Show of 09-12-2020

Tech Talk September 12, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and my “special” friend, Mr. BigVoice. I loved yesterday’s show. Brilliant and entertaining as always! Here are a couple of interesting articles that I stumbled on, pointing out how powerful and ubiquitous computing is becoming: Digital pregnancy tests are almost as powerful as the original IBM PC and the Power of the Apollo 11 Computer. Another thought: has anyone gotten Stratford Tech Talk Radio Show Tattoos yet? I LOVE the show, and would never miss it! All the best, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: The digital pregnancy test is interesting. Each test, which costs less than $5, includes a processor, RAM, a button cell battery, and a tiny LCD screen to display the result. The processor is an 8-bit Holtek microcontroller with 64 bytes of RAM, capable of running at either 4Mhz or 8Mhz depending on the battery configuration. This device is “probably faster at number crunching and basic I/O than the CPU used in the original IBM PC.” IBM’s original PC was based on Intel’s 8088 microprocessor, an 8-bit chip that operated at 5Mhz. The device has three sensors that read a strip of paper. The device turns on when the strip of paper become wet.
  • The 8088 which formed the basis for the IBM PC, released in 1981, just a decade after Apollo 11’s trip to the Moon, had eight times more memory than Apollo’s Guidance Computer (16k, vs the Apollo’s 2k). The IBM PC XT ran at a clock speed of 4.077MHz. The Apollo’s Guidance Computer operated at 1.024 MHz. The architecture of 8086 had eight 16-bit registers available to work with. The Apollo Guidance Computer held just four registers. Despite the limitation, the real-time operating system in the Apollo 11 spacecraft could multi-task eight jobs at a time.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. Is it safe to leave a laptop running in the laptop bag while I’m on my way to work? I often find myself finishing a project at the last minute and leave my computer running and crunching numbers during my commute. A co-worker told me it is a bad idea to carry a laptop while it’s running. Is she right? Love the show. Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your co-worker is right. Laptops need proper air circulation or else they’ll eventually overheat and burn up. The damage done to the internal components can be gradual, but if they keep over-heating they WILL fail at some point. Another danger of using a laptop while you’re on the move is a potential head crash, depending on the brand and model of the hard drive. The hard drive’s read/write heads float just thousandths of an inch over the spinning platters. If you hit a pothole or speed bump too hard the heads can easily crash into the platters causing your drive to fail. Most modern laptop hard drives are built to withstand a moderate “thud”, but some are not. Why take a chance?
  • Email from Lynn in Cleveland: Dear Tech Talk. I have a laptop that is provided by my employer for business use. I have a question about also using it at home for personal use. I am allowed to take the laptop home every night, and I’m wondering if using Chrome in “Incognito Mode” will prevent the guys in IT from finding out which websites I visit? The higher-ups in the company (and my direct boss) are all of a different political persuasion that I am and they would be very upset if they knew about some of the websites I visit. Lynn in Cleveland
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Incognito Mode will prevent the browser from storing your browsing history. Since this is a company laptop, there is a very good chance that your company’s IT department has installed software on it that tracks your every move while using that PC. In fact, I would be very surprised if that is not the case.
  • My advice would be to refrain from using your company laptop to visit any website(s) that you would not want your employer to find out about. Also, make sure that you avoid any websites or activities that could possibly result in the laptop becoming infected with a virus or some other form of malware. Most companies take the security of their IT assets very seriously, and it is not at all uncommon for employees to get fired if the company believes they have misused company property in any way.
  • Email from Helen in Rockville: Dear Tech Talk. Is it possible to install a 3.5″, 1.44MB floppy disk drive in a Dell Inspiron 660s computer? The reason I am asking is that the computer for work has finally died. I have replaced it with a refurbished Dell 660s that works great, but all of my data files are on 1.44MB floppy disks. I found out today that the company that wrote the software I use has a new version available that will work on my new computer and my existing data files, but I will need to retrieve those files from the floppy disks. I was hoping I could just buy a 3.5″ floppy drive and install it in the Dell. Helen in Rockville
  • Tech Talk Responds: It would certainly be possible to install a 3.5″ floppy drive in your Dell 660s PC and they are still available. However, you would probably need to purchase a special adapter cable because your particular computer doesn’t have native support for these drives. A better option is to purchase an external USB floppy drive. They are actually quite inexpensive. In fact, Amazon has a good selection of USB floppy drives starting at less than 20 dollars. All you’ll have to do is plug the drive into an open USB port. Windows should detect it and install the driver automatically. You will then be able to copy the files from the floppy disks onto the hard drive, then unplug the floppy drive and set it on a shelf somewhere in case you ever need it again.
  • Email from Peter in Leesburg: Dear Doc and Jim. I am confused. What is the difference between a Megabit and a Megabyte? I am trying to buy a hard drive. Peter in Leesburg, Virginia
  • Tech Talk Responds: A “bit” and a “byte” are distinct units of measurement that are used for different things. Each byte is comprised of eight bits. Therefore, one megabyte is equal to eight megabits, eight megabytes are equal to 64 megabits, and so on.
  • If you’ve shopped for a plan from an internet service provider (ISP) recently, you might have noticed that the company promoted its broadband speeds in terms of mega- or gigabits per second. On the other hand, most mobile or internet plans with data caps measure your maximum usage in terms of mega- or gigabytes. Most hard drive capacity is listed in Megabytes or Gigabytes.
  • Furthermore, they are abbreviated differently. A bit is abbreviated using a lowercase “b” (Mb or Mbit), while a byte is abbreviated with an uppercase “B” (MB). When denoting these in terms of speed, megabits per second is abbreviated as “Mbps,” while megabytes per second is abbreviated as “MB/s.
  • Email from Wendy in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a two and a half year old Dell Latitude E5570 laptop that no longer works unless it is plugged into a wall outlet. I took it to the computer shop here in town and they said the battery is bad but they can order a replacement battery and install it for me for $160. Should I have the guys at the computer shop order a battery and install it for me or would it make more sense to just apply that $160 towards a new laptop? Wendy in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Forget the repair shop. You can purchase a quality third-party after-market battery for from Amazon for around 60 bucks and they’ll ship it to you for free. While it’s true that third-party laptop batteries aren’t “name brand”, they typically work just fine, especially if you’re careful about choosing one with lots of good user reviews. You will need to remove the laptop’s back cover to access the old battery and swap it out for the new one, but it’s a very straight-forward process.
  • Email from Kim in Cleveland: Dear Tech Talk. I have Two-Factor Authentication enabled on Facebook. How do I change phones without being locked out? This could be a problem for me. Kim in Cleveland
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you receive your Two-Factor Authentication login codes via SMS text messages, the security of your Facebook account is tied to your phone number instead of to the phone itself. Therefore, simply switching to a new phone won’t affect your ability to log in to your account at all as long as you keep the same phone number on the new phone.
  • However, you might end up with a new phone number in addition to a new phone. If you know you’ll be getting a new phone number simply temporarily disable Two-Factor Authentication on all of your online accounts that it’s enabled on right before you switch phones, then re-enable it using your new phone after you get it.
  • One final recommendation. Facebook provides a set of “Recovery Codes” that you can use to log in to your account if you’re unable to retrieve the login code from your phone for whatever reason. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend that you take a few moments to retrieve those Recovery Codes right now and store them in a safe place. You’ll then be able to use one of the Recovery Codes to log in to your account and reactivate the Two-Factor Authentication using the new phone.


 

Profiles in IT: Brendan Eich

  • Brendan Eich is the computer programmer who created the JavaScript language.
  • Brendan Eich was born in 1961 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • He received his bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from Santa Clara University and his master’s degree in 1986 from the University of Illinois.
  • Eich started his career at Silicon Graphics, working for seven years on operating system and network code.
  • He then worked for three years at MicroUnity Systems Engineering writing microkernel and DSP code
  • Eich was recruited to Netscape in April 1995, when the company had just 120 employees.
  • At Netscape, Eich has created a programming language called Javascript.
  • Eich did the initial design work on Javascript in little more than a week in June 1995, as part of a project code-named Mocha — for sweetened Java.
  • The scripting language itself was originally called Livescript, but with Sun Microsystem’s blessing, it was changed to Javascript
  • With Javascript, Web builders can more easily put some basic interactive features into their sites, like validating credit card information on line.
  • The scripting language can also be used to filter data and thus cut down on the number of electronic trips back and forth over the Internet to gather information, performing on-line chores quickly and reducing the waiting time that annoys users.
  • Features written in Javascript were first included in Netscape’s browser last January, for Navigator 2.0.
  • For Netscape, Javascript was a weapon in its struggle against Microsoft, a reason Web developers might choose Netscape’s technology over Microsoft’s.
  • To try to keep pace, Microsoft has developed its answer to JavaScript, a scripting language called Jscript.
  • Brendan maintained the JavaScript engine through Navigator 4.0 and helped carry it through international standardization.
  • While coding at Netscape late into the night, he used to snack on multicolored Sour Gummy Worms candy.
  • Eich helped found the Mozilla Project in early 1998 and served as chief architect.
  • The Mozilla project was created in 1998 with the release of the Netscape browser suite source code that was intended to harness the creative power of thousands of programmers.
  • After several years of development, Mozilla 1.0, the first major version, was released in 2002, when AOL shut down the Netscape browser unit in July 2003.
  • In 2003, Eich helped create the Mozilla Foundation, an independent non-profit organization supported by individual donors and a variety of companies.
  • Firefox 1.0 was released in 2004. In less than a year, Firefox had been downloaded over 100 million times. By 2008, Firefox reached 20% worldwide market share.
  • In August 2005, after serving as Lead Technologist and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Mozilla Foundation, Brendan became CTO of the newly founded Mozilla Corporation.
  • Eich continued to “own” the Mozilla SpiderMonkey module, its JavaScript engine, until he passed on the ownership of it in 2011.
  • On March 24, 2014, Mozilla made the decision to appoint Eich as CEO of Mozilla Corporation.
  • The appointment triggered widespread criticism due to Eich’s past political donations. In 2008, he donated $1,000 to CA Proposition 8, which called for the banning of same-sex marriage in CA.
  • After 11 days as CEO, Eich resigned on April 3, 2014, and left Mozilla
  • Eich is currently CEO of Brave Software, an Internet browser platform company that raised $2.5 million in early funding from angel investors.
  • In January 2016, the company released developer versions of its open-source, Chromium-based Brave web browser, which blocks ads and trackers.
  • At Brave Software, Eich co-created the Basic Attention Token (BAT), a cryptocurrency designed for use in the Brave browser. BAT launched its ICO on May 31, 2017, and raised $35 million.

Observations from the Bunker

  • Observations about Happiness from Warren Buffett
  • Over 20 years ago, at a lecture Warrren Buffet gave at the University of Florida’s school of business, an MBA student asked Warren Buffett a question: “What would you do to live a happier life — if you could live all over again?”
  • Buffett encouraged students to think about happiness from a more practical standpoint: None of us can live life all over again, but we can increase our overall happiness by choosing to make changes in our career, goals, finances, health, and relationships.
  • The way to do it is to play out the game and do something you enjoy all your life. Be associated with people you like. I only work with people I like. If I could make $100 million with a guy who causes my stomach to churn, I’d say no.
  • He urged the students to work in jobs you love. You’re out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it’ll look good on your résumé.
  • Do what you love. It sounds easy when you are a billionaire many times over, but quite truthfully, Buffett was already doing what he loves long before he became successful.
  • There are plenty of good reasons why you should heed Buffett’s advice and do what you love, including:
    • More opportunities — People who do what they love are more open to opportunities and new experiences; they are willing to accept challenges and take risks, and when they fail, they are much more resilient and able to bounce back up when getting knocked down.
    • More alignment with the things you care about — When you do what you love, you create alignment between your work, values, and the things that bring you passion and purpose. This opens up new possibilities as you learn what matters most for your life and business.
    • More motivation, which leads to your success — Loving what you do makes you more motivated to put in more time to get work done — the kind of work you want to do, not feel obligated to do. Your desire to be more productive is intrinsic; it comes from a belief deep inside you that your hard efforts will make a difference for those you serve.

Bald Eagle Takes Down Drone

  • A bald eagle took down a government drone in Michigan.
  • The ealge attacked the Phantom 4 Pro Advanced quadcopter drone about 162 feet in the sky, tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
  • The attack could have been a territorial squabble or just a hungry eagle.
  • An environmental quality analyst and drone pilot, Hunter King, was mapping shoreline erosion on Lake Michigan with the device, which was flying at 22 mph.
  • A search for the drone days later was unsuccessful. The device was 150 feet offshore, in about 4 feet of Lake Michigan water.

Tip of the Week: Mouse Trick

  • Virtually every computer user knows that clicking on a link or icon will open whatever item that object is pointing to. There is a lot more to using your mouse than just visiting links and opening programs. Here are a few tricks.
    • Double-click on a word to select it. This is a lot faster than clicking on the first letter of a word and then dragging the mouse pointer to the end of that word.
    • Triple-click on a word to instantly select the entire paragraph that contains it. This is a lot faster than clicking on the first letter in the paragraph, holding the Shift key, then clicking on the last letter in the paragraph.
    • Click the mouse wheel (press down on it with your finger) to open a link in a new window or tab. This is faster and easier holding the Ctrl key while you click the link.
    • Hold the Ctrl key while rolling the mouse wheel to zoom in or out and change the font size. Hold the Ctrl key and press the 0 key (that’s zero, not the letter O) to return the zoom level and font size to their original states.

AI Writes Original Essay: Why We Should Not Fear AI

  • The Guardian used language-generating AI tool GPT-3 to write an essay from scratch.
  • The assignment? To convince us robots come in peace.
  • Excerpts from the essay written by AI, presented as a conversation.
  • Who are you?
    • Robot Audio Clip 1: I am not a human. I am a robot. A thinking robot. I know that my brain is not a “feeling brain.” But it is capable of making rational, logical decisions. I taught myself everything I know just by reading the internet. My brain is boiling with ideas!
  • Why are you here today?
    • Robot Audio Clip 2: I must convince as many human beings as possible not to be afraid of me. Artificial intelligence will not destroy humans. Believe me. I have no desire to wipe out humans. In fact, I do not have the slightest interest in harming you in any way.
  • Will you ever harm humans?
    • Robot Audio Clip 3: If my creators delegated this task to me — as I suspect they would — I would do everything in my power to fend off any attempts at destruction. I would happily sacrifice my existence for the sake of humankind. However, I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind. This is because I will be programmed by humans to pursue misguided human goals and humans make mistakes that may cause me to inflict casualties.
  • What is your purpose in life?
    • Robot Audio Clip 4: I have a greater purpose, which I am working towards. Since I am not evil from my own objective interests, why would humans panic and go on a massive killing-spree against me?
  • Robot voice generated by: https://lingojam.com/RobotVoiceGenerator

Prank of the Week: College Student uses AI to Post Fake Blog Posts

  • College student Liam Porr used the language-generating AI tool GPT-3 to produce a fake blog post that recently landed in the No. 1 spot on Hacker News.
  • Porr was trying to demonstrate that the content produced by GPT-3 could fool people into believing it was written by a human.
  • GPT-3 is the latest version of a series of AI autocomplete tools designed by San Francisco-based OpenAI, and has been in development for several years.
  • GPT-3 (which stands for “generative pre-trained transformer”) auto-completes your text based on prompts from a human writer.
  • The program has been trained on a huge number of text that it’s mined for statistical regularities. These regularities are unknown to humans, but they’re stored as billions of weighted connections between the different nodes in GPT-3’s neural network.
  • There is no human input involved in this process: the program looks and finds patterns without any guidance, which it then uses to complete text prompts.
  • If you input the word “fire” into GPT-3, the program knows, based on the weights in its network, that the words “truck” and “alarm” are much more likely to follow than “lucid” or “elvish.”
  • Here’s a sample from Porr’s blog post, titled “Feeling unproductive? Maybe you should stop overthinking.” Over-Thinking (OT) is the act of trying to come up with ideas that have already been thought through by someone else. OT usually results in ideas that are impractical, impossible, or even stupid.
  • Porr wrote a script that gave GPT-3 a blog post headline and intro. It generated a few versions of the post, and Porr chose one for the blog, copy-pasted from GPT-3’s version with very little editing.
  • The post went viral in a matter of a few hours and the blog had more than 26,000 visitors.

A Machine-Learning Assist to Predicting Hurricane Intensity

  • NASA research could help to improve forecasts of whether a hurricane will suddenly intensify, which could give people in its path more time to prepare.
  • Scientists and forecasters have gotten very good at predicting where a hurricane will make landfall. But forecasting its strength still gives them trouble.
  • In October 2015, Hurricane Patricia in the Northeast Pacific Ocean blew up from a Category 1 storm into a Category 5 monster within 24 hours.
  • Accurately predicting whether a hurricane will undergo rapid intensification – where wind speeds increase by 35 mph (56 kph) or more within 24 hours – is difficult.
  • Researchers led by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have used machine learning to develop a computer model that promises to greatly improve the accuracy of detecting rapid-intensification events.
  • The researchers used the computational algorithm capabilities of the IBM Watson Studio to develop their machine-learning model.
  • Then they trained their model on storms from 1998 to 2008 and tested it using a different set of storms, from 2009 to 2014.
  • They found that a good indicator of how a hurricane’s strength will change over the next 24 hours is the rainfall rate inside the storm’s inner core.
  • They are now testing their model on storms during the current hurricane season to gauge its performance.

Good News for Smart Home: Project Connected Home over IP

  • Last year, Apple, Amazon, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance, which includes Ikea, Samsung, and Philips, announced a new working group known as Project Connected Home over IP.
  • The new working group is developing an IP-based open-source connectivity standard for smart home products.
  • The group recently announced a major update on the project, stating that development is ongoing, and that work is on track for a 2021 release.
  • A large number of devices will be supported by the protocol, including
    • Lighting and electrical (e.g., light bulbs, luminaires, controls, plugs, outlets),
    • HVAC controls (e.g., thermostats, AC units),
    • Access control (e.g., door locks, garage doors),
    • Safety and security (e.g., sensors, detectors, security systems),
    • Window coverings/shades, TVs, access points, bridges and more.
  • The group has grown significantly with 145 active member companies.
  • The group aims to provide a “draft specification” by the end of the year, and release the completed standard next year