Show of 02-22-2020

Tech Talk

February 22, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Tom Shum: Dear Tech Talk. Once when I was much younger there was a contest on the radio and I called in just to win. But I didn’t really want the prize so I asked them to please give it to somebody else.  They didn’t like that.  So, when you announce that you haven’t got an answer yet to the prize question, I’m tempted to call in but since I never claimed the prize I got last summer I don’t call in.  One prize is enough for me. Know that you actually have at least one radio listener in the Washington DC area.  I wouldn’t miss a single one of your shows.  This should make you feel a whole lot better. Tom went on to talk about cat whisker radios using Galena. Tom Shum, a loyal listener
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the feedback and keep on listening. That reminds I used to collect Galena out in Galena, Kansas, known as the oldest mining town in Kansas.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc and Jim, and the highlight of every show, Mr. Big Voice. I LOVED the show on February 15th, 2020. Doc did a great job of talking about Cecil Green. I have no idea what the proper way to say Cecil Green’s first name is. What I can tell you is that Cecil would pronounce it “See-sill”, as would his wife IDA and all his friends and colleagues, at least in the US. I never met Cecil’s British friends.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The proper pronunciation of Cecil’s name is great to know. Love your emails.
  • Email from Don in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. Is it possible to save money by building my own laptop? I would like an interesting project and would also like to save some money. Don in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: It is not possible to save money by building a laptop instead of buying one at retail. Unlike desktop computers, laptops are constructed from proprietary parts that are not standard from manufacturer to manufacturer. This means it would be extremely difficult to buy a laptop case and populate it with a good used motherboard, video card, RAM and hard drive like you could if you were building a desktop PC.
  • There are companies that sell barebone laptop kits that you can use to build a working laptop by purchasing the “extras” you need and installing them yourself. Barebone kits sometimes include everything except for the CPU, RAM and hard drive or SSD. By the time you finished purchasing the barebone kit and the extra parts needed to turn it into a working laptop, you wouldn’t save any money. And then you would have to purchase your Windows license.
  • My son did build a few desktop computers, quite successfully. He learned a lot of specification and design. He most difficult part of the task was using thermal paste to bond the CPU to the heatsink. He failed once and had to replace the CPU. After his first failure, he could successfully complete this task. He did save a little money but not much. But he had so much fun, that I would recommend it. He reported on his progress at Tech Talk at the time.
  • Email from Herb in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I have heard that hackers are using rogue apps and other forms of malware to spy on folks via their Windows computers’ webcams. Some are even spying on us via our machines’ microphones as well. Is there anything I can do to stop reduce this risk. Herb in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Recognizing the threat, Microsoft has added a new setting to recent builds of Window 10 to prevent rogue apps (and Windows itself) from stealthily eavesdropping on you by listening in on your conversations. If you’re concerned about your private conversations potentially being leaked to the world, you can now prevent Windows and any apps that are installed on your PC from accessing the microphone at all. Just follow the steps below:
    • Click the Start button.
    • Click the Settings icon (it looks like a “gear” or “cog”).
    • Under “Privacy”, click Microphone.
    • Click the Change button that’s located under “Microphone access to this device is on”, then toggle the setting to Off.
  • From now on Windows won’t be allowed to access your PC’s microphone, and neither will any malware or apps. You can do the same thing for the Webcam.
  • Email from John in Manassas: Dear Doc and Jim. 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. 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? Help. John in Manassas.
  • 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. We have covered this problem before on Tech Talk. There is a great file recovery utility called Recuva. Recuva will scan your memory card and compile an inventory of all the files that haven’t been over-written with new files since the card was formatted. 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 have given you a link to Recuva that is guaranteed not to include any malware. That is a problem with many free download sites. OlderGeeks.com is a great download resource. Support them if you wish.
  • Recuva download link: https://www.oldergeeks.com/downloads/file.php?id=278
  • Email from Sharon in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. Why I can’t get Facebook or Pinterest to load while I’m at work. I use the same laptop at home and everything works fine there. But when I’m at work I can’t get either Facebook or Pinterest to work in any web browser. Everything else loads just fine but when I try to load either of those websites I get an error saying the page failed to load and it might be offline. I know they’re online though because I can sneak to the bathroom and load them on my phone. This started happening over a week ago and it’s still doing it now. Can you help me fix it? Sharon in Richmond
  • Tech Talk Responds: The fact that Facebook and Pinterest load just fine when you’re at home means this isn’t an issue with your laptop. I have a strong suspicion that your company’s IT department has made the decision to start blocking social media websites from being accessed via their network. Many companies are doing that nowadays. You didn’t mention Twitter or Instagram but I have a feeling those sites won’t load in your browser either. I recommend that you try loading Twitter and Instagram and see what happens. If they won’t load either that’ll be a pretty strong indication that your company is indeed now blocking access to social media sites. I DO NOT recommend asking your company’s IT department about this. If you do that would sort of be admitting that you check social media sites while on the job.
  • Email from Mary Ann in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I travel internationally and have many contacts from around the world on WhatsApp. One person keeps sending annoying text messages. I have ignored them, but now would like to block them. How can I do that with WhatsApp? Love the show when I have time to listen. Mary Ann in Fairfax, Virginia.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can easily block messages in WhatsApp by blocking the number. Open the WhatsApp app on your phone. If you have a chat open, navigate back to the main Chats screen. Select the Settings icon at the bottom right of the screen, then Account, then Privacy, then Blocked. Tap Add New and choose the contact you wish to block. You can also click on the name of the person sending the text chat window, scroll down to the bottom, and click on Block Contact. The second method works if the person is not on your contacts list.
  • Email from Phillip in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk, my outlook.com is putting legitimate emails into its junk mail folder. It seems very random, but some of my closest friends’ emails are going into the junk folder as well as other legitimate contacts. Can I just not use outlook.com, do I need it? How I stop the filtering of legitimate emails in to the outlook.com junk folder? Enjoy the podcast. Phillip in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to train the junk mail filter. It does mean you need to periodically log in to Outlook.com on the web and see what you find in the junk mail folder there. Then, for each non-spam email message you find there, right click on it and mark it as not junk. That will then also help “train” Outlook.com’s spam filter to learn that, for your account, email that looks like this should not be placed junk mail.
  • You can also set up Safe senders. Click on the gear icon again, click on Options and in the resulting page click on Safe and blocked senders. Allowing known safe senders can be one way to bypass the junk mail filter for senders you know about beforehand.

Profiles in IT: Lawrence Gordon Tesler

  • Lawrence Gordon Tesler was a computer scientist who worked in the field of human–computer interaction, best known as creator of cut and paste.
  • Tesler was born on April 24, 1945 in the Bronx in New York City.
  • Tesler graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1961.
  • At Columbia University where he was able to spend a half-hour each week on their computer systems, through which he taught himself programming before college.
  • He went on to Stanford University in 1961 when he was 16, studying computer science and graduating in 1965 with a degree in mathematics.
  • Tesler also worked at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) in the late 1960s. he co-designed Compel, a functional programming language.
  • Tesler created Pub, recognized as one of the first uses of markup language; as means to easily produce printable manuals from simple text files
  • Tesler accepted a position with PARC work with Alan Kay, creator of the mouse.
  • Some of Tesler’s main projects at PARC were the Gypsy word processor and Smalltalk, the first dynamic object-oriented programming language.
  • While working on Gypsy, Tesler and his colleague Tim Mott started writing ideas down envisioning the future of interactive computer use.
  • The two developed the basic copy and paste function, now a standard feature.
  • Tesler also established the idea that computer interfaces should be modeless, where all actions are available to a user at all times, rather than modal.
  • Tesler also was part of a team that worked on the Xerox NoteTaker, a portable computer system Alan Kay had envisioned.
  • Tesler is considered the origin of the phrase “user-friendly” as a measure of usability.
  • Tesler is tied to the origins of the phrase what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG).
  • Tesler had been present during both of Steve Jobs’ fateful visits to PARC in late 1979.
  • Tesler demonstrated to Jobs the Xerox Alto, including its computer mouse-driver GUI features, Gypsy, and Smalltalk.
  • Tesler started at Apple in July 1980 supporting development of the Apple Lisa.
  • He developed object-oriented language extensions to the Pascal for the Lisa GUI.
  • Starting in 1990, Tesler was named VP of Apple’s Newton Group. In 1993, he was promoted to Apple’s Chief Scientist, after becoming frustrated with Newton.
  • Tesler decided to leave Apple in 1997, as it struggled financially
  • Tesler co-founded Stagecast Software in Palo Alto in 1997, where his team created a programming environment for educational use. He shut company down in 2000 and joined Amazon in 2001.
  • Initially he had been hired as VP of shopping experience, where he helped to improve the Amazon website interface, including developing its book preview program.
  • Tesler moved back to Silicon Valley in 2005 to join Yahoo! as VP User Experience.
  • Tesler equipped his automobile with a California license plate reading “NO MODES”.
  • His personal website was located at “nomodes.com” and on Twitter had used @nomodes.
  • Tesler died in Portola Valley, California on February 16, 2020, at the age of 74.

February 29 is Leap Day. What does it Mean?

  • You may have noticed that there’s an extra day on your calendar this year.
  • That’s not a typo; it’s leap day!
  • Leap day is another name for Feb. 29, a date that typically comes around every four years, during a leap year.
  • Why doesn’t Feb. 29 appear on the calendar every year?
  • The length of a year is based on how long it takes a planet to revolve around the Sun.
  • Earth takes about 365.2422 days to make one revolution around the Sun.
  • That’s about six hours longer than the 365 days that we typically include in a calendar year. As a result, every four years we have about 24 extra hours that we add to the calendar at the end of February in the form of leap day.
  • Without leap day, the dates of annual events, such as equinoxes and solstices, would slowly shift to later in the year, changing the dates of each season.
  • After only a century without leap day, summer wouldn’t start until mid-July!
  • But the peculiar adjustments don’t end there. If Earth revolved around the Sun in exactly 365 days and six hours, this system of adding a leap day every four years would need no exceptions.
  • However, Earth takes a little less time than that to orbit the Sun. Rounding up and inserting a 24-hour leap day every four years adds about 45 extra minutes to every four-year leap cycle. That adds up to about three days every 400 years.
  • To correct for that, years that are divisible by 100 don’t have leap days unless they’re also divisible by 400. If you do the math, you’ll see that the year 2000 was a leap year, but 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be.

Idea of the Week: Live Skin Face Scans

  • Fooling a face-scanning phone camera may be a lot more challenging in 2021. Live-skin-sensing technology is coming to phones, promising a way to 3D scan your face, and also check to see if your face is made of actual living flesh.
  • Trinamix, a subsidiary of German chemical company BASF SE, promises it could work with a variety of affordable components.
  • Detecting living skin is a practical idea if you think of it as an extra form of verification before completing a facial ID scan.
  • Face ID-type sensors found in phones like the iPhone 11 and Google Pixel 4 use a 3D map of infrared dots for security, and in some cases a 2D photo as well.
  • Trinamix will also check backscatter on the reflected infrared and be able to identify whether the face is living skin.
  • The way Trinamix recognizes materials through its camera array has to do with identifying the backscatter of infrared or lasers that are bounced off a 3D scan.
  • Currently, the technology will work with Qualcomm-powered Android phones. The company isn’t working with Apple at the moment.

Physics Discovery of the Week: Hydrogen-Boron Fusion

  • HB11 Energy, a spin-out company originating at the University of New South Wales, claims its hydrogen-boron fusion technology is already working a billion times better than expected.
  • The results of decades of research by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, HB11’s approach to fusion does away with rare, radioactive and difficult fuels like tritium.
  • Instead, it uses plentiful hydrogen and boron B-11, employing the precise application of some very special lasers to start the fusion reaction.
  • It uses “a largely empty metal sphere, where a modestly sized HB11 fuel pellet is held in the center, with apertures on different sides for the two lasers.
  • One laser establishes the magnetic containment field for the plasma and the second laser triggers the ‘avalanche’ fusion chain reaction.
  • The alpha particles generated by the reaction would create an electrical flow that can be channeled almost directly into an existing power grid with no need for a heat exchanger or steam turbine generator.
  • A lot of fusion experiments are using the lasers to heat things up to very high temperatures to generate the collisions. They are not.
  • They are using the laser to accelerate the hydrogen through the boron sample. They are using the hydrogen as a dart and hoping to hit a boron. If they hit a boron atom, they can start a fusion reaction.
  • The hydrogen/boron fusion creates a couple of helium atoms. They are naked heliums, they don’t have electrons, so they have a positive charge. They just have to collect that charge and generate current.
  • HB11 says its generators would be compact, clean and safe enough to build in urban environments.
  • There’s no nuclear waste, no superheated steam, and no chance of a meltdown.
  • This may be a substitute for carbon as our energy source.

DISA Confirms Data Breach

  • The Department of Defense agency responsible for securing the communications of President Trump has suffered a data breach.
  • The U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) describes itself as a combat support agency of the Department of Defense (DoD) and is tasked with the responsibility for supporting secure White House communications, including those of President Trump.
  • As well as overseeing Trump’s secure calls technology, DISA also establishes and supports communications networks in combat zones and takes care of military cyber-security issues.
  • It has also confirmed a data breach of its network, which exposed data affecting as many as 200,000 users.
  • Disclosure letters dated February 11 have been sent out to those whose personal data may have been compromised. Although it is not clear which specific servers have been breached, nor the nature of the users to whom the letters have been sent, that an agency with a vision to “connect and protect the war-fighter in cyberspace” should suffer such an incident is concerning, to say the least.
  • Signed by Roger S. Greenwell, the chief information officer at DISA, the letter revealed the breach took place between May and July last year, and information including social security numbers may have been compromised as a result.
  • The letter does, however, confirm that DISA will be offering free credit monitoring services to those who want it.

Breakthrough of the Week: Antibiotic Discovered Using Machine Learning

  • A powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world has been discovered using artificial intelligence.
  • To find new antibiotics, the researchers first trained a “deep learning” algorithm to identify the sorts of molecules that kill bacteria.
  • To do this, they fed the program information on the atomic and molecular features of nearly 2,500 drugs and natural compounds, and how well or not the substance blocked the growth of the bug E coli.
  • Once the algorithm had learned what molecular features made for good antibiotics, the scientists set it working on a library of more than 6,000 compounds under investigation for treating various human diseases.
  • Rather than looking for any potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that looked effective but unlike existing antibiotics.
  • It took a matter of hours for the algorithm to assess the compounds and come up with some promising antibiotics.
  • One drug, which the researchers named “halicin” after Hal, the astronaut-bothering AI in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, looked particularly potent.
  • Halicin, a compound that was originally developed to treat diabetes, but which never reached clinical trials.
  • Tests on bacteria collected from patients showed that halicin killed Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bug that causes TB, and strains of Enterobacteriaceae that are resistant to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics that are considered the last resort.
  • Halicin also cleared C difficile and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infections in mice.
  • Three days after being set loose on a database of about 1.5 billion compounds, the algorithm returned a shortlist of 23 potential antibiotics, of which two appear to be particularly potent.
  • The company now wants to use the algorithm to find antibiotics that are more selective in the bacteria they kill. This would mean that taking the antibiotic kills only the bugs causing an infection, and not all the healthy bacteria that live in the gut.
  • More ambitiously, the scientists aim to use the algorithm to design potent new antibiotics from scratch.