Show of 10-10-2020

Tech Talk October 10, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Message on Facebook from Bill in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I enjoy your radio show every Saturday. I use cellular resellers and want to be sure that I receive updates for my cell phone. When Android is updated, who is responsible for making updates available to me – the phone manufacturer such as Samsung or Alcatel, the cellular carrier such as AT&T, or the reseller such as Freedom Pop or Red Pocket? When buying a new phone, I want to select one that will be updated for a long period of time.  Is there a way to determine when updates will end for various cell phone models? Bill in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Android updates are not as automatic as those on the iPhone. In the case of the iPhone, Apple pushes all updates and the carrier cannot stop them. In the case of Android, both the carrier and the manufacturer have modified the open source Android system and they must vet all upgrades to make certain that they do not create a problem with their modifications. Some carriers and phone manufacturers are more concerned with the next flagship product than with updating phones already sold. Since Android is open-source, some devices have a custom version of the operating system (OS), but most have a similar look and feel and share the same functionality.
  • This fragmentation has created a problem for Google and the Android ecosystem. To combat this problem, Google introduced Project Treble in 2018. Project Treble is a major re-architecture in the way Android works. In essence, it separates the Android operating system (the Android ‘framework’) from the vendor Hardware Abstraction Layers (‘HALs’) that allow for the OS to work with the device’s hardware. Before Project Treble, the Android framework and the HALs usually reside within the same area (the system partition). With Treble, the HALs are moved to their own area (a vendor partition) and now communicate with the Android framework in a more standardized way. The benefit of this is that it allows for companies like Samsung, LG, HTC, and others to work on modifying the stock Android framework while they wait for vendors such as Qualcomm to provide updated HALs. Theoretically, this means that updates should happen more quickly. The End of Life disclosure is, however, not available. Google typically supports an operating system with updates for 18 to 24 months, then you must upgrade your OS to keep getting updates. You might have three years of updates supported by your hardware (no guarantees here), so that is about 5 years until of End of Life. My advice is to get a phone with the latest Android operating system from a manufacturer that supports Project Treble. You will have the longest End of Life horizon. Your best option might be buy a phone manufactured by Google. Hardware support should be more reliable after an upgrade.
  • Link to list of manufacturers that support Project Treble: https://www.xda-developers.com/list-android-devices-project-treble-support/
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and my old chum Mr. Bigvoice, I just stumbled on this news report about 911 failures. And everyone is finger pointing but no one seems to know who is at fault or admit anything: 911 outages have become a fact of life — are we even fixing this? Does Doc have an insight on this tech failure? Love the show, All the best, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: On the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 28, several states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington reported 911 outages in various cities and localities.
  • Multiple news reports suggested the outages might be related to an ongoing service disruption at Microsoft. However, Microsoft has denied that Azure cloud service was to blame. Inquiries made with emergency dispatch centers at several of the towns and cities hit by the 911 outage pointed to a different source: Omaha, Neb.-based Intrado, a provider of 911 and emergency communications infrastructure.
  • Intrado said the outage was the result of a problem with network service provider named Lumen, a communications firm. Lumen’s status page indicates the company’s private and internal cloud and control system networks had outages or service disruptions on Monday.
  • It may be no accident that both of these companies are now operating under new names, as this would hardly be the first time a problem between the two of them has disrupted 911 access for a large number of Americans.
  • In 2019, the companies agreed to pay $575,000 to settle an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into an Aug. 2018 outage that lasted 65 minutes. On April 6, 2014, some 11 million people across the United States were disconnected from 911 services for eight hours. The Intrado server responsible for categorizing and keeping track of service interruptions classified them as “low level” incidents so they were never flagged for manual review by human beings. The FCC ultimately fined the companies $17.4 million for the multi-state 2014 outage. An FCC spokesperson declined to comment on Monday’s outage, but said the agency was investigating the incident.
  • We are seeing the failure of complex software systems without sufficient oversight. Unless the FACC imposes higher standards, we can can expect this to continue.
  • Hac in Bowie: Dear Doc and Jim. I recently updated the operating system on my iPhone to iOS14. Now my battery life is sucks. I have to recharge my phone throughout the day. I have tried rebooting my phone. Nothing works. What are my options? Hac in Bowie, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: This does not affect all phones. Just a select few. For instance, I have had not issues. However, numerous iPhone users are complaining that the update to iOS 14 has resulted in shorter battery life and some apps failing to work. If you are one of the unlucky ones, the fix is not convenient.
  • Apple has released this Support article explaining what you need to do to fix these iOS 14-related issues. Apple is advising you to do the following:
    • First, back up your iPhone’s data to iCloud.
    • Next, erase all content and settings from the device.
    • Finally, restore the device from a backup.
  • You will need to completely wipe out your phone and then restore it in order to “fix” a buggy iOS update. Requiring users to perform a complete restore of their phones just to fix a buggy software update seems a bit ridiculous. This is a ding to Apple’s reputation. Apple’s instructions are very straight-forward and easy to follow. If you are unsure about doing this, take your iPhone to an Apple store and get help. Make an appointment first.
  • Email from Jay in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I have been on Facebook for a while and I keep getting hundreds of emails from them every day. I don’t need all these emails because I always check my notifications on Facebook. How can I stop them from being sent to my email? Jay in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: It is very easy to tell Facebook not to send you any more unimportant notification emails. If you access Facebook via a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer:
    • Log in to your Facebook account.
    • Click the down arrow located at the right-hand side of the blue bar at the top of the screen.
    • Click Settings.
    • Click the Notifications link over in the left-hand column.
    • Click Email.
    • Find the “What You’ll Receive” section and select Only notifications about your account, security and privacy.
  • The steps are similar on the mobile app. Best of luck with your account.
  • Email from Tung in Cleveland: Dear Tech Talk. I have many pictures on my iPhone that are private. I am afraid to let anyone use my phone because they may see the private pictures. Is there any way to hide these pictures? Love the show. Tung in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Apple Photos app allows you to hide some photos and videos, but they are still accessible in the “Hidden” photos section under the “Albums” tab. Starting with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, though, Apple allows you to hide the “Hidden” album, as well.
    • Open the “Settings” app on your iPhone or iPad and tap “Photos.”
    • Tap “Photos” in “Settings.”
    • Scroll down and toggle-Off the “Hidden Album” option to disable this feature.
  • Now, when you tap the “Albums” tab in the “Photos” app, you will find that the “Hidden” album has disappeared.

Profiles in IT: Donald Ervin Knuth

  • Donald Ervin Knuth is a computer scientist and the author of the multi-volume work, The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth has been called the “father” of the analysis of algorithms. Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system.
  • Knuth was born on January 10, 1938 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping.
  • Knuth chose physics over music as his major at Case Institute of Technology.
  • While studying physics at the Case, Knuth was introduced to the IBM 650.
  • After reading the computer’s manual, Knuth decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler code for the machine, because he believed he could do it better.
  • In 1958, Knuth constructed a program based on the value of each player that could help his school basketball team win the league. It was published by Newsweek and also covered by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
  • Knuth was one of the founding editors of the Case Institute’s Engineering and Science Review.
  • He then switched from physics to mathematics, and in 1960, he received his BS and MS degrees simultaneously from Case.
  • In 1963, he earned a PhD in mathematics from Caltech.
  • After receiving his PhD, Knuth joined Caltech’s faculty as an assistant professor.
  • He accepted a commission to write a book on computer programming language compilers. While working on this project, Knuth decided that he could not adequately treat the topic without first developing a fundamental theory of computer programming, which became The Art of Computer Programming.
  • He originally planned to publish this as a single book. As Knuth developed his outline for the book, he concluded that he required six volumes, and then seven, to thoroughly cover the subject. He published the first volume in 1968.
  • Computer science was new and many papers were simply wrong. One of his motivations for writing the Art of Computer Programming to tell the story well.
  • In 1968, just before he published the first volume, Knuth accepted a job working on problems for the National Security Agency (NSA). Knuth soon left that position and joined the faculty of Stanford University. Disagreement over the war was a factor.
  • Knuth became so frustrated with the inability of existing typesetting software that he took time out to work on digital typesetting and created TeX and Metafont.
  • He retired early because he realized that he would need about 20 years of full-time work to complete The Art of Computer Programming,
  • He spends two hours per day in the library, about a half hour in swimming pool, and the rest of the time at home reading and writing, He likes to play piano and organ in the music room of his house.
  • As of 2012, the first three volumes and part one of volume four have been published.
  • He used to pay a finder’s fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because 256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar. Knuth reward checks are among computer science’s most prized trophies.
  • Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he titled “Computer Musings”.
  • He was a visiting professor at the Oxford University Department of Computer Science in the United Kingdom until 2017.
  • Knuth is an organist and a composer. In 2016 he completed a musical piece for organ titled Fantasia Apocalyptica, which he describes as “translation of the Greek text of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine into music”. It was premièred in Sweden on January 10, 2018.
  • In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal, and the Kyoto Prize.

Observations from the Bunker

  • Remembering Steve Jobs
  • Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died August 2011 after battling cancer and related conditions for seven years. He was 56 years old and was replaced by Tim Cook.
  • Both as the founder of the first successful personal-computer company and as the man who transformed a nearly-bankrupt Apple into one of the most successful companies on the planet, Jobs established himself as an American icon of business and technology.
  • At the end of 1980, Apple went public; its IPO created hundreds of millionaires at the company. In exchange for $1 million of pre-IPO stock, Xerox gave Apple access to its PARC facilities, where Jobs and others saw the progress Xerox was making with the graphical user interface (GUI).
  • That visit led to the Apple Lisa—a Mac-like computer that sold for nearly $10,000, and was never a success—and then the Mac.
  • Jobs did not write the code or design the circuit boards, but he was the one who provided the vision that made it all happen.
  • Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh in 1984 introduced the graphical user interface to mainstream desktop computing. The Mac ran on a 32-bit processor (compared to 16-bit processors for other PCs at the time) and had 128K of memory
  • It was an immediate success: more than 400,000 Macintosh computers were sold in the first year.
  • The Mac’s impact was not just felt on people who bought it in the ’80s, though: in hindsight, it quite literally redefined what a computer was.
  • By 1995 Windows had duplicated Apple’s graphical interface.
  • Jobs was also a driving force behind the famous “1984” television commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, that debuted during the Super Bowl in January 1984.
  • Jobs and his personally-recruited CEO John Sculley thought the iconic ad was excellent, and purchased 90 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time for the spot.
  • Eventually, the Macintosh’s increasingly sluggish sales performance strained the relationship between Jobs and Sculley. Sculley favored introducing more IBM compatibility; Jobs was opposed and was fired. He left with a net worth of $150 million and started his next venture, Next.
  • In a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs said that his firing from Apple in the mid-1980s “was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” That may have been true for Jobs, who used his time away from Cupertino to not only found Next but also buy a fledgling animation studio that would become Pixar.
  • In 1996, Apple decided to buy Next for $400M to get its operating system. It was still run by Steve Jobs. Next’s operating system became the basis for Mac OS X.
  • In July of 1997, Apple’s board of directors voted to name Jobs the company’s interim CEO. And the rest is history.

Website of the Week: Ancient Earth

  • What do you get when you combine one of the largest Dinosaur databases in the world with the powers of Google Earth-like technology?
  • You get the 3D map, dubbed Ancient Earth. This is a free service.
  • Ancient Earth is the brainchild of Ian Webster, the curator of the Dinosaur Database website.
  • There, you can search by region to find what dinosaurs lived in your neck of the woods.
  • But Ancient Earth is one step better than a searchable database—it’s a 3D globe that shows you our planet through the ages.
  • When you first open Ancient Earth, it defaults to 240 million years ago, around the time that early dinosaurs started to roam the Earth.
  • You’ll see a large shift in the continents, but helpfully it also shows political boundaries, so you won’t be lost.
  • You can input your state, zip code, or even your full address to get a pinpoint of where you live, and the interface will show you what fossils are nearby.
  • You can click fossil listing to get a full database entry on the dinosaurs from your area.
  • When you’re ready to zip through time, you can change the period to anytime from the present to 750 million years ago.
  • Link to site: https://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth#240

Wikipedia Website Redesign – First in a Decade

  • For the first time in 10 years, Wikipedia will get a substantial new look.
  • The design of desktop Wikipedia has not seen any substantive changes for the past 10 years, leaving certain elements of the site’s navigation feeling clunky and overwhelming.
  • Since launching in 2001, the online encyclopedia has published more than 50 million articles and is available in nearly 300 languages.
  • The entries are created, edited and updated by volunteers, and the website is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization.
  • The site states that its “main purpose is to create, learn, and curate content,” and with that in mind pledges to simplify navigation, aiming “to create a more welcoming experience for all who come to our projects.”
  • Among the changes users can expect are:
    • A reconfigured logo
    • Improved search functionality
    • A collapsible sidebar
    • and simplified language toggling
  • The site describes its redesign as a multi-year project focusing on the desktop interface, with an overarching goal of creating “an experience that feels similar to our long-time users, yet straightforward and intuitive for new folks.
  • Early changes have been rolled out via early adopter projects, including French, Hebrew, and Portuguese versions of the product, with the site hoping the improvements will appear as defaults on all Wikipedia pages in 2021.

Big Carrier Monopoly May Be Over: Cheaper Phone Plans

  • If you are one of the big three cellular providers in the United States: Verizon, T-Mobile, or AT&T, you are probably paying a lot.
  • You can save a lot of money by switching to an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). Here are a few good options
  • Mint Mobile ($25–$40 per line) — Mint launched in 2016 and took no time in becoming the best value among smaller cellular networks. Its $40 Unlimited plan is a great unlimited service, and its $25 plan is a great favorite budget service. 4G LTE and 5G are in every plan with no speed caps. For $40 a month (taxes and fees not included), you get unlimited talk, text, and data. After 35 GB, data keeps flowing but at a reduced speed. You can make free calls to Canada and Mexico. This network runs on T-Mobile, so any ex-T-Mobile or ex-AT&T phone should work.
  • Visible ($40 per line) — Visible a great deal if you prefer Verizon’s coverage, which is sometimes better in rural areas. It’s owned by Verizon and uses its network exclusively. For an unlimited plan, it’s affordable at $40 per month for one line, including taxes and fees, and it comes with unlimited talk, text, and LTE data with no speed cap. There is no 5G access yet, only 4G LTE. You get a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot included. Video streaming is restricted to 480p resolution, and music streaming is held to 500 Kbps. Visible has only one plan, and it costs $40 per month for unlimited talk, text, and data. It runs on Verizon’s network, so any ex-Verizon or ex-US Cellular phone or universally unlocked phone can be brought over.
  • Google Fi ($20 per line + $10 per GB) — You pay $20 for one line, plus $10 per gigabyte of data, whether you’re in the US or traveling in one of the 200-plus supported countries. It is also prorated, so if you don’t use a whole gigabyte, you won’t get charged for a whole gigabyte. Google Fi uses T-Mobile’s and US Cellular’ s 4G LTE and 5G networks International calls are a flat 20 cents per minute from outside the US and there’s free, unlimited texting. Data costs do not change outside the US either. Only certain phones will work with Fi.