Show of 01-04-2020

Tech Talk

January 4, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Susan in Alexandria: Good morning Dr. Shurtz. How about Tony Brooker, a contemporary and colleague of Alan Turing? Perhaps foremost among his many contributions to computer science, he developed Autocode, the first commercially available high-level programming language. Autocode would allow “anyone” to program the computer – not just the engineers who understood the right-to-left binary coding required to program the machine. Happy New Year to you, Jim, Andrew, Kevin and Mr. Big Voice! Susan in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the suggestion. I will use in a later show. Thanks for listening.
  • Email from June in Burke: Dear Doc and Jim. My iPhone has died on me. The battery needs to be replaced. I need to get my text messages at work. Is there a way to get iMessages on my Windows 10 computer? This is critical. Help. June in Burke
  • Tech Talk Responds: Apple does not want to share their iMessage app with other companies. So your options are slim. I tried an iOS emulator, iPadium, because some said it could execute iMessage. They were wrong. I did not even offer the chance to install the app. In the end, your only options is to install a virtual machine on your Windows computer and then install the MacOS within that virtual machine. You can create a virtual machine using either Oracle VirtualBox Manager (VirtualBox) or VMware Workstation Player (VMware Player). You also need a copy of macOS, too. Once you have the MacOS installed, you simply have to log into your iCloud account and phone number to get iMessages.
  • Email from Scotty in Ft. Lauderdale: Dear Doc and Jim. I have an iPhone 11, but have never installed antivirus software. Is it required? Or am I OK as is. Scotty in Ft. Lauderdale. FL
  • Tech Talk Responds: The short answer is no, you don’t need to install an antivirus app on your iPhone. It’s because iOS (your iPhone’s operating system) forces the apps running on the device to run in a way that isolates them from the operating system itself. That makes it extremely difficult for a malicious app to take control of your phone. The risk of an iPhone catching a virus is so small that it makes little sense to run an antivirus app on one. However, if you ever decide to “jailbreak” your iPhone, iPad or other iOS-based Apple device the built-in protections that lock down your device and protect it from viruses will be rendered ineffective.
  • Email from Drew in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. I love to surf the web with the Chrome Browser. Sometimes I will close a tab by mistake and can’t get the web page back again. It is a way to undo closing the browser tab. It would make life so much easier. Love the show. Drew in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can reopen a browser tag. All you have to do is press the Ctrl+Shift+T key combination to reopen the last tab that was closed. Press Ctrl+Shift+T again and it’ll reopen the tab that was closed before that one. By the way, this method of restoring closed tabs works in all the major web browsers, not just Chrome.
  • There are a few more shortcuts that work with all the most popular browsers:
    • Ctrl+Shift+Del – Quickly delete the cookies that have been stored by the browser.
    • Ctr+ (The Ctrl key and the + key) – Zoom the page in and make text larger.
    • Ctr- (The Ctrl key and the – key) – Zoom the page out and make text smaller.
    • Ctrl+F5 – Force the browser to fetch a fresh copy of the current web page.
  • Virginia in Fairfax, VA: Dear Tech Talk. I forgot my Wi-Fi password. My Windows 10 computer logs on the network automatically, but now I have second computer and need to connect it to the router. Is there a way to discover the password stored in my first computer. Enjoy the show. Virginia in Fairfax, VA
  • It’s very easy to forget your Wi-Fi password if your devices store it and log you into the network automatically. Luckily, that’s very easy to do as long as your Windows Windows 10 PC is currently logged into the network. Here’s how:
    • Press the Windows+S key combination to open a “Search” box.
    • Type the word control into the search box and select Control Panel from the drop-down menu.
    • Click Network and Internet.
    • Click Network and Sharing Center.
    • In the “View your active networks” section, click on the name of the active wireless network connection over in the right-hand pane. A box labeled “Wi-Fi Status” should pop up.
    • Click Wireless Properties.
    • Select the Security tab.
    • Click the box labeled “Show characters” and the password for your wireless network will appear in the “Network security key” field.
  • That’s all there is to it. Now that you’ve retrieved your Wi-Fi password, either memorize it or write it down and store it in a lock box or some other secure place so you’ll have it on hand the next time you need it (and you almost certainly will need it again in the future).
  • Email from Alice in Alexandria: Dear Doc and Jim. Help! My taskbar’s on the right side of my screen. How do I move the taskbar back to the bottom where it belongs? I can hardly use mu computer. Alice in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: A lot of people don’t realize it, but the taskbar can be placed on any edge of your screen: left, right, top or bottom. In fact, if you have multiple monitors, it can be placed on any edge of any display. Occasionally, usually through an accidental mouse action, the taskbar can get moved to somewhere other than where we want it. It is easy to move back to the bottom.
    • Right click on an unused area of the taskbar.
    • Make sure that “Lock the taskbar” is UNchecked.
    • Left click and hold in that unused area of the taskbar.
    • Drag the taskbar to the side of the screen you want it.
    • Release the mouse.
    • Right click in an unused area of the taskbar, and make sure that “Lock the taskbar” is checked.
  • Email from Erich in Springfield: Dear Tech Talk. I have a number of ring devices in my house (doorbell and cameras). I am worried because I have heard that many of these devices have been hacked and people can view the cameras remotely. What can I do to protect my family’s privacy? Erich in Springfield
  • Tech Talk Responds: Ring’s central servers were not hacked. Most accounts were hacked because users used the same password everywhere and hackers got simply used it on their Ring account. In other words, poor password management was the culprit.
  • Whether you changed your Ring account’s password or not, you should enable two-factor authentication. The extra security is enough to stop most bad actors from getting into your account. The only pre-requisite to enabling two-factor authentication is having a phone number associated with your Ring account. One should already be there, but the setup process goes over adding a phone number if it isn’t already in place. Two-factor authentication settings can be found in the “Extra Security” section.
    • Click the “Turn On” link to enable the feature.
    • Authenticate that you’re the owner of the account by re-entering your email address and password. Click the “Continue” button to proceed.
    • Enter the phone number that you want to use for two-factor authentication using SMS.
    • Once you have double-checked that you entered the correct number, click the blue “Continue” button at the bottom of the page.
    • After a couple of seconds, you should receive a text message from Ring. Enter the six-digit verification code into your web browser and then click the “Verify” button.

Profiles in IT: Alessandro Volta

  • Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist, who best known as the inventor of the electric battery and the discoverer of methane.
  • Volta was born in Como, Italy, on 18 February 1745. In 1794,
  • In 1774, he became a professor of physics at the Royal School in Como.
  • A year later, he improved the electrophorus, a device that produced static electricity.
  • In the years between 1776 and 1778, Volta studied the chemistry of gases. He methane after reading a paper by Benjamin Franklin on flammable air.
  • In November 1776, he found methane at Lake Maggiore, and by 1778 he managed to isolate methane. He ignited of methane by an electric spark in a closed vessel.
  • Volta also studied what we now call electrical capacitance, developing means to study both voltage and charge. This is called Volta’s Law of Capacitance.
  • In 1779 he became a professor of experimental physics at the University of Pavia.
  • In 1780, Luigi Galvani had shown that the legs of frogs hanging on iron or brass hooks would twitch when touched with a probe of some other type of metal.
  • He thought this response was caused by ‘animal electricity’ from within the frog.
  • Volta, while initially impressed with Galvani’s findings, came to believe that the electric current came from the two different types of metal.
  • He experimented with stacks of layers of silver and zinc interspersed with layers of cloth or paper soaked in saltwater, and found that an electric current did in fact flow through a wire applied to both ends of the pile.
  • At the anode, the electrode reacts with the electrolyte in a reaction that produces electrons. These electrons accumulate at the anode.At the cathode, another chemical reaction occurs simultaneously that enables that electrode to accept electrons.
  • Each of these reactions has a particular standard potential. The difference in this standard potential is the voltage produced by the battery.
  • The salty water was the electrolyte. An electrolyte can be a liquid, gel or a solid substance that allows the movement of charged ions.
  • He described his findings to the Royal Society of London in 1800.
  • Napoleon was fairly impressed! The volt was named after him.
  • Actually batteries date back to 150 BC in Mesopotamia. The Parthian culture used a device known as the Baghdad battery, made of copper and iron electrodes with vinegar or citric acid. They were used primarily for religious ceremonies.
  • In 1809 Volta became associated member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands.In honor of his work, Volta was made a count by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810.
  • Volta retired in 1819 to his estate in Camnago in Como, Italy, now named “Camnago Volta” in his honor.
  • He died there on 5 March 1827, just after his 82nd birthday. Volta’s remains were buried in Camnago Volta.

IRS Reforms Free File Program

  • The IRS announced significant changes Monday to its deal with the tax prep software industry. Now companies are barred from hiding their free products from search engines such as Google, and a years-old prohibition on the IRS creating its own online filing system has been scrapped.
  • The addendum to the deal, known as Free File, comes after ProPublica’s reporting this year on how the industry, led by TurboTax maker Intuit, has long misled taxpayers who are eligible to file for free into paying.
  • Under the nearly two-decade-old Free File deal, the industry agreed to make free versions of tax filing software available to lower- and middle-income Americans.
  • In exchange, the IRS promised not to compete with the industry by creating its own online filing system. Many developed countries have such systems, allowing most citizens to file their taxes for free.
  • The prohibition on the IRS creating its own system was the focus of years of lobbying by Intuit. The industry has seen such a system as an existential threat. Now, with the changes to the deal, the prohibition has been dropped.
  • The addendum also expressly bars the companies from “engaging in any practice” that would exclude their Free File offerings “from an organic internet search.”
  • Under the new rules, participating companies also have to standardize the naming convention of their Free File version as “IRS Free File program delivered by [product name].”

Idea of the Week: Project Connected Home Over IP

  • Project Connected Home over IP is a new industry group announced by Apple, Google, Amazon, and the ZigBee Alliance.
  • The group will create a new unifying standard for smart home devices. This is big.
  • Smart home products now come in many flavors and they are not compatible.
  • Should you get a Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or ZigBee bulb? What about Bluetooth bulbs? Is a hub required to control them? Do you want voice control? If so, would you prefer Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri? And what about Thread, OpenWeave, and other competing standards?
  • The Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) working group wants to solve this problem by relying on an existing and tested standard: Internet Protocol (IP). CHIP’s goal isn’t to replace Wi-Fi or ZigBee or Thread, but bring the best of those protocols together under one shared umbrella.
  • IP has been around for ages, and manufacturers understand its benefits and security needs. That’s why CHIP wants to rely on IP for its unifying standard.
  • Manufacturers will need fewer resources to create smart home products and to maintain them.

Why Does the Military Track Santa Each Christmas

  • NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) is a joint operation between the U.S. and Canadian governments designed to monitor and protect the sovereign airspace of the two nations.
  • The precursor of NORAD was CONAD (the Continental Air Defense Command)—both located near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • In December of 1955, a local Sears store ran an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper with a telephone hotline that purported to be a direct line to Santa Claus.
  • The only problem was a huge typo in the Sears ad caused the phone calls to be routed to the CONAD switchboard instead of the Sears store staff.
  • Colonel Harry Shoup, the commanding officer at the time, instructed his staff to answer the calls from hopeful children, then on Christmas Eve, he called the local radio station to say, “This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.”
  • For the rest of the evening, radio stations called every hour for updates on Santa’s current location as he completed his wild around-the-world toy delivery run.
  • When CONAD converted to NORAD, the tradition was passed on. Every year since then, NORAD has faithfully answered phone calls and emails from all over the world updating curious children on the location and status of Santa Claus.
  • What started off as a handful of soldiers answering the calls of Colorado Springs children has grown to include a large crew of volunteers that handle roughly 12,000 emails and 100,000 phone calls from children the world over each year.

AI Is Getting Better Than Humans at Catching Cancer

  • Google Health has published new research showing that AI can diagnose breast cancers better than radiologists can.
  • This is similar to recent research that AI can study EKG results and predict death.
  • The algorithm reduced diagnostic errors, and Google suggests this could reduce the need for diagnostic staff.
  • Google used a database of mammogram images called OPTIMAM, which they licensed from Northwestern University. They stress that their specific algorithm has been tailored to this particular dataset in a way that is not generalizable without some extra work.
  • Mammogram images are taken by technicians and then reviewed and interpreted by radiologists, the same as X-rays or ultrasound imagery. Google Health found that their trained algorithm identified cancer overall at similar rates to the human radiologist.
  • Using US data, they showed an absolute reduction of 5.7% in false positives and 9.4% in false negatives.
  • That means the algorithm did a better job of both finding more cancers and correctly identifying cancers.
  • Hopefully, a medical system infused with human critical thinking and AI-powered analysis can better battle one of the most deadliest forms of cancer in human history.

U.S. Officials Brace for Cyber-Attack Retaliation from Iran

  • Iranian officials are likely considering a cyber-attack against the U.S. in the wake of an airstrike that killed one of its top military officials.
  • As recently as June, after the U.S. sent additional troops to the Middle East and announced further sanctions on Iran, cyber-attacks targeting U.S. industries and government agencies increased, the Department of Homeland Security said at the time.
  • The airstrike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, a major general in the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard, who led proxy militias that extended the country’s power across the Middle East.
  • Iranian cyber-attacks have included U.S. universities and companies, operators of industrial control systems and banks. Iranian hackers tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign, and they have launched attacks against current and former U.S. government officials and journalists.
  • The U.S., meanwhile, has employed cyberweapons to attack Iran’s nuclear capabilities and computer systems used to plot attacks against oil tankers.
  • Cyber-attacks may be tempting if they can find the right American target. The Iranians are capable and our defenses are uneven, so they could successfully attack poorly defended targets in the U.S. There are thousands, but they would want something dramatic.”
  • The geopolitical tension between the U.S. and Iran has ratcheted up since the U.S. withdrawal in 2018 from a nuclear deal struck under President Barack Obama. But the nations have a years-long history of cyber confrontation.
  • Roughly a decade ago, the U.S. and Israel reportedly used a computer worm called Stuxnet to ruin about 1,000 centrifuges at an Iranian nuclear facility. Then, starting in 2011, Iran-backed hackers launched disruptive attacks against dozens of mostly financial targets in the U.S. — costing them tens of millions of dollars.

Computer Glitches Caused by Cosmic Rays

  • The Los Alamos National Lab wrote in 2012 that “For over 20 years the military, the commercial aerospace industry, and the computer industry have known that high-energy neutrons streaming through our atmosphere can cause computer errors.”
  • As the feature size on computer gets smaller, the susceptibility to cosmic ray bit flips is increased significantly.
  • When your computer crashes or phone freezes, don’t be so quick to blame the manufacturer.
  • Cosmic rays — or rather the electrically charged particles they generate — may be your real foe.
  • While harmless to living organisms, a small number of these particles have enough energy to interfere with the operation of the microelectronic circuitry in our personal devices… particles alter an individual bit of data stored in a chip’s memory.
  • Consequences can be as trivial as altering a single pixel in a photograph or as serious as bringing down a passenger jet.
  • A “single-event upset” was also blamed for an electronic voting error in Schaerbeekm, Belgium, back in 2003. A bit flip in the electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate.
  • The issue was noticed only because the machine gave the candidate more votes than were possible.
  • On October 7, 2008, an Airbus A330-303 operated by Qantas Airways was en route from Perth to Singapore.
  • At 37,000 feet, one of the plane’s three air data inertial reference units had a failure, causing incorrect data to be sent to the plane’s flight control systems.
  • This caused the plane to suddenly and severely pitch down, throwing unrestrained occupants to the plane’s ceiling.
  • All potential causes were found to be “unlikely,” or “very unlikely,” except for a cosmic ray bit flip.
  • Cisco has been researching cosmic radiation since 2001, and in September briefly cited cosmic rays as a possible explanation for partial data losses that customer’s were experiencing with their ASR 9000 routers.

Hackable Wireless Voting Machines

  • After Russian hackers made extensive efforts to infiltrate the American voting apparatus in 2016, some states moved to restrict internet access to their vote-counting systems.
  • Colorado got rid of barcodes used to electronically read ballots. California tightened its rules for electronic voting machines that can go online. Ohio bought new voting machines that deliberately excluded wireless capabilities.
  • Michigan went in a different direction, authorizing as much as $82 million for machines that rely on wireless modems to connect to the internet.
  • State officials justified the move by saying it is the best way to satisfy an impatient public that craves instantaneous results, even if they’re unofficial.
  • The problem is, connecting election machines to the public internet, especially wirelessly, leaves the whole system vulnerable.
  • Michigan’s new secretary of state is considering using some of the state’s $10 million in federal election funds to rip out those modems before the March presidential primary.
  • Michigan says its votes are safe from hackers since its election system only connects to the internet only after votes have been counted.
  • Cybersecurity experts differ. Even brief exposure to the internet can leave states vulnerable to infiltration and an attack on the credibility of their results.
  • And yet, some local and state election officials remain committed to wireless-enabled machines, which allow them to quickly provide results to the public and more easily accommodate disabled voters.
  • Heading into the 2020 presidential election, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida are among at least 11 states that still allow voting jurisdictions to use wireless-enabled voting equipment.
  • In 2016, Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate most, if not all, state election systems, and downloaded voter data in Illinois.
  • However, there is no evidence that the hackers attempted to change the vote.
  • Remote election machinery hacks, however, are almost certainly the easiest to prevent — by simply not allowing the equipment to connect to the public internet.