Show of 08-24-2019

Tech Talk

August 24, 2019

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Al in Southern Maryland: Hello Tech Talk! Greetings from Southern Maryland. I enjoy your show and you’ve answered my queries before and now I have what seems to be a serious problem.  I am on a Dell desktop running Windows 7.  Suddenly, upon bootup, Windows 7 would not startup.  It ended in a screen stating that Windows was unable to start and offered two options: 1) run a repair attempt or 2) start Windows normally.  I chose starting normally and it started correctly.  Next time I tried to boot up, it happened again.  This time it took multiple tries at starting normally before it started correctly.  The next time I tried to bootup, it yet again failed and would not start after multiple tries so I ran the repair option.  It ended stating it could not be repaired automatically.  I tried booting up again, it again failed, and after several tries of choosing the start normally option, it finally started correctly.  I have now not turned off the computer fearing that it might never startup again.  Is my computer dying?  I have CCleaner on the system and haven’t run it in a while so I thought about doing a cleaning to see if that might help.  I also thought about using CCleaner’s registry cleanup which I’ve never used before.  However, I won’t do anything until I get your expert advice.  Thanks for your great show and for helping listeners by sharing your expertise. HELP!! Al in Southern Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Since the boot up occurs intermittently, it is not a configuration error. CCleaner will not help with this problem. It is most probably an error in reading data from a bad sector in your hard drive. I would immediately backup you files, either to an external hard drive or to the cloud using a service like Carbonite. I would also create a Windows Recovery DVD immediately. If your computer does not have a DVD, you can create a bootable USB thumb drive. You will have to change the boot order in the BIOS to boot to either the DVD reader or the USB drive. The recovery environment has several tools available to repair the system.
  • A quick option is to use the chkdsk command to fix any hard drive failures. To use chkdsk you will need to open the command window as an administrator. Search for cmd and then right click on the popup and select Open as an Administrator. You can then execute chkdsk/f. The f option directs the program to fix any problems that it finds.
  • After you run check disk, I recommend that you replace your hard drive by restoring your current hard drive to a new hard drive. Hard drives are very cheap these days. I would recommend using Macrium Reflect (Free version).  Macrium Reflect is a FREE program that offers external backup capabilities. You can clone all partitions on your hard drive to a new drive. Then you can remove the old hard drive and replace it with the new hard drive. Reboot your computer and you are good to go.
  • Email from Doug in Baton Rouge: Dear Dr. Shurtz and Jim. I need your insight on an Apple SE cell phone and auxiliary battery pack. Recently I heard that you have on your Apple cell phone an external battery pack. Which is intended to augment your Apple’s internal power supply. Well, I did the same for my Apple SE phone.It is a 2500mAH external battery pack that allows my cell phone to slip into.My question surrounds the best operation practice to extend the life of the Apple internal battery. The instructions states that you can have it OFF for a standby battery or have it ON to supplement the Apple internal battery. I have heard that one should NOT have a tablet, laptop, cell phone, etc. “plugged” in and continually used at 100% “charge” state. It allegedly will cause the battery to have a shorter life span. Should I turn ON the external battery all the time? Or should I wait until the Apple internal battery gets low? Is it best to allow the Apple internal battery to discharge to 30%/40% and recharge to 80%/90% so it will NOT count as a FULL CYCLE CHARGE? So, what is your suggestion on how to use the external battery pack and Apple internal battery? Thanks, Doug in Baton Rouge, LA
  • Tech Talk Responds: I leave the battery pack on my phone at all times. Because I am such a big user, both the battery pack and the cell phone discharge each day. Neither is ever in a fully charged state the entire day. It is true that you do not want to keep your battery charged above 80% all the time. That pattern will reduce its lifetime. You want to periodically fully discharge your battery to maintain a longer lifetime. I love my battery pack because it allows me to operate an entire day without a charger when I am travelling.
  • Email from Jeannie in Pittsburgh: Dear Tech Talk. I have a Straight Talk smart phone and I have a question about the amount of data it’s using. I always buy the $45 card and I still often use up my 25GB of data several days before the month is over. I absolutely hate it when they switch my phone to slower speed. Is there really an app that will let me avoid the data cap on my Straight Talk plan? My friend told me there is one but he says he can’t remember the name of it. I searched the Google Play Store high and low but couldn’t find it in Google Play. I think he might be just trying to pull one over on me. Am I right or is there really an app that will do this? Jeannie in Pittsburgh, PA
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are no legitimate apps that will override the data cap on your Straight Talk plan. There are third-party apps that claim to do this, but they don’t really work. What’s more, they typically plant malware on your phone! Those reasons are why they aren’t available in the official Google Play store. So the long answer to your question is your friend probably isn’t “trying to pull one over on you”, but his information is a bit off the mark.
  • There are a few things you can do to minimize your monthly data usage and (hopefully) avoid the dreaded “2G speed penalty”.
    • Some mobile web browsers reduce the quality of images (which also reduces their file sizes) before transmitting them to your phone via your cellular data connection. If your browser supports this option, turn it on.
    • Review your list of installed apps and uninstall every app that you never use or don’t even remember installing in the first place. Note: Some apps that came pre-installed on your phone can’t be uninstalled. You’ll have to disable them instead.
    • Use the fantastic My Data Manager app to analyze your phone’s data usage and figure out which apps you need to manage in order to minimize your monthly data consumption.
    • Disable “Push Notifications” on your social media apps unless you absolutely MUST be notified right away when something happens on there.
    • Connect your phone to an available Wi-Fi connection whenever possible.
  • I recommend that you try all the tips mentioned above instead of searching for a dubious Straight Talk “data cap override” app. I hope this helps. Good luck!
  • Email from Sundeep in NYC: Dear Doc and Jim. I made a stupid mistake and I’m hoping you can help me out of a jam. I’m not a pro photographer or anything, but I do love taking pictures, and I take a lot of them. I use a Canon Powershot camera with two SD cards (I swap them out when the first one becomes full). What happened is I accidentally formatted the wrong card and wiped out a ton of pictures that I really want to keep. Is there a way to get those pictures back? Sundeep in NYC
  • Tech Talk Responds: If all you did was format the card without trying to use it again, you most likely can retrieve most (and possibly all) of your lost photos. A fantastic free program called Recuva will scan your internal or external hard drive, USB thumb drive or the memory card from your camera or smart phone and give you the option to “undelete” any deleted files that it finds. Recuva will scan your memory card and compile an inventory of all the files that have not been over-written with new files since the card was formatted. I have a feeling that most (if not all) of your photos can be recovered since you probably stopped taking photos and storing them on that card after it was formatted. I recommend that you download and install Recuva and give it a try. Link: https://www.oldergeeks.com/downloads/file.php?id=278
  • Email from Arnie in Coloado Springs: Hi Dr Shurtz. When using Ookla Speedtest for internet connection speed, Ookla allows one to change servers. And just because one server is closer than another, it will choose the fastest server. There are more than thirty servers at various locations in Colorado listed. My provider is Comcast/xfinity. Even though Ookla’s goes to the fastest connection, is that the connection my iPad goes to? Or does the connection go the Comcast/xfinity, my ISP? Great show with lots of info. Arnie in Colorado Springs, C
  • Tech Talk Responds: The speed test data passes through your ISP on the way to your iPad. The files are actually downloaded from the server that you selected through Ookla. Every connection you make to the internet must pass through your ISP.

Profiles in IT: Frances Elizabeth Holberton

  • Frances Elizabeth Holberton was one of the six original programmers of the ENIAC computer. Holberton invented breakpoints in computer debugging.
  • Holberton was born Frances Elizabeth Snyder in Philadelphia, PA on March 7, 1917.
  • Holberton studied journalism, because its curriculum let her travel far afield.
  • The Army needed to compute ballistics trajectories and many women were hired.
  • Holberton was hired by the Moore School of Engineering to work as a “computor” and chosen to be one of the six women to program the ENIAC.
  • Classified as “sub professionals”, Holberton, along with five other women, programmed the ENIAC to calculate trajectories for the Ballistic Research Laboratory.
  • Because the ENIAC was classified, the women were only allowed to work with blueprints and wiring diagrams in order to program it.
  • She had many ideas that came to her overnight, leading others to state that she “solved more problems in her sleep than other people did awake.”
  • After WW II, she worked at Remington Rand and the National Bureau of Standards.
  • She helped to develop the UNIVAC, designing control panels that put the numeric keypad next to the keyboard and persuading engineers to replace the Univac’s black exterior with the gray-beige tone that came to be the universal color of computers.
  • She wrote the first generative programming system (SORT/MERGE).
  • Holberton used a deck of playing cards to develop the decision tree for the binary sort function, and wrote the code to read and write data as needed during the process.
  • She wrote the first statistical analysis package, which was used for the 1950 Census.
  • In 1953, she became a supervisor of advanced programming in the Navy’s Applied Math lab in Maryland, where she stayed until 1966.
  • Holberton worked with John Mauchly to develop the C-10 instruction set for BINAC, which is considered the prototype of all modern programming languages.
  • She also participated in the development of early standards for the COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages with Grace Hopper.
  • Later, as an employee of the National Bureau of Standards, she was active in the first two revisions of the Fortran language standard (“FORTRAN 77” and “Fortran 90”).
  • She died on December 8, 2001 in Rockville, Maryland, aged 84, due to heart disease.
  • In 1997, she was the only woman of the original six who programmed the ENIAC to receive the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award.
  • Also in 1997, she received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society for developing the sort-merge generator.
  • In 1997, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.

Bluetooth Security Issues

  • Bluetooth has long been a dirty word for security professionals.
  • One of the most common pieces of advice given to attendees of the annual DEF CON hacker conference in Las Vegas is to make sure Bluetooth is disabled on their phones.
  • At this year’s DEF CON researchers showed off the ability to use Bluetooth to identify vulnerable digital speakers.
  • Once identified, hackers could take control of the devices and force them to play “dangerous” sounds that could lead to hearing loss in anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby.
  • Researchers recently announced a flaw that could allow hackers to both intercept and alter data sent over Bluetooth.
  • “An attacker is able to the listen in on, or change the content of, nearby Bluetooth communication, even between devices that have previously been successfully paired,” explain the researchers.
  • Researchers also demonstrated how AirDrop can be used by malicious actors to determine your full phone number due to the way Bluetooth Low Energy works.
  • Many stores now use Bluetooth beacons to track the location of individual shoppers down to the inch. That information is often sold or given to advertisers, who then use it to build data profiles on unwitting people just trying to buy a carton of milk.
  • By keeping Bluetooth enabled on your phone at all times opens you up to potential hacks, abuse, and privacy violations.
  • The solution is simple: Don’t use it. Or, if you must, make sure to turn it off as soon as you’ve unpaired from the device in question.

Buying a Chromebook? Watch for Expiration Date

  • It is unlikely to be printed on the box, but every Chromebook has an “Auto Update Expiration (AUE) Date” after which the operating system is unsupported by Google.
  • The authoritative document on the subject is here, where Google explains that it “provides each new hardware platform with 6.5 years of Auto Update support”.
  • While 6.5 years sounds reasonable, Google starts the clock ticking “when the first device on the platform is released”.
  • Later models may use the same hardware platform, which means they are not supported for as long. It is nothing to do with the purchase date.
  • After AUE date passes, there will be no more automatic software updates from Google and no technical support from Google.
  • If you happen to buy your Chromebook late in the product’s life cycle, you may be surprised how soon the AUE date arrives.
  • You can continue to use your Chromebook after the AUE but the OS will be frozen in time and Google’s warnings above will apply.
  • Link to Expiration Dates: https://support.google.com/chrome/a/answer/6220366

Earth’s Inner Core is Spinning Faster that the Earth

  • On September 27, 1971, a nuclear bomb exploded on Russia’s Novaya Zemlya islands. The powerful blast sent waves rippling so deep inside Earth they ricocheted off the inner core, pinging an array of hundreds of mechanical sensors some 4,000 miles away in the Montana wilderness. Three years later, that array picked up a signal when a second bomb exploded at nearly the same spot.
  • This pair of nuclear explosions was part of hundreds of tests detonated during the Cold War.
  • The seismic record have helped scientists calculate one of the most precise estimates yet of how fast the planet’s inner core is spinning.
  • Earth spins on its axis once about every 24 hours. But the inner core is a roughly moon-size ball of iron floating within an ocean of molten metal, which means it is free to turn independently from our planet’s large-scale spin, a phenomenon known as super-rotation.
  • Using the signals from those decades-old nuclear explosions, John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Southern California, now has the latest estimate for this rate.
  • In a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, he reports that the inner core likely inches along just faster than Earth’s surface.
  • If his rate’s right, it means that if you stood on a spot at the Equator for one year, the part of the inner core that was previously beneath you would wind up under a spot 4.8 miles away.
  • Better understanding the history and current dynamics of the iron blob within our planet could yield more clues to the processes charging and stabilizing our magnetic field.

Thermal Nuclear Propulsion Looks Promising

  • America, China, and Russia are all working to develop rockets powered by thermal nuclear propulsion.
  • NASA chief Jim Bridenstine says it could be a “game-changer” for the space agency.
  • Bridenstine gave a presentation on the importance of developing nuclear propulsion tech during a meeting of the National Space Council.
  • If NASA cracks the tech, Bridenstine told the crowd it could revolutionize space travel by powering high-speed Mars-bound rockets, outposts and settlements in outer space — and give a high-powered upgrade to satellites orbiting the Earth.
  • As part of its annual budget, Congress granted NASA $125 million for nuclear propulsion research in May.
  • Specifically, he was interested in how a faster trip to and from Mars would mean exposing astronauts to less cosmic radiation.

How to Stop Voice Assistants Like Alexa From Always Listening

  • Smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are always listening. And sometimes the humans behind the machines are listening, too.
  • How can we reduce this threat?
  • But we pay a huge price in privacy loss just for a bit of convenience and daily
    • Alexa: You will want to opt out of human vetting through Alexa Privacy tab in your smartphone app’s settings, where you can also delete your voice history. There’s also a “kill switch” physical button on Alexa devices that’ll stop recording, and you can turn off Alexa device cameras through a voice command.
    • Siri: You can disable Apple’s assistant, which will delete any data associated with your account. In your settings, you’ll also want to toggle off Press Side Button for Siri to prevent your Apple Watch from accidentally being activated when you press the crown of the timepiece.
    • Google Assistant: Disable human reviews of your voice commands (and set up a system to automatically do this going forward) via this link (https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols?pli=1)

AI vs. Machine Learning vs. Deep Learning

  • Talking about AI is increasingly complex because it is often used alongside (or even interchangeably with) the terms machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL).
  • Why do people use these terms relatively interchangeably, and what are the distinctions?
  • In a nutshell: DL is a subset of ML, which is itself a subset of AI.
  • Before the start of machine learning in the 80s, business decision rules were mostly hand-coded sets of instructions based on the knowledge of business experts.
  • With machine learning, those rules are inferred from the previously collected data.
  • Basically, the business expert needs to determine which factors may impact the results you want to predict, and the algorithm automatically selects the optimal way to combine these factors.
  • In other words, you ”train” a model. The key question is: based on my data, what is the best rule I can create to solve my business problem?
  • A DL algorithm is able to learn hidden patterns from the data by itself, combine them together, and build much more efficient decision rules. That’s why it can deal with problems that a human brain could not understand – all the value of deep learning is this automatic pattern identification capability. This means handling more complex problems, such as understanding concepts in images, videos, texts, sounds, time series, and all other unstructured data you think of.
  • You still need properly labeled data, an evaluation of the model results, and of course an evaluation of the business value it will bring!
  • Of course handling more complex data means more complex algorithms. And to extract general enough complex patterns from complex data, you will need lots of data — typically millions of labeled images for a classification task.
  • Since the feature engineering is automatically done by the machine, the interpretation is not obvious for a human and DL “black-box” decision rules can be rejected by business analysts.

IBM joins Linux Foundation to Promote Open Source Trusted AI

  • Machine learning, task automation and robotics are already widely used in business
  • These and other AI technologies are about to multiply, and we look at how organizations can best take advantage of them.
  • AI is advancing rapidly within the enterprise by Gartner’s count, more than half of organizations already have at least one AI deployment in operation, and they’re planning to substantially accelerate their AI adoption within the next few years.
  • At the same time, the organizations building and deploying these tools have yet to really grapple with the flaws and shortcomings of AI– whether the models deployed are fair, ethical, secure or even explainable.
  • Before the world is overrun with flawed AI systems, IBM is aiming to accelerate the development of open source trusted AI workflows.
  • As part of that effort, the company is joining the Linux Foundation AI (LF AI) as a General Member.
  • As a Linux Foundation project, the LF AI Foundation provides a vendor-neutral space for the promotion of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) open source projects.
  • It’s backed by major organizations like AT&T, Baidu, Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei.
  • The goal is to build tools that improve the credibility of AI — and “to do it together, in a way that everybody can inspect and contribute to.”