Show of 02-29-2020

Tech Talk

February 29, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Susan in Alexandria: Good Morning, Dr. Shurtz. EPIC Systems, an electronic Health Records System used by the majority of top-ranked hospitals and medical schools. Epic Systems was founded in 1979 by Judith R. Faulkner. Faulkner may be an interesting subject for “Profiles in IT.” Thank you for Techtalk! Susan in Alexandria, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for listening. Great suggestion.
  • Email from Bridget in Manassas: Dear Doc and Jim. When I opened by Facebook account, I was very immature and chose a username that I thought was sassy and original. Now I think it’s inappropriate for someone my age. My question is how do I change my current Facebook username to something else?
  • Tech Talk Responds: It is very easy to change your username on Facebook, but it must be done using a web browser. Facebook has removed the option to change it using the Facebook app.
    • Facebook mobile app using a web browser
    • Log in to your Facebook account.
    • Click the down arrow that’s located on the right side of the blue bar at the top of the Facebook window.
    • Select Settings from the down-down menu.
    • Click the Edit link at the far right-hand side of the line that’s labeled “Username”.
    • Replace the current username that’s displayed in the text box with the username you’d like to use in the future.
    • Click the Save Changes button.
  • Your new Facebook username should now be active on your Profile, Timeline and Newsfeed pages. You can’t change it again for 60 days. Don’t add any unusual capitalization, punctuation, characters or random words to your name.
  • Email from Doug in Baltimore: Dear Tech Talk. How can I convert a bare hard drive or SSD into an external drive using either USB-C or USB 3.1 connectors? I want to use some extra drives that I have in the drawer for external backups. Love the show. Doug in Baltimore
  • Tech Talk Responds: Solid State Drives (SSDs) are quickly replacing traditional hard drives in many newer desktop computers and laptops. In addition, many of the newest computers, tablets and smartphones now come with the newer, and much smaller USB-C ports. If you own a computer or mobile device that only has a USB-C port, it makes sense to use an external drive enclosure that also supports this modern connection type. There are some great UBS-C external drive enclosures that work perfectly with both the tradition 2.5 inch hard drives and SSDs. Luckily, the new USB-C external drive enclosures don’t cost any more than their USB 3.0 predecessors and they work perfectly with both traditional 2.5 inch hard drives and SSDs! Check our Amazon. They cost about $20. Get one with lots of favorable reviews and you should be just fine.
  • Simply open the case, then plug the bare drive into the SATA connector and close it back up again. You are good to go.
  • Email from Peter in Richmond: Dear Doc and Jim. Is there a very simple way to reduce my phone’s monthly data usage? I trying to save money and need to budget. Peter in Richmond
  • Most of your phone’s installed apps have one thing in common: They’re constantly sending data to and receiving data from remote servers located in various parts of the world. This isn’t usually a problem for most users, but if you happen to have a cellular contract with a limited data plan it can be a huge problem for you! If you frequently use up all of your allotted monthly data you can reduce the amount of your phone’s overall data usage by doing one of two things:
    • Uninstall every app that you never use from your phone. This is extremely effective because it’s impossible for an app to use your phone’s data if it isn’t even installed on the device. Many pre-installed apps cannot be uninstalled from a device. However, you can disable them which will also prevent them from using any background data.
    • Change a setting for each app that will prevent it from sending or receiving data in the background.
  • My recommendation is to leave background data enabled for apps that need to receive data and alert you to changes at all times (your email and messaging apps, for example). You can safely disable background data access for all of your other apps.
  • If you have an Android phone:
    • Tap the Settings icon.
    • Tap on either Apps or Apps and notifications.
    • Tap on the name of the first app you wish to disable background data usage for.
    • Tap Data usage.
    • Toggle the “Background data” setting to Off.
    • Repeat steps 1-5 for every other app that you wish to disable background data.
  • If you have an iPhone:
    • Tap the Settings icon.
    • Tap General.
    • Tap Background App Refresh.
    • Toggle the setting to Off for every app want to disable background data.
  • Once you’ve finished disabling background data usage for every app that doesn’t truly need it you should see a reduction in the amount of data your phone uses each and every month. You can also set the refresh for WiFi only.
  • Email from Paula in Texas: Dear Tech Talk. I had Carbonite backing up my files for a couple of years and they didn’t back up any of my Windows files. I learned that the hard way after my hard drive crashed on me. What exactly is backed up when you create a System Image Backup? Thanks in advance for clearing this up for me. Enjoy the show. Paula in Texas
  • Tech Talk Responds: When you create a System Image, you are effectively backing up the entire hard drive. Everything you have stored on the drive will be saved as a backup set on your backup drive. That includes your Windows installation. When you create a System Image Backup you are basically taking a “snapshot” of the contents of the drive. You can use then that backup at a later time to recreate that same exact configuration after a drive failure, a critical virus attack or some other system failure. In short, if you have a recent System Image Backup on hand you’ll be able to get your PC back up and running with Windows along with all the programs, settings, data, photos and other files that you had on there at the time that backup was created.
  • Email from Susan in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. I have forgotten the PIN for my Windows 10 laptop. Help. I cannot log onto my computer. What are my options? Susan in Richmond
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you forgot or lost your Windows login PIN, you won’t be able to retrieve it, but you can change it.
  • Assuming you’ve already added a PIN to your Microsoft account, that PIN will make logging into devices much faster. If you have been locked out of your Windows PC for any reason, start by going to the login screen and clicking the “I Forgot My PIN” link. Enter the password for your Microsoft account. You can then input an existing account security code or have Microsoft send a new code via email. Input the security code and click “Verify.” Enter your new PIN twice. You’ve now reset your PIN; use this new one when logging in to this device.
  • Email from Doug in Fairfax: Do surgical masks really protect against Corona Virus or the flu? I am skeptical. Doug in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Viruses that cause respiratory illnesses spread mainly via droplets. These droplets can be inhaled, ingested, or picked up by touching a surface they landed on and transferring them to the eyes, nose, or mouth. Surgical masks don’t provide a snug fit and they don’t filter out smaller particles. The protect from blood or bodily fluids in surgery, but not respiratory desease.
  • The one thing a mask can help with is minimizing the chances of self-contamination, that is touching a contaminated hand to your mouth or nose.

Profiles in IT: Katherine Coleman Johnson

  • Katherine Johnson was a mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
  • Katherine Coleman was born August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, WV.
  • Because Greenbrier County did not offer public schooling for African-American students past the eighth grade, she attended high school in Institute, West Virginia.
  • After graduating from high school at 14, Johnson enrolled at West Virginia State.
  • She graduated summa cum laude in 1937, with degrees in math and French, at 18.
  • She took on a teaching job at a black public school in Marion, Virginia.
  • She left her teaching job and enrolled in a graduate math program, but quit after one year.
  • Johnson decided on a career as a research mathematician, although this was a difficult field for African Americans and women to enter.
  • In 1953, she was hired by Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, in Hampton, Virginia.
  • At first, Johnson worked in a pool of women performing math calculations. Katherine has referred to the women in the pool as virtual “computers who wore skirts”.
  • One day, Katherine was temporarily assigned to help the all-male flight research team. Katherine’s knowledge of analytic geometry impressed her boss. She stayed.
  • From 1953 to 1958, Johnson worked as a computer, analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft. Johnson was reassigned to Langley’s Flight Research Division.
  • Johnson and the other African-American women in the computing pool were required to work, eat, and use restrooms that were separate from those of their white peers.
  • From 1958 until her retirement in 1986, Johnson worked as an aerospace technologist, moving during her career to the Spacecraft Controls Branch.
  • She calculated the trajectory for the May 5, 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She also calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission.She plotted backup navigation charts in case of electronic failures.
  • When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, officials called on Johnson to verify the computer’s numbers;
  • Glenn refused to fly unless Johnson verified the calculations.
  • Johnson later worked directly with digital computers. Her ability and reputation for accuracy helped to establish confidence in the new technology.
  • In 1961, her work helped to ensure that Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury capsule would be quickly found after landing, using the trajectory that had been established.
  • She also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.
  • In 1970, Johnson worked on the Apollo 13 Moon mission. When the mission was aborted, her work on backup procedures and charts helped set a safe path for the crew’s return to Earth, creating a one-star observation system to determine their location with accuracy.
  • Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle, the Earth Resources Satellite, and a mission to Mars.
  • Johnson co-authored 26 scientific papers.
  • In 2015, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to Johnson in 2015.
  • Her social influence as a pioneer in space science and computing is demonstrated by the honors she received and her status as a role model for a life in science.
  • Johnson died at in Newport News on February 24, 2020, at age 101.

Memory Lane: Zip Drives Remembered

  • The year is 1995. Slow floppy disks that only hold 1.44 MB of data.
  • There an exciting new technology: Zip drives, which can hold 100 MB.
  • When compared with the standard floppy disk, the Zip drive felt like a revelation!
  • It allowed people to back up their hard drives and transfer large files with ease.
  • At launch, it retailed for around $199 (about $337 today, when adjusted for inflation), and the disks sold for $19.95 apiece (about $34 today.)
  • Zip drives were originally available in two versions. One used a Windows- or DOS-based PC’s parallel printer port as its interface. The other used the higher-speed SCSI interface common on Apple Macintosh computers.
  • Zip proved phenomenally successful during its first year on the market. In fact, Iomega had trouble keeping up with the demand for both drives and disks.
  • The drive measured about 7.2 x 5.3 x 1.5 inches and weighed under one pound.
  • Iomega later introduced an internal version of the ZIP drive that fit in a standard 5.25-inch drive bay, but the external models (shown above) remained more popular.
  • After you formatted Zip’s original 100 MB disks (in MS-DOS or Windows), they stored about 96 MB of data. Measuring 4 x 4 x 0.25 inches, they were only slightly larger than the 3.5-inch floppies.
  • Like the 3.5-inch floppy, each Zip disk contained rotating flexible magnetic media inside. But unlike the floppy, this disk spun at a very high 2,968 RPM.
  • Over its lifespan, the Zip brand had three disk sizes (100MB, 250MB, and 750MB)
  • Inexpensive CD-R drives and media began to eat away Zip’s market share for removable backups. Businesses also started installing local area networks (LANs) in ever-increasing numbers. LANs allowed large file transfers between machines without any removable media at all. With the development of removable flash USB sticks, ZIP became irrelevant.
  • Happy 25th Birthday to the Zip Drive

Jif Wants You to Pronounce GIF Correctly

  • Since the beginning of time, the internet has endlessly fought over the pronunciation of GIF. Jif, the peanut butter maker, is putting a stop to all of the arguments by teaming up with Giphy and definitively teaching the internet how to pronounce the animated looping image format. And the verdict is that GIFs are pronounced with a soft g.
  • The Graphics Interchange Format is a bitmap image format that was developed by a team at the online services provider CompuServe led by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite on June 15, 1987.[1] It has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability between many applications and operating systems.
  • The creators of the format pronounced the word as “jif” with a soft “G” as in “gym”.
  • Steve Wilhite says that the intended pronunciation deliberately echoes the American peanut butter brand Jif, and CompuServe employees would often say “Choosy developers choose GIF”, spoofing this brand’s television commercials.
  • To celebrate National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day on March 1, 2020, Jif is releasing a special edition 40oz jar of creamy peanut butter that teaches you the proper pronunciation. It is about double the price of normal peanut butter, but who cares when the company is righting the internet’s wrongs!

FCC Fines Carriers for Sharing Customers’ Location Data

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to collectively fine four U.S. mobile carriers around $200 million for selling, sharing, and making available to third parties precise, real-time GPS data about their customers’ location.
  • Despite clear evidence of ongoing commercialized privacy invasions and real risks to individual safety, the FCC has done nothing to curb these practices.
  • These penalties are too little and too late, according to many privacy advocates.
  • The carriers likely violated one or more privacy provisions in the Communications Act, but since Congress reversed the FCC’s attempt to extend similar protections to broadband, there is little to stop companies from selling or sharing similar data obtained from their customers’ internet usage.
  • The Center for Democracy & Technology encourages the Commission to pursue strong enforcement actions against privacy-invasive practices, and urges Congress to enact strong privacy legislation.

Product of the Week: Microsoft ElectionGuard

  • ElectionGuard isn’t designed to make voting machines safe from hackers. It’s meant to make hacking them pointless.
  • ElectionGuard has a touch screen for voting. An Xbox adaptive controller is connected to it, as are an all-white printer and a white ballot box for paper votes.
  • The software is designed to establish end-to-end verification for voting machines. A voter can check whether his or her vote was counted. If a hacker had managed to alter a vote, it would be immediately obvious because encryption attached to the vote wouldn’t have changed.
  • The open-source software has been available since last September.
  • ElectionGuard works through a process known as “homomorphic encryption,” a concept first introduced in 1987 by Josh Benaloh, a Microsoft Research senior cryptographer.
  • Your vote is meant to be private. Private votes make intimidation or bribery useless, since no one can confirm you voted a certain way.
  • Microsoft’s encryption also keeps the vote secret by converting choices into random lines of code until they’re decrypted.
  • Votes shouldn’t be decrypted, however, since they’re intended to stay private. Homomorphic encryption allows for counting votes while they remain secret.
  • “It’s sort of structured gibberish,” the cryptographer said. “Yes, it’s gibberish. Yes, you can’t tell what it is. But it retains enough structure that you can actually work with it rather than just ungibberishing it.”
  • With ElectionGuard, Benaloh said, only the final tally should be decrypted, not individual votes.
  • At Microsoft’s demo for its new system, R.C. Carter, the company’s director of strategic projects, explained that ElectionGuard would run parallel to paper ballots.
  • After a vote is cast on the touchscreen, the digital vote is encrypted and tallied. The vote would also be printed out, verified by the voter, then placed in a ballot box next to it. The printout would come with two sheets of paper: one for the ballot box, and the other, which bears your votes and a QR code, to serve as a receipt to verify your vote later online.
  • Once you vote, two pieces of paper are printed out — one to put in the ballot box, and one to take as a receipt to validate your vote after the polls have closed.
  • Election officials count the paper ballots, the usual and most secure method. The counted paper ballots are the election results, not those submitted digitally. The count takes place offline, after the polls closed.
  • Once that happens, the encrypted votes are collected as a .ZIP file that anyone can download and use to verify the votes.
  • If something didn’t match up, a voter could look at the encrypted vote to see if anything had been tampered with.
  • If you can’t stop the hack, the second-best thing is to know that you’ve been hacked.

MIT List of 9 Megatrends That Will Shape the World in 2030.

  • MIT published a list by futurist Andrew Winston of the biggest megatrends that will impact the world by 2030.
  • Winston’s experience is extensive; his clients include McDonald’s, Apple, Bank of America, Walmart, HP, Disney, and Cisco.
    • Demographics: People are living longer. By 2030, more than a billion people will be over 65.
    • Urbanization: More and more people will move to cities. By 2030, more than two-thirds of the world will live in urban centers.
    • Transparency: The amount of data collected on every person, product, and organization will continue to grow exponentially, as will the pressure to share that information. Keeping secrets will no longer be possible.
    • Climate Crisis: Despite rising awareness, governments continue to struggle to balance long-term environmental needs with short-term economics.
    • Resource Pressures: Water will be a stressed resource. Many cities will be constantly in a state of water shortage and drought.
    • Clean Tech: We will also see an explosion of data-driven technologies that make our collective infrastructure substantially more efficient.
    • Technology Shifts: Connectivity will continue to spread. 2030 will also see affordable AI achieve human levels of intelligence.
    • Global Policy: Global problems require globally unified responses, yet it seems less and less likely that nation states will be able to effectively govern collectively, let alone collaboratively. As a result, it will be up to business to take the lead on solving these issues.
    • Nationalism: The rise of nationalism may increase, with xenophobia continuing to grow. Xenophobia is dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.
  • What these megatrends have in common
  • Acceleration: Not only does it seem that innovation is speeding up, it seems that it’s doing so exponentially.
  • Solutions are known for many of the issues discussed above, but the will for implementation and execution isn’t there. For example, we’ve known for years what is required to avert a climate catastrophe, yet many of the world’s leaders seem intent on maintaining the status quo.