Show of 11-21-2020

Tech Talk November 21, 2020

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the elusive Mr. Big Voice. I was surfing around and stumbled on this little piece about Google’s decline. Is this really true? What do you think, Doc? Is Google really in a decline? I love TechT alk. All the best, your fan, Bob in Maryland.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Yes, Google’s search index is now in decline, as of late 2020, though the downward trend has started years ago. The core issue is the Web as we know has been dying, as people all over the world do not want to bother to put up links to other high quality content just for the sake it.
  • This decline is very bad, as it gets harder and harder to constantly surface good stuff among the FRESHEST supply of indexed content.
  • This content quality problem has been exacerbated by Google’s switch to emphasize the freshness of their index years ago. The rationale was that there was so much good stuff around, and that its supply was constantly increasing so Google would always be able to show amazing results just from the freshest portion of their index.
  • But things are changing. First there are big vertical silos, starting with Amazon, but also including other big walled gardens such as Facebook, Twitter and a host of others such as Netflix, Spotify, Shopify, eBay, Craigslist etc. So the best deals, social chatter and tweets, song and shopping recommendations, auction deals, free ads etc. are to be found elsewhere.
  • Googlebase is long gone and people go to CarGurus or Carvana for cars, Zillow for online house listings, Indeed and others for job postings etc., the list goes on and on.
  • Email from Susan in Alexandria: Good Morning, Dr. Shurtz.. I was recently reminded of your 8/15/2020 “Profile in IT” of Frances Elizabeth Allen. You mentioned that her early professional experience at IBM with the FORTRAN programming language left her with a lasting appreciation for the efficiency of the FORTRAN compiler, and that she spent much of her career advancing the science of making compilers more efficient. Coincidentally, my friend Michael in Springfield told me he’d been watching the YouTube channel of a British Astrophysicist named Dr. Becky Smethurst.  In one program she discussed coding languages with her colleague Dr. Ricarda Beckmann.  It seems they prefer Python for the quick coding they use for image processing, data analysis, model fitting and data visualization, but they often rely on good old FORTRAN for their heavy-duty simulations.  The community of astrophysicists still finds FORTRAN an efficient language for the high performance computing they must run on expensive supercomputers. How about that? Susan in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: Python is used more widely overall as a general-purpose language. Fortran is largely limited to numerical and scientific computing, and is mainly competing with C and C++ for users in that domain.
  • In using Python, you give up performance for productivity. Compared to Fortran (or C++, C, or any other compiled language), you will write fewer lines of code to accomplish the same task, which generally means it will take you less time to get a working solution.
  • The effective performance penalty for using Python varies, and is mitigated by delegating computationally intensive tasks to compiled languages. If you can use libraries, you can write all of your code in Python and get good performance (a penalty of maybe 10-40%) because all of the computationally intensive parts are calls to fast compiled language libraries. However, if you were to write everything in pure Python, the performance penalty would be a factor of 100-1000x.
  • You would use Fortran (or another compiled language) when you have a good idea of what your algorithm and application design should be, you’re willing to spend more time writing and debugging your code, and performance is paramount.
  • Email from Dave in Everest, WA: Hello Doc and Jim. Help! I have a fortune in DVD’s sitting on a dusty shelf. I would like to copy these favorite movies of mine to my Windows 10 PC, for my own personal use. Each of these DVD’s have some sort of “copy protect.” Is there an easy program that will legally copy these movies (which I have paid for) to my PC? In addition, what format do you recommend for these copied movies? I am a big Podcast fan, as 9 am EST to too early on the West Coast! Sincerely, Dave in Everett, WA
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can easily rip your DVDs to your computer. The main tool is called Handbrake (https://github.com/HandBrake/HandBrake)
  • Handbrake can rip any DVD that is not copy protected…but almost all DVDs you buy in the store are copy protected. Handbrake cannot legally include the software needed to decrypt copy protected DVDs. You can, however, download it separately.
  • You will need to download the libdvdcss.dll file to your computer (either 32-bit or 64-bit versions).
  • 32-bit: http://download.videolan.org/pub/libdvdcss/1.2.11/win32/libdvdcss-2.dll
  • 64 bit; http://download.videolan.org/pub/libdvdcss/1.2.11/win64/libdvdcss-2.dll
  • Copy the .dll file to your Handbrake program folder. You do not have to do this every time you rip a DVD, just once during setup. Now Handbrake will be able to read your encrypted DVDs. The process is similar to macOS.
  • I always select the MP4 file format, since it is the most universal video format. If you are using Apple devices exclusively, select MOV, which is the format designed for QuickTime Player. If you’re ripping a DVD sold in the US, choose the 480p preset. European DVDs are usually 576p. Don’t choose larger presets like 720p or 1080p for DVDs—they won’t make your video look any better, they’ll just make the file bigger. The file transfers should take 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Email from Janet Murphy: Dear Dr. Richard and Jim Russ. I have an iPhone and I take a lot of photos, very few of which I want to actually keep. I have iCloud turned on and when the phone charges, all the photos go up to the cloud. On the computer I can see the photos and delete unwanted shots. But, I fear that next time the phone syncs up, it will restore these unwanted photos to the computer. When the truth is I wanted to get rid of them from the phone too. How can I do like a hard delete from the computer that will actually delete the photo on the phone? Another peril of this one way street is, if i dump all the photos off the phone, it might then dump them all off the cloud. It seems perverse because it is easy to edit and cull the photos on the computer, not so easy on the phone. Janet Murphy
  • Tech Talk Responds: Cloud is Apple’s cloud-based storage facility that allows you to store your files remotely and access them from a variety of devices via Wi-Fi. You may already be familiar with iCloud if you use it to back up your iPhone’s data.
  • With iCloud Photos, every photo and video you take is automatically uploaded to your iCloud Photo Library, and then synced (transferred) to all of your other iCloud-enabled devices.
  • Once you’ve set up iCloud Photos to sync your images, you’ll be able to access your entire photo collection at any time, and from any iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch) or computer (Mac or Windows PC).
  • It’s important to note that any changes you make to photos on one Apple device will be automatically updated on all of your other iCloud-enabled devices.
  • You must install iCloud for Windows on your windows computer. iCloud files are stored in the Download folder. Photos that you want to add to the cloud are stored in the Upload folder. Unfortunately, if you delete the photo on iCloud for Windows version 11 or later, the files and thumbnails are removed from your PC but are still stored in iCloud Photos. If you edit the deleted file, it will show up on the PC again. So iCloud for Windows is not quite the same as iCloud on Apple devices. If you delete the photo using any Apple device or iCloud.com on your browser, the file will be deleted everywhere, including iCloud Photos for Windows.
  • If you want to edit your photos on the Windows computer, you best bet is to log into iCloud.com using your web browser. Any changes you make there is will replicated on all other devices.
  • Email from Claire in Madison: Dear Tech Talk. I have family members who use all sorts of filters on their Zoom calls. The might put on funny hair, a cat on the head, or look like an alien. Not really a good look for business meetings, but fun to use with family and friends. How do they do that? I want to start. Claire from Madison, WI
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your best option is to install the Snap Camera app on your PC or Mac. Just download and install. Then in the Zoom app, select Snap Camera as you camera. It will use whatever filter is active. To change the active filter open the Snap Camera app and select on the filters. There are many and some are quite good. My favorite filter is the clean-shaven look. I can Zoom without shaving.

Profiles in IT: Salman Khan

  • Salman Khan is an American educator best known as founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform.
  • Salman Khan was born October 11, 1976 in Metairie, Louisiana. He is the son of immigrants from India, the part that is now Bangladesh.
  • He attended the public school Grace King High School. He also worked as a cartoonist for the high school newspaper.
  • Khan took upper-level mathematics courses at the University of New Orleans while in high school and graduated valedictorian in 1994.
  • He double majored at MIT, receiving a BS in math and a second BS in electrical engineering and computer science in 1998.
  • He received an MS in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 2001.
  • He earned an MBA from Harvard in 2003.
  • He was the president of his MIT senior class and did volunteer teaching in Brookline for talented children, as well as developed software to teach children with ADHD.
  • He briefly worked as a Technical Architect at Scient Corporation and as a Senior Product Manager at Oracle Corporation.
  • In 2003, he was one of the initial employees at MVC Venture Capital, a hedge f und, earning about $1M before it shut down in the financial meltdown in 2008. He used his $1M nest egg to buy a house and a reserve fund.
  • It all started in the summer of 2004, when Khan learned that his seventh-grader cousin, Nadia, in New Orleans was having trouble in math class converting kilograms. He agreed to tutor her remotely.
  • Using Yahoo Doodle software as a shared notepad, as well as a telephone, Nadia learned quickly. Khan started working with her brothers, Ali and Arman.
  • He started to record videos on YouTube for them to watch at their own pace.
  • When other relatives and friends sought his tutoring, he moved his tutorials to YouTube where he created an account on November 16, 2006.
  • Khan wrote JavaScript problem generators to keep up a supply of practice exercises.
  • His videos received worldwide interest from both students and non-students, with more than 458 million views in the first number of years.
  • The popularity of his educational videos on the video-sharing website prompted Khan to quit his job as a financial analyst in late 2009.
  • He moved his focus to developing his YouTube channel, Khan Academy, full-time with the aid of close friend Josh Gefner.
  • From a small office in his home, Khan has produced 2,871 videos dealing a wide range of academic subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and the sciences.
  • Each lesson is around 10 minutes and gets to the heart of the matter. Students have found them compelling. Schools have used the Khan Academy to Flip the Classroom.
  • Khan consequently received sponsorship from Ann Doerr, the wife of John Doerr.
  • In 2009, the Khan Academy received the Microsoft Tech Award for education.
  • In 2010, Google provided $2 million to support the creation of more courses and to enable the Khan Academy to translate its core library into other languages.
  • In March 2011, Salman Khan was invited to speak at TED by Bill Gates who claims to use the Khan Academy Exercise Software to teach his own children.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged another $1.5M.
  • Khan published a book about Khan Academy and education goals titled The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined.
  • Khan Academy, initially a tool for students, added the Coach feature in 2012, promoting the connection of teachers with students through videos and monitor tools.
  • In 2014, Khan received the Annual Heinz Award in the Human Condition category.
  • By 2020, Khan Academy’s videos on YouTube had been viewed over 1.7B times.
  • Khan believes his Academy can improve the effectiveness of teachers by freeing them from traditional lectures and giving them more time for instruction specific to individual students’ needs (Flip the Classroom)
  • Khan is married to a Pakistani physician, Umaima Marvi. The couple live with their children in Mountain View, California.
  • This is another example of how the Internet is transforming society.
  • Web address: http://www.khanacademy.org

Observations from the Bunker

  • Socrates – a man for our times. We are in a culture war like Socrates.
  • He was condemned to death for telling the ancient Greeks things they didn’t want to hear, but his views on consumerism and trial by media are just as relevant today
  • Two thousand four hundred years ago, one man tried to discover the meaning of life.
  • He was allowed to philosophize unhindered on the streets of his hometown. He taught on the streets of Athens without charge. He appealed to the youth.
  • But then Athens suffered horribly in foreign and civil wars. The economy crashed; year in, year out, men came home dead; the population starved; the political landscape was turned upside down.
  • Athens had fought many debilitating wars, declared under the banner of democracy.
  • The Peloponnesian war against Sparta was criticized by as being “without just cause”.
  • Socates asked, “What is the point of walls and warships and statues if the men who build them are not happy? What is the reason for living life, other than to love it?”
  • He asked fundamental questions of human existence. What makes us happy? What makes us good? What is virtue? What is love? How should we live our lives?
  • He was anxious about the emerging power of the written word over face-to-face contact. Socrates argued that words could be manipulated, particularly when disseminated to a mass market. He abhorred debates where policians talked ideology.
  • The philosopher’s questions about the state and its leaders started to irritate.
  • On a spring morning in 399BC, Socrates was charged with two counts against the state: disrespecting the city’s traditional gods and corrupting the young.
  • He was found guilty. His punishment: state-sponsored suicide, courtesy of hemlock.
  • Socrates’s problems are our own. He lived in a city-state that was for the first time working out what role true democracy should play in human society.
  • Although Athens adored the notion of freedom of speech, the population had yet to decide how far freedom of expression extended against the freedom to offend.
  • When Socrates finally stood up to face his charges in front of his fellow citizens in a religious court in the Athenian agora, he said, “It is not my crimes that will convict me,” he said. “But instead, rumor, gossip will persuade you that I am guilty.”
  • Trial by media has always had a horrible effect.

Facebook’s $650M Illinois Privacy Settlement

  • Illinois Facebook users can claim their share of a $650 million class action settlement over alleged violations of the state’s biometric privacy law.
  • Nearly 1.4 million people have already filed a claim, which would make the expected payout about $400 each, according to Chicago attorney Jay Edelson.
  • In April 2015, Edelson filed the initial lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of plaintiff Carlo Licata, alleging the Facebook’s facial tagging feature was not allowed under Illinois privacy law.
  • In January, Facebook agreed to settle the lawsuit for $550 million, but U.S. District Judge James Donato denied the initial request for approval. After subsequent negotiations, Facebook agreed to increase the settlement to $650 million, and the court approved it in August.
  • As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to set its face recognition default setting to off, and to delete all existing and stored face templates for class members unless it obtains express consent from the user

Windows Celebrates 35th Anniversary

  • Microsoft launched its first version of Windows on November 20th, 1985, to succeed MS-DOS.
  • While Windows 10 doesn’t look anything like Windows 1.0, it still has many of its original fundamentals like scroll bars, drop-down menus, icons, dialog boxes, and apps like Notepad and MS paint. Windows 1.0 also set the stage for the mouse
  • Back in 1985, Windows 1.0 required two floppy disks, 256 kilobytes of memory, and a graphics card. If you wanted to run multiple programs, then you needed a PC with a hard disk and 512 kilobytes of memory.
  • Bill Gates headed up development of the operating system, after spending years working on software for the Mac. Windows 1.0 shipped as Microsoft’s first graphical PC operating system with a 16-bit shell on top of MS-DOS.
  • Windows has now dominated personal computing for 35 years, and no amount of Mac vs. PC campaigns have come close to changing that.
  • We have been through many versions; Windows 1.0 (1985), Windows 2.0 (1987), Windows 3.0 (1990), Windows NT 3.5 (1995, for business), Windows 95 (1995), Windows 98 (1998), Windows ME (2000), Windows 2000 (2000 for business), Windows XP (2001), Windows Vista (2007), Windows 7 (2009), Windows 8 (2012), and Windows 10 (2015).
  • Windows 10 has not changed drastically over the past five years.