Show of 01-30-2021

Tech Talk January 30, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Susan in Alexandria: Good morning Dr. Shurtz. On January 23rd, you covered a patent Microsoft is seeking for a Chatbot that could let us “talk” to our dead loved ones. Hearing that reminded me of the “Dimensions in Testimony” project that was covered on CBS 60 Minutes on April 5, 2020. Aging Holocaust survivors had been interviewed in preparation for Steven Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List” and the interviews were preserved on videotape.  The USC Shoah Foundation turned those interviews into an AI knowledge base that could be used to allow future generations to (virtually) ask those individuals about their experiences, and to see and hear their responses.  And those Holocaust survivors were enthusiastic about the possibility of sharing their experiences in that way. Once again, thanks for a wonderfully informative show! Susan in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: That is a great application for legacy chatbots. The important thing to note here is that the individuals involved gave their permission for this legacy use of their information. That is an important ethical distinction.
  • Email form Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the ever-present Mr. BigVoice. I discovered this new Alexa security feature that I was unaware of: Alexa Guard Plus Listens for Intruders (And Barks At Them). By default, all Echo smart speakers include a feature called Alexa Guard, which can alert you to the sound of broken glass or smoke alarms. The free Alexa Guard feels quite small now that Amazon is rolling out Alexa Guard Plus, a premium security service that gives you intruder alerts, hands-free access to emergency services, and barking sounds to scare off burglars. Also, I just read this article about facial recognition and I am not sure I believe it. I says that facial recognition can prediction political orientation. What do you think, Doc? All the best, Your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Guard Plus is $5 per month. It also integrates with the Ring door bell system. Seems like a good idea, but I don’t like the month cost. If you have several Alexa’s in the house, it may provide a great service. As for facial recognition used to predict political orientation, I am skeptical. On a large sample, it is 60 to 70 percent accurate, but uses cues other than strictly facial recognition (clothing, facial hair, etc.). However, this does show the dangers of AI and facial recognition software.
  • Email form Susan in Alexandria: Good morning Dr. Shurtz. On the January 23 show, your “Tip of the Week” was to uninstall Facebook from our mobile devices. I was able to uninstall Facebook easily from my Samsung tablet, but I ran into a problem on my Motorola phone. Would it help to Disable Facebook? If so, would I have to Disable Facebook every time I started Android? What would you suggest? Thanks, Susan in Alexandria
  • Tech Talk Responds: Even in 2019, you will still find plenty of phones with Facebook preinstalled. What is worse, it is installed as a system app, so it can’t normally be uninstalled without root access. Facebook must have paid for that privilege. You cannot delete some system apps that came pre-installed on your Android phone. But you can disable them permanently. By far the easiest method is to disable the app within Settings. To accomplish this, open the Settings app and select “Apps.”
  • From here, choose Facebook (or whatever system app you wish to remove) to open its App Info page. There are two buttons along the top of the page, “Disable” and “Force Stop.” Choose “Disable” and hit “OK” on the popup. Good luck with your Facebook purge.
  • Email from Dennis in Kansas: Dear Doc and Jim. I have thousands of family pictures that I’ve copied onto an external hard drive. That drive is currently locked up in a fireproof lock box. My question is will those pictures last forever or is their lifetime limited in any way? Will my children and grandchildren be able to access those files 10 or 20 years from now, or even farther into the future? Dennis in Pittsburg, KS
  • Tech Talk Responds: I’m afraid the answer would have to be no. Hard drives store data magnetically on a specially-coated metal platter, and there are several potential issues that could arise to prevent people from accessing the files stored on a hard drive in the future.
  • I believe your best course of action would be to make several copies of those photos either on blank writable DVDs, additional external hard drives or USB flash drives and distribute them right now to other members of your family. The more copies of those photos that exist in different places, the less chance there is of a catastrophe wiping out all of the existing copies. If you were to trust that one hard drive the photos are currently stored on to preserve them for all time, they would all be wiped out if the drive were to get lost or stop working. And what if someone were to break into your home and steal the lock box and its contents?
  • Every few years they’ll need to copy those photos onto new drives because the data stored on any type of storage medium will either degrade over time or become unusable due to changes in technology.
  • Email from Cheryl in Baltimore: Dear Doc and Jim. Is there any way to prevent people from stealing the photos I have posted on my Facebook account? Cheryl in Baltimore, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. You can always set the privacy level for your photos to “Friends” to prevent strangers from seeing them in their newsfeeds. And it will also prevent your friends from sharing them on their own Timelines. However, that won’t prevent your friends from copying your photos to their own computers or mobile devices. And as you probably know, once a photo is on someone else’s device they have full control over what happens to it. If a photo can be viewed on a screen, it can be downloaded to the viewer’s device or photographed with a camera. And you might never even find out about it.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I like the idea of using free software whenever possible, but I want to make sure my laptop is protected from all the nasty viruses that are out there these days. Are the free antivirus programs really just as good as the ones you pay for? Jim in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: The short answer to your question is yes, the free antivirus products really are just as good as their “paid” counterparts. In a recent head-to-head test the free version of Avast Antivirus out-preformed all of the other antivirus products they tested. That included all the major “name-brand” paid antivirus programs! While it’s true that you usually get more bells and whistles when you opt for the paid version, the protection you receive against malware is exactly the same. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to spend money on an antivirus program.
  • Just choose a good free one, like Avast, keep it updated, and run frequent scans.
  • Hac in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I have heard that scammers are cloning Facebook accounts. Is there any way that I can protect my Facebook account from being cloned? I have so many pictures and comments on Facebook. It is a worry. Hac in Bowie
  • Tech Talk Responds: Account cloning is where a scammer creates a completely new Facebook account in your name and populates it with photos and personal information they’ve copied from your real account. They then use the new fake account to send friend requests to all the people on your real account’s friends list. Scammers typically try to target accounts for cloning that have a fairly large number of friends, but not always. ANY Facebook account is at risk of being cloned, and that includes YOURS!
  • There’s one simple settings change that can make your account very unattractive to a potential scammer who might be interested in cloning it. Hide your friends list from the public by changing its privacy level to Only me. Setting the privacy of your friends list to “Only me” makes it an unattractive target for cloning because the scammers wouldn’t know who to send friend requests to.
  • If you access Facebook via a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer.
    • Log in to your Facebook account and visit your Timeline page.
    • Click the Friends link.
    • Click the three dots located just to the right of the “Find Friends” link.
    • Click Edit Privacy.
    • On the line that reads “Who can see your friend list?“, click the down arrow at the far right and select Only me.
  • A similar process is followed for the mobile app.


 

Profiles in IT: Elon Reeve Musk

  • Elon Reeve Musk is an engineer, best known as cofounder PayPal, founder SpaceX, early investor and CEO Tesla, founder Boring Company, and more.
  • Elon Reeve Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa.
  • After his parents divorced in 1980, Musk lived mostly with his father in Pretoria.
  • Musk graduated from Pretoria Boys High School in South Africa.
  • At age 10, he developed an interest in computing using the Commodore VIC-20.
  • He learned computer programming using a manua. By12, he sold a BASIC-based video game Blastar to PC and Office Technology magazine for approximately $500.
  • An awkward and introverted child, Musk was bullied throughout his childhood and was once hospitalized after a group of boys threw him down a flight of stairs.
  • He attended Waterkloof House Preparatory School and Bryanston High School before graduating from Pretoria Boys High School.
  • He moved to Canada in 1989, lived with a cousin in Saskatchewan, and worked odd jobs at a farm and lumber-mill.
  • In 1990, Musk entered Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Two years later, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania; he graduated in 1997 with a BS in Economics from the Wharton School and a BA in Physics.
  • In 1994, Musk interned in Silicon Valley at an energy storage start-up called Pinnacle Research Institute and at start-up Rocket Science Games.
  • In 1995, Musk, co-founded Zip2, with his brother Kimbal and Greg Kouri. Using funds from angel investors, Zip2 developed an internet city guide for publishers.
  • Musk slept on the couch and showered at the YMCA. He coded at seven nights a week, so the company’s single computer could be used in the day for business.
  • Zip2 obtained contracts with The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.
  • In 1999, Compaq acquired Zip2 for $307M in cash. Musk received $22M for his 7%.
  • In March 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company, with $10 million from the sale of Zip2.
  • One year later, the company merged with Confinity, which had a money-transfer service called PayPal. The merged company was renamed PayPal in 2001.
  • In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock, of which Musk received $165 million for his 11.7%.
  • In 2001, Musk conceived of Mars Oasis, a greenhouse on Mars to save mankind.
  • In 2002, after two failed attempts to buy Russian ICBMs, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., trading as SpaceX, with $100M his own funds.
  • In 2006, SpaceX was selected as one of two companies to for a crew and cargo resupply demonstration contract to the ISS
  • In 2008, SpaceX received $1.6 billion for a Commercial Resupply Services program.
  • Starting in 2011, SpaceX was funded to develop the Dragon 2 crew capsule.
  • SpaceX’s goal is to reduce the cost of human spaceflight by a factor of 10. SpaceX successfully landed the first stage near the launch pad and later on a drone ship.
  • In 2018, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in operation.
  • In 2015, SpaceX began development of the Starlink constellation of LEO satellites to provide Internet access. The total cost of the decade-long project will be $10B.
  • In May 2020, SpaceX launched its first manned flight, the Demo-2 to the ISS.
  • Musk hopes to send humans to Mars within 20 years, with the first launch in 2022.
  • In 2004, Musk led the Series A round of investment in Tesla. He joined Tesla’s Board as Chair. Musk became CEO and product architect in 2008.
  • Tesla first built an electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, in 2008, with sales of about 2,500 vehicles to 31 countries. Tesla began delivery of its Model S in June 2012.
  • The Model X, announced in February 2012, was launch September 2015.
  • In July 2016, Gigafactory 1 was opened near Reno, NV. Gigafactory 1 produces 35 GWh/year of batteries. In 2019, Musk opened Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory.
  • In 2016, Tesla began developing Autopilot in-house after dropping Mobileye.
  • In 2019, Musk unveiled the Tesla Cybertruck with commercial production in 2021.
  • As of 2020, the Tesla Model 3 is the world’s best-selling electric car (500,000 units).
  • In 2016, Musk owned about 28.9M Tesla shares, equal to 22% of the company.
  • In 2006, Musk co-founded SolarCity, which his cousins. By 2013, SolarCity was the second largest provider of solar power systems in the United States.
  • In 2012, Musk announced that SolarCity and Tesla would collaborate to use electric vehicle batteries to smooth the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid.
  • Tesla acquired SolarCity for over $2 billion in 2016 as its solar division
  • In 2016, Musk co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology start-up company to integrate the human brain with AI. These enhancements could improve memory or allow more direct interfacing with computing devices.
  • After being stuck in traffic, he founded The Boring Company to create traffic tunnels.
  • A tunnel beneath the Las Vegas Convention Center was completed in early 2020.
  • In 2013, Musk unveiled Hyperloop, a concept for high-speed transportation system reduced-pressure tubes in which capsules ride on an air cushion.
  • In December 2015, Musk announced OpenAI, a not-for-profit AI research company. OpenAI wants to keep large corporations from gaining too much power with AI.
  • Musk is chairman of the Musk Foundation to provide solar-power energy systems in disaster areas as well as other goals. Since 2002, he has made over 350 contributions.
  • In 2020, Musk has become the world’s richest person, as his net worth crossed $185B, taking the top spot from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
  • Musk does not really care about money. He is an engineer. He has sold all of his home so he can live a simply life and continue inventing.

 

Observations from the Bunker

  • How does Elon Musk interview.
  • When Musk invited “ace engineers” to apply for work at “Gigafactory Berlin, he included the following request.
  • When sending your résumé, please describe a few of the hardest problems you solved and exactly how you solved them.
    • He gets it in writing. — In today’s work environment, writing skills are more vital than ever. Engineers (and everyone else) need to be able to communicate their thoughts, not only through drawings and presentations but, more important, also via email, Slack, and other IM platforms.
    • He asks for multiple examples. — Intelligent minds may be able to solve one or two hard problems. But the most intelligent minds actually seek out difficult problems to solve–giving them a great repository of examples.
    • He speaks in superlatives. — Musk doesn’t only ask for a few problems; he asks for a few of the hardest problems. Because once you’re concentrating on the top 1 to 2 percent of candidates, it becomes more challenging to differentiate one from the other. One way to do so is to look at the types of problems they’ve already solved and their level of complexity.
    • He asks to see the process. — Musk asks candidates to show “exactly how they solved” the problem. He thus shows his interest not only in the solution, but also in the process by which the candidate found that solution. In other words, Musk and Tesla want to see how the potential employee thinks.
  • With this technique, Tesla can analyze how applicants’ problem-solving methods could be applied to similar problems the company is dealing with.

Billions of Cicadas Set to Emerge in Easter US

  • The cicadas burrow underground as nymphs and suck fluids from the roots of plants as they grow, eventually bursting into the open as adults in mass synchronized events.
  • The last such event for 15 states including New York, Ohio, Illinois and Georgia occurred in 2004.
  • The cicadas emerge in a 17-year cycle, meaning they will appear this year once temperatures are warm enough, expected to be mid-May
  • While cicadas will not harm people, pets that gorge on them may become ill.
  • It is thought that long underground development helps cicadas survive predators.
  • The noise made by the enormous swarms will be noticeable, however, with males emitting mating calls that can reach 100 decibels.
  • The males produce these mating “songs” by vibrating their tymbals, two rigid, drum-like membranes on the underside of the abdomen.
  • BTW, 2004 was the year that Gmail was launched. I go one of the first accounts by offering a staff person, chocolate covered Cicadas made by our culinary department.

Tip of the Week: Undo and Redo Tricks

  • Most every computer user is familiar with the “Undo” and “Redo” options on program menus.
  • While most every program out there has an “Undo” option, the menus in many programs don’t include its “Redo” counterpart.
  • Well, if your computer happens to be a Windows PC you still have a “Redo” option available at all times even if the menu in the program your using doesn’t.
  • All you have to do is press the Ctrl+Y key combination!
  • There happens to be a keyboard shortcut for the “Undo” option as well. Simply press Ctrl+Z!

AI-Powered Text from This Program Could Fool the Government

  • Suggested by Bob in Maryland
  • In October 2019, Idaho proposed changing its Medicaid program. The state needed approval from the federal government and solicited feedback via Medicaid.gov.
  • Roughly 1,000 comments arrived. But half came not from concerned citizens. They were generated by AI. Staff could not distinguish the real comments from the fake.
  • The project was the work of Max Weiss, a Harvard student. He used the OpenAI language bot, GPT-2 to generate fake comments. OpenAI was started by Elon Musk.
  • Besides the comment-generating tool, Weiss built software for automatically submitting comments. He also conducted an experiment in which volunteers were asked to distinguish between the AI-generated comments and ones written by humans. The volunteers did no better than random guessing.
  • After submitting the comments, Weiss notified the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He had added a few characters to make it easy to identify each fake comment.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says it has added new safeguards to the public comment system in response to Weiss’ study.
  • In 2017, researchers discovered that over a million comments submitted to the FCC regarding plans to roll back net neutrality rules .
  • OpenAI released a more capable version of its text-generation program, called GPT-3, last June. So far, it has only been made available to a few AI researchers. Expect more deep fake comments.

Main Street Takes on Wall Street with Social Media

  • Keith Gill, 34 is the investor who helped direct the world’s attention to GameStop, leading a horde of online followers.
  • Gill, also known as “DeepF—ingValue” by fans on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum and “Dada” by his 2-year-old daughter.
  • Gill he goes by “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube and has drawn tens of thousands of fans and copycats who share screenshots of their own brokerage accounts.
  • Gill recently worked in marketing for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.
  • He never expected to have a legion of fans debating his identity online, or millions of dollars in his trading account.
  • He was just a dad with an online hobby and a plastic kiddie slide on the front lawn of a Boston suburb.
  • On Wednesday, the stock jumped 135% to $347.51, a record, before plunging to $194 a share Thursday and then sharply rebounding to end the week. At the start of the year, GameStop shares went for around $18.
  • Many online investors say his advocacy helped turn them into a force powerful enough to cause big losses for established hedge funds.
  • Small investors from Reddit, drove up the stock value of GameStop and AMC. Both had been targeted by short sellers and hedge fund operators.
  • When these stocks soared in value, market insiders lost millions and the small guys made millions.
  • The short sellers are taking sharp losses and that is pushing them to sell other stocks they own to raise cash. That, in turn, helped pull down the market.
  • The small investors used the commission free trading app, Robinhood. The mission of Robinhood is to bring investing to the masses to democratize Wall Street.
  • They Robinhood (robinhood.com) briefly stopped trading AMC and GameStop, but shortly reversed that decision when their users protested.
  • Andrew Left, who was threatened by day traders following a bet against GameStop, is no longer going to publish short-selling report
  • Main Street outwitted Wall Street. That is the real story here.

Dumb Idea of the Week: Connecting Chastity Belt to the Internet

  • Sam Summers was sitting at home with his private parts wrapped in an internet-connected chastity cage when he got a weird message on the app that connects to the device.
  • Someone told him they had taken control and they wanted around $1,000 in Bitcoin to give control back to Summers.
  • When Summers called his partner, she told him it wasn’t her, even after he told her their safe word.
  • He had gotten hacked and you know what was locked in the cage.
  • Summers is one of several people who purchased a chastity cage device called Cellmate and produced by Qiui, a China-based manufacturer.
  • Some of the device’s owners got their accounts — and thus their devices as well — hacked at the end of last year, after security researchers warned that the manufacturer left an exposed and vulnerable API, which could allow hackers to take control of the devices.
  • Summers realized he had some Bitcoin stashed in an old account. So he sent the hacker what they wanted, hoping that would be it. They refused to open it. They wanted more money.
  • He managed to break out with a hammer and bolt cutters. He suffered only a minor injury with some bleeding.
  • Link: https://www.qiui.store/ ($169.00 for both the long and short version)