Show of 02-13-2021

Tech Talk February 13, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the mostly good-natured Mr. Big Voice. Here is another IT pioneer that Tech Talk might consider for a feature: Meet Gladys Mae West, the hidden hero behind a system billions of people rely on today. On another note, I ran across an article about how much power crypto-currency miners are consuming to verify the distributed ledger. It is almost becoming destructive. All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the Profiles in IT suggestion. Gladys is an excellent who I will feature today. As far as crypto mining is concerned, the power consumption is enormous (both for computers and for cooling). Analysis by the University of Cambridge shows that Bitcoin (BTC) consumes more electricity than the entire country of Argentina. Cambridge researchers say cryptocurrency “mining” for Bitcoin, which uses heavy computer calculations to verify transactions , consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year. Miners often fill entire warehouses with Bitcoin mining computers. This is a high-energy consumption practice as the servers are typically on around the clock in order to be able to carry out the verifications. Overall, the estimates show that Bitcoin accounts for 0.56 percent of the world’s energy consumption. The top countries for miners are:
  • Kuwait — Kuwait offers extremely cheap electricity because of plentiful oil. A single Bitcoin mined in Kuwait costs only around $1,983.
  • Georgia — Georgia is rich in hydroelectric power and natural gas. That’s kept electricity prices low. The price of mining a single Bitcoin down to just $3,316 in Georgia.
  • Iceland — Iceland has a little bit of everything for bitcoin miners: cheap electricity, a cold climate, and favorable regulations. Iceland-based Bitcoin miners pay an average of $4,746 per Bitcoin mined.
  • Estonia — Estonia has positioned itself as an Internet-first country. Electricity costs are low in comparison to the rest of Europe. Cold winters mitigate the demand for air conditioning. Expect to invest an average of $5,551 per Bitcoin in Estonia, which could make it more favorable to buy Bitcoin online during a price dip than to mine it.
  • Canada — Land in the northern reaches of Canada is exceedingly cheap for a developed nation, as well as close to some of the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants. Plus, miners get the advantage of cool summers and frigid winters. to help reduce cooling costs. Depending on where you set up shop, expect to invest $3,965 to mine a single Bitcoin.
  • Venezuela — Venezuela is actually the world’s cheapest country for Bitcoin miners, sporting an average price tag of $531 per Bitcoin mined. The developed nation’s economy is highly subsidized by oil revenue, ensuring that mining operations can find rock-bottom prices for electricity, land, and labor.
  • Email from Joy in Ashburn: Dear Doc and Jim. I have an old ASUS Zenbook UX305 with Window 10. There is one thing about it that irritates. The Power button on this laptop is located on the keyboard and it looks just like a regular key. Just about every time I start typing, I hit the Power button by mistake and it shuts the machine down. No matter how hard I try to remember not to touch the Power button, I end up doing it anyway. Is there any way to disable it? Joy in Ashburn, VA.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The unfortunate placement of the Power button on the Zenbook UX305 is a common source of frustration. Why ASUS decided to make the power button look so much like a regular “key” and place it right next to the other keys on the keyboard is hard to understand. It is very easy to disable the Power button simply by changing a Windows setting. Here’s how:
    • Right-click on the Battery icon located in the bottom-right corner of the screen in the “Notifications” area.
    • Click Power Options.
    • Click Change what the power buttons do.
    • Find the “When I press the power button” line and change both settings to Do nothing.
    • Click Save changes.
  • From now on, you will be able to press the Power button all you want without accidentally shutting your laptop down.
  • Email from Carol in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. My father passed away a while back. He wanted me to have two large boxes of VHS tapes containing home videos and family recordings that he had made over the years. I would really love to transfer the contents of those old VHS tapes to DVDs. Can you tell me the best way to do that without spending to much? I have a DVD burner in my Windows PC and a working VCR that I can use. Carol in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: You have three options available to you.
    • Buy a VHS to Digital converter. Plug the converter into your VCR, then plug the converter’s output cable into your computer’s USB port. Save to your hard drive to to your DVD drive. VIDBOX Video Conversion for PC (2020) is $59 on Amazon. You will need a VCR for this device and a DVD drive. Just play a VHS tape while running the converter’s included software to copy the video from the tape onto a blank DVD-R.
    • Buy a VHS/DVD combo recorder. Simply insert a VHS tape and a blank DVD-R into the recorder, then follow the instructions in the user manual to copy the contents of the tape onto the DVD. These devices are expensive on Amazon (in the $600 to $900 range). I would not recommend this option, unless you want something very simple.
    • Pay a company that specializes in converting VHS to DVD. . This is by far the simplest way and also the most expensive. It will cost about $260 for 20 tapes using Legacy Box. If you decide to go this route you’ll find many others to choose from by searching Google for transfer VHS to DVD.
  • Email from John in Baltimore: Dear Tech Talk. I bought a PC recently because it has features my Mac does not. One of the functions I am constantly missing on the PC is my Mac’s Handoff feature. It’s where I can copy something on my Mac then immediately paste it into my iPhone or iPad, and vice versa. Turns out I use this functionality all the time. John in Baltimore
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Apple has Handoff feature is convenient. I love it for Apple ecosystem. Unfortunately, Apple and Windows do not cooperate very much. You can find a few clipboard apps that offer universal access. For instance, Magic Copy allows you copy text or a link on one device, then open the Magic Copy app. That puts the copied material onto the clipboard. Then go to the other device and open Magic Copy. Now you can paste. Magic Copy is a free app, with in app payments for added features.  Best of luck with your new PC.
  • Email from Doug in St. Louis: Dear Tech Talk. I have smart devices all over the house, like Amazon’s Alexa. Are these devices always listening to me? Should I be concerned about my privacy? Doug in St. Louis
  • Tech Talk Responds: Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest Mini can make life easier, but they also present some privacy concerns. These devices are always listening, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. When people hear that smart speakers are always listening, what they’re really afraid of is the possibility that the smart speaker is always recording them. Fortunately, that’s not what’s happening with smart speakers. It’s always listening, but nothing registers until it hears the “Alexa” or “Hey Google” wake-up commands. Only then will it record and take action on what you’re saying. Without those wake-up commands, anything you say is “in one ear and out the other,” so to speak. Hearing is not the same as understanding, just like listening is not the same as recording.
  • When it comes to actually recognizing the wake-up command, Amazon uses neural network training. It trains an algorithm by feeding it a bunch of different instances of the word “Alexa.” Google Assistant does something similar.
  • Every time you say a word, it’s run through algorithms to figure out whether it matches the speech pattern associated with the wake-up command. This all happens locally on your device. Only after it has passed through several layers of detection does it begin to record and send the audio to the cloud.
  • I hope that that will ease some of your concerns about listening, but what about recordings? They are listened to my people to improve the speech recognition programs. Both Google and Amazon allow you to see what exactly has been recorded, and you can delete the recordings at any time.

Profiles in IT: Gladys Mae West

  • Gladys Mae West a mathematician best known for her work on satellite geodesy models that were incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • West was born in 1930 as Gladys Mae Brown in Sutherland, Virginia.
  • Her family was an African-American farming family in a community of sharecroppers. Her mother worked at a tobacco factory and her father was a farmer.
  • West realized early on that she did not want to work in the tobacco fields or factories like the rest of her family, and decided that education would be her way out.
  • At West’s high school, the top two students of each graduating class received full-ride scholarships to Virginia State University, a historically black public university.
  • West worked hard and graduated in 1948 with the title of valedictorian. West chose to study mathematics, a subject mostly studied at her college by men.
  • West graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.
  • After graduating, she taught math and science for two years in Waverly, Virginia.
  • West then returned to VSU to complete her Master of Mathematics degree, graduating in 1955.
  • In 1956, West was hired to work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, one of only four black employees.
  • She met her husband Ira West at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, where he also worked as a mathematician. They were married in 1957.
  • West was a programmer for large-scale computers and a project manager for data-processing systems used in the analysis of satellite data.
  • Concurrently, West earned an MS public administration from the Univ. of Oklahoma.
  • In the early 1960s, she participated in a study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.
  • Subsequently, West began to analyze data from satellites, putting together altimeter models of the Earth’s shape. She became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans.
  • West consistently put in extra hours, cutting her team’s processing time in half. She was recommended for a commendation in 1979.
  • From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, West programmed an IBM computer to calculate the shape of the Earth – an ellipsoid with irregularities.
  • Generating an accurate model required her to employ complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape.
  • West’s data ultimately became the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • In 1986, West published Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter, a 51-page technical report.
  • The guide was published to explain how to increase the accuracy of the estimation of heights and vertical deflection, important components of satellite geodesy.
  • This was achieved by processing the data created from the radio altimeter on the Geosat satellite, which went into orbit on March 12, 1984.
  • West retired from the base in 1998, a year after her husband, and the two celebrated by traveling to New Zealand and Australia.
  • Five months after retirement, West had a stroke that impaired her hearing and vision, balance and use of her right side.
  • She and her husband started taking classes at the King George YMCA to rebuild her strength and recover the mobility she’d lost in the stroke.
  • She couldn’t stay in bed and feel sorry for herself. She decided to pursue her PhD.
  • In 2018, West completed a PhD in Public Administration online from Virginia Tech.
  • Gladys West being inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2018
  • West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018, one of the highest honors bestowed by Air Force Space Command.
  • A press release at the time called her one of the so-called ‘Hidden who did computing for the US military in the era before electronic systems.
  • West was selected by the BBC as part of their 100 Women of 2018.
  • West continues to prefer using a paper map over a GPS tracking system, saying she still trusts her brain and paper maps. That perplexes her children.

Observations from the Bunker

  • How can education in relevant in today’s changing environment. Things are progressing at an exponential rate, according to Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity.
  • Jobs that exist today will not exist in ten years. AI, robotics, molecular science are changing everything we know.
  • What kind of knowledge or experience will last a lifetime? That is what education should focus on. In my view their are five areas that must be included in a complete education.
    • Growth Mindset — School must have projects that develop a growth mindset, where you do not fear failure and are will to push the envelope and take on difficult project.
    • Critical Thinking — The ability to think through a problem that you have never encountered required a structured way of thinking. Socrates taught this on the streets of Athens. Scientists call this the scientific method. Education call it critical thinking.
    • Communication Skill – Both verbal and written communication are essential when working in teams. No one can survive with the ability to communication clearly.
    • Mindful Leadership – Someone who is mindful of their own emotions, can sense what others need in their team. They become natural Level V leaders, as described by Collins in Good to Great.
    • Happiness – Knowing that true happiness can be achieved when helping others, helps us select goals that will lead to happiness and fulfilment in life.
  • If an educational institution can provide these five things to its graduates, they will be able to thrive in this quickly changing world.

Tip of the Week: iPhone Virtual Trackpad Mode

  • Positioning the text cursor on an iPhone or iPad can sometimes feel frustrating and imprecise. You tap the screen, and sometimes it doesn’t go where you want.
  • Luckily, there’s a faster, more precise way called “virtual trackpad mode” built into your device’s keyboard.
  • Switching to virtual trackpad mode is easy. It depends on whether your iPhone has 3D Touch, a feature Apple no longer includes on the latest iPhones.
    • On an iPhone with 3D Touch, press your finger down firmly (but not too hard) on the onscreen keyboard.
    • On an iPhone without 3D Touch, hold your finger on the spacebar of the onscreen keyboard for a moment. When the labels on the keys disappear, you are in virtual trackpad mode. Slide your finger around on the screen to position the cursor exactly where you want it to go.
  • When you are done, lift your finger off the virtual keyboard, and the cursor will stay where you left it. The onscreen keyboard letters will reappear, and you’ll be able to type again.

Bitcoin Surges Past $48,000.

  • Bitcoin hit an intraday record of $48,297 at roughly 8:30 a.m. ET on February 11, 2021. Bitcoin is up more than 60% since the start of the year after quadrupling in value in 2020.
  • BNY Mellon, America’s oldest bank and a major custody provider, said on that day that it would begin financing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The company will eventually allow crypto assets to pass through the same financial network it currently uses for more traditional holdings like U.S. Treasury bonds and equities.
  • The day before, Mastercard said it would offer support for some cryptocurrencies on its network this year.
  • Three days earlier, Tesla announced that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and would soon accept it as a form of payment.
  • Skeptics, however, worry bitcoin may be one of the largest market bubbles in history.


 

Canada Approves World’s First Bitcoin ETF

  • The Ontario Securities Commission has approved the launch of Purpose Bitcoin ETF (exchange-traded fund).
  • The ETF will be the first in the world to invest directly in physically settled Bitcoin, not derivatives, allowing investors easy and efficient access to the emerging asset class of cryptocurrency.
  • Investors have been able to trade bitcoin using futures contracts on the CME derivatives exchange.
  • They can also buy closed-end investment funds, such as the Bitcoin Fund on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
  • In the United States, eight firms have tried without success since 2013 to create a bitcoin ETF.
  • Among issues the Securities and Exchange Commission appears to be focused on are the potential for market manipulation and the process of custody audits that verify that a fund holds its purported assets.

AT&T Shamed by Angry User

  • Aaron Epstein spent $10,000 to buy an quarter page ad in The Wall Street Journal to tell AT&T’s CEO he wasn’t happy with his 3Mbps internet service.
  • Now AT&T has him hooked up with a fiber connection, and he’s getting over 300 Mbps up and down.
  • All it took was getting interviewed by Ars, the ad going viral on Twitter, and a Stephen Colbert mention.
  • The North Hollywood, CA resident says he’s been an AT&T customer for 60 years and says he’s disappointed that the company isn’t keeping up with competitors when it comes to his area’s internet.
  • Less than two weeks later, AT&T techs had him hooked up, though the company says it was part of a planned rollout.
  • He even got a call from AT&T CEO John Stankey himself.
  • If anything, this story highlights how little power the public has when it comes to their internet access.
  • If you need to have $10,000 to publicly humiliate your ISP, we’re doing something wrong.