’s structure, Alan Turing had an idea.
  • Turing had already hastened the end of WW II by solving the Enigma code.
  • He turned his mind to the natural world and devised an elegant mathematical model of pattern formation.
  • His theory outlined how endless varieties of stripes, spots and scales could emerge from the interaction of two simple, hypothetical chemical agents, or “morphogens.”
  • Decades passed before biologists seriously considered that this mathematical theory could in fact explain myriad biological patterns.
  • The development of mammalian hair, the feathers of birds and even those ridges on the roof of your mouth all stem from Turing-like mechanisms.
  • Turing’s model, called a reaction-diffusion mechanism, is beautifully simple. It requires only two interacting agents, an activator and an inhibitor, that diffuse through tissue like ink dropped in water.
  • The activator initiates some process, like the formation of a spot, and promotes the production of itself. The inhibitor halts both actions.
  • Depending on exactly when and where the activator and inhibitor are released, the pockets of activation will arrange themselves as regularly spaced dots, stripes or other patterns.

Microsoft Helps Retailers Compete with Amazon

  • Retail has emerged as an important industry for Microsoft, as it tries to establish itself as a technology alternative to Amazon Web Services for companies reluctant to do business with Amazon.
  • Microsoft and Kroger announced plans for new technologies to streamline the process of finding and purchasing items in traditional grocery stores.
  • At CES 2019, Microsoft showed off the smart shelves it is developing with Kroger that have digital displays that update prices dynamically and show personalized icons to help shoppers find items.
  • Microsoft also displayed a series of e-ink tags with QR codes so customers can learn more about the items.
  • A program called Microsoft Synchronized Shopping aims to bridge the gap of digital and physical retail.
  • It attaches a code to an item in the store that communicates with the company website. That way, customers looking at the site can see if an item is in stock and available to demo at a store.
  • Microsoft also gave examples of companies using its services to track inventory and manage last mile deliveries.
  • In addition to Kroger, Microsoft recently agreed to a major partnership with Walmart last year that will include a joint engineering center to work on IT and IoT solutions.

Ethereum Is Surging.

  • , Ethereum has pumped 12% to take it to $138. Daily trade volume for Ethereum has also jumped from $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion after spending the past week hovering just above $120.
  • Since its low for 2019 on February 6 of $103 Ethereum has made 34%. Bitcoin in the same period has only managed to gain 10% to its current levels.
  • Ethereum momentum is likely to be driven by the approaching Constantinople hard fork which introduces a number of network improvements.
  • The estimated date now is March 1 according to this countdown timer to block 7280000. There will be two events taking place, Constantinople introducing several Ethereum Improvement Proposals.
  • Some have speculated that the hard fork is actually bearish for Ether as postponing the difficulty bomb will result in a diminished supply reduction.
  • The block reward adjustment buys a little more time until Proof of Stake is implemented.

Ethereum is at a Crossroads: Ethereum 2.0

  • Ethereum is already the most famous cryptocurrency after Bitcoin and the third largest in total value.
  • Unlike the others, however, it aims to serve as a general-purpose computing platform that could, its adherents believe, make possible entirely new forms of social organization.
  • Ethereum’s mission is to reach the estimated 1.7 billion adults around the world who don’t have a bank account or access to a mobile money provider.
  • To build an application on Ethereum, you use a specialized programming language to write so-called smart contracts. These are programs that execute automatically when certain conditions are met.
  • The problem is that the underlying architecture is not scalable. It takes too much energy and time to perform the proof-of-work calculations.
  • The entire system melted down with the CryptoKitties craze. Each kitty’s uniqueness is verified on the Ethereum Blockchain. Some kitties became highly prized, trading for as much as $170,000K.
  • Ethereum can only handle about 15 of these transactions per second, on average.
  • Depending on how congested the network is, it can take long periods of time before a transaction becomes final. CryptoKitties revealed this weakness.
  • For comparison, Visa’s payment network handles an average of 2,000 card transactions per second and has the capacity for tens of thousands.
  • This slowness is inherent to the design: since every node stores and processes every transaction.
  • The energy spent is a huge multiple of the actual energy required to build the Blockchain. Ethereum’s consumption was on a par with Costa Rica’s, and Bitcoin was roughly level with Bangladesh.
  • Three fixes are under consideration:
    • Partitioning the blockchain’s data. Instead of storing and computing every smart contract, subsets of nodes would handle smaller pieces of the whole.
    • Letting users transact with each other without always needing to go through the main blockchain. When they are done, they can add all the updates to the main blockchain in just a single transaction.
    • Reinventing consensus. Proof of stake relies on “validators”: who verify and attest that transactions added to the chain are valid. Their incentive for being honest is that they must deposit, or “stake,” substantial sums of money.
  • Hopefully, Ethereum 2.0 will be able to handle transaction volumes a thousand times larger than the current version, enabling it to become the world computer originally envisioned.