Show of 02-20-2021

Tech Talk February 20, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz. Does TechTalk have a “!techtalk” Bang? I don’t see much of a difference when I look up “techtalk” and “!techtalk” with DuckDuckGo. Maybe an old subject, but “!a” for Amazon, for example, is fairly new to me. Great show. So many subjects to cover, & you & Jim do a terrific job. Arnie in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: I don’t see a difference with the explanation point. I do like DuckDuckGo because it protects your privacy and does not sell your data to advertisers. Many who value their privacy have shifted to the DuckDuckGo search engine.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the almost reliable Mr. Big Voice. I guess there is so much cryptocurrency mining going on, that various market distortions are occurring. So the manufacturers, like NVidia, are adapting. NVidia is releasing a card just for mining and another card for graphics (with mining suppressed). What is this all about? All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you’ve tried to purchase a graphics card for your gaming computer in the past few years, you’ve probably noticed skyrocketing prices and low stock everywhere. That is in part due to the rise of cryptocurrency mining that calls for powering graphics cards. NVIDIA wants to help gamers by making its new RTX 3060 cards terrible at mining. The new $299 NVIDIA RTX 3060 graphics card is due to arrive on February 25th, and in the past, affordable and powerful graphics cards have sold out immediately, leaving many gamers unhappy. Cryptocurrency miners often buy them up solely to maximize hash results so they can mine coins faster. NVIDIA hopes to stop with demand releasing drivers that will detect crypto currency mining algorithms and limit the hash rate, or cryptocurrency mining efficiency, by around 50 percent.
  • To satisfy crypto currency miners, NVIDIA announced the NVIDIA CMP, or Cryptocurrency Mining Processor, product line for professional mining. This processor does not do graphics at all. Moreover, they don’t meet the specifications required of a GeForce GPU, so they shouldn’t impact gaming GPU stock. NVidia also promised that CMPs would have lower peak core voltage and frequency, which should help with the significant power requirements that come with crypto currency mining.
  • Email from Dino in Phoenix: Dear Tech Talk. I cannot log into my router because I lost the password and I need to log into it to make some much-needed settings changes. I’m so frustrated right now that I’m seriously thinking about not even putting a password on my router and Wi-Fi connection once I manage to get into the settings screen again! I heard there are programs that you can download from the Internet that will hack into your router and give you the password. Can you recommend a good one? Dino from Phoenix, AZ
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can reset you router back to its factory default settings. You will then be able to log into it using the default username and password. You will need your router’s user manual in order to reset the router back to the factory default settings. You should be able to access an online copy of it or even download a free .PDF copy from the manufacturer’s website. Performing a factory reset on a router typically involves pressing and holding a reset button for a few seconds. Just follow the instructions in the manual to the letter.
  • After you have reset your router, log into the settings utility by following the instructions listed in the manual. This typically involves plugging your router into your computer with an Ethernet cable, then visiting your router’s IP address with a web browser and logging in using the default username and password that’s listed in the manual. Once you have successfully logged into your router using the default username and password you will be able to change them and make any other changes you wish to make.
  • I strongly recommend that you never bring a router online without protecting it’s login screen by choosing a really strong password and locking down the Wi-Fi network by enabling the strongest encryption method on it that the router supports.
  • Email from Monica in Kansas City: Dear Doc and Jim. I have been working remotely for the past nine months. Somethings I take off the afternoon for a break. I noticed that my supervisor asks questions about what I have been doing. I think that they are monitoring my activity. Is there any way that I can tell if this is true? Monica from Kansas City
  • Tech Talk Responds: As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced more people to work from home, employers have begun using digital surveillance technology to increase control and maintain productivity.
    • Business software products from Hubstaff, which tracks a worker’s mouse movements, keyboard strokes, webpages visited, email, file transfers and applications used, are surging in sales.
    • So are sales for TSheets, which workers download to their smartphones so that employers can track their location.
    • Another product, called Time Doctor, downloads videos of employees’ screens and uses a computer’s webcam, which can take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes.
    • Another system, InterGuard, can be secretly installed on workers’ computers. It creates a minute-by-minute timeline of every app and website they view, categorizing each as productive or unproductive  and ranking workers by their productivity score.
  • Online surveillance of employees may seem invasive and creepy, but it is a legal practice in the United States. Individual state laws vary over whether companies must inform workers that they’re using tracking software, but in reality when you’re on your office computer, you have no privacy at all.
  • The reality of this constant Big Brother digital spying in people’s homes is that dozens of remote workers are starting to complain that they feel burned out by this pressure. Many fear they will be branded as troublemakers or lose their jobs if they speak out. Just do your job and you will be fine.
  • Email from Dwayne in Washington: Dear Doc and Jim. I bought a used laptop from a friend a while back and it had Microsoft Office on it. When I asked him if he had the installation disk he said he had downloaded it from a site that gives away programs for free. The hard drive in the laptop stopped working a few days ago and I had to have it replaced. Can you give me the link to the page where I can download MS Office for free? Thanks for your help. Dwayne in Washington, DC
  • Tech Talk Responds: I am afraid the answer to your question is no. There are indeed places on the Internet that let you download commercial software for free, but those copies are illegal and not worth the potential trouble if you were to get caught. Moreover, most of the free “bootlegged” copies of commercial programs are infected with malware.
  • However, you can legally download a great Office suite that works a lot like Microsoft Office for free (and it reads and writes Office files just fine). It’s called LibreOffice. I used off and on for years. Link: https://www.libreoffice.org/
  • If you are a college student or faculty member, you can get academic software prices. All you need is a valid university email address. I like to use the vendor JourneyEd (https://www.journeyed.com/). You can MS Office Pro for $29.99.
  • Email from Hac in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I have forgotten the password for some the sites that I regularly visit with my Chrome browser. The browser logs me in automatically so I never have to enter the password. How can I find what they stored passwords are. I need to log into my accounts using my cell phone and I cannot remember them. BTW, I have a Windows 10 computer. Hac in Bowie, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: The good news is that your Chrome browser has a way that you can easily view your passwords. Open Chrome and make certain that you are logging into your Gmail account. Click on your profile icon (or picture). Cline on the password system (a key) just below your picture on the left. Scroll down to the webpage of interest. You should see your login name. Click on the eye symbol to the right to revealed the password. Enter your login PIN. The password will now be visible. Good luck.

 

 

Profiles in IT: Martín Casado

  • Martín Casado is a software engineer best known the father of software-defined networking and co-founder of Nicira Networks.
  • Martín Casado was born around 1976 in Cartagena, Spain.
  • In 1976, Casado was born in a small town near Seville, Spain, but his family moved to Colorado when he was one and then to Montana.
  • His family eventually settled in Arizona, where Casado attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He received BS from Northern Arizona University in 2000.
  • As he worked toward a BS in computer science, he landed two internships at Lawrence Livermore to do atmospheric modeling and simulation codes.
  • Those internships eventually helped him secure a full-time position at LLNL to work on classified simulation codes with government agencies.
  • After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Lab officials asked him to be the technical lead of a program focused on assessing the susceptibility of secure networks to cyberattacks.
  • Casado first began thinking about network virtualization in 2002, when he was working as a contractor for a US intelligence agency. He used network virtualization to ensure fewer points of entry and maximum security by uncoupling the network from the underlying physical networking hardware.
  • In 2003, when he was accepted in Stanford in computer science PhD program, he planned to continue working a Lawrence Livermore. However, Stanford did not allow doctoral students to study and work full-time.
  • He left the Lab in 2003 to begin his program. His thesis, relating to software designed networks, was unilaterally rejected by the faculty as unworkable. After his presentation to top architects at Cisco, he was yelled out of the room. Yet he persevered and ultimately created a new tech category with his research.
  • Casado’s thesis explored methods to virtualize networking, adding a software layer to off-the rack hardware, freeing customers from the constraints of proprietary hardware and software sold by the likes of companies such as Cisco.
  • Using Software Defined Networks (SDN), Casado and his team of Stanford computer scientists developed foundational technologies such as the initial open source code for OpenFlow, a protocol that allows anyone to decouple data from a hardware network.
  • During this period, he co-founded Illuminics Systems with Michael J. Freedman Illuminics Systems was acquired by Quova, Inc. in November 2006.
  • In 2007, Casado co-founded Nicira Networks, along with two of his advisors, to develop network virtualization software. It initially operating in stealth mode.
  • By using virtual computer networks rather than hardwired systems to connect cloud servers, Nicira could make the cloud more secure and reliable, hence the company’s name “Nicira”, meaning “vigilant” in Sanskrit.
  • His PhD thesis, “Architectural Support for Security Management in Enterprise Networks,” was published in 2008.
  • Nicira raised $50M from several investors, including Andreessen Horowitz and Diane Green, the co-founder of VMWare.
  • In 2012, Nicira publicly unveiled its Network Virtualization Platform (NVP).
  • NVP is a software-based system that creates a distributed virtual network infrastructure in cloud datacenters that is completely decoupled and independent from physical network hardware.
  • In July 2012, VMware acquired Nicira for $1.26 billion. Cisco lost the bid.
  • At VMware he was made a fellow and held the positions chief technology officer (CTO) for networking and security and general manager of the Networking and Security Business Unit.
  • Casado was named one of Business Insider’s 50 most powerful people in enterprise tech in 2012.
  • Casado was a 2012 recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Grace Murray Hopper Award as for helping create Software Defined Networking.
  • In 2015, he was selected for Forbes’ “Next Gen Innovators 2014.”
  • Casado left VMware and joined venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in February 2016 as its ninth general partner.
  • Andreessen Horowitz had been one of the investors Nicira, contributing $17.7 million to the start-up venture.

Observations from the Bunker

  • To CEO or not to CEO? It’s a tortured question for startup founders, and the decision on whether the product founder maintains a CEO title or not is far more complicated than you might think:
    • On one hand, the product founder — having traveled through the idea maze, earned their secret, or just plain built the company through blood, sweat, and tears — should know the technology, the product, and the market better than anyone… and is therefore assumed to be in the best position to build the right organization around that vision.
    • On the other hand, as a company transitions from product to sales, and scales its operations, the skills required change. And if you’re bringing that talent in from the outside, having the CEO title will not only attract better talent… but empower an outsider within the company.
  • Casado was the primary founder of Nicira Networks. He was focused on bringing software-defined networking and virtualization to industry. co-founded the company with Scott Shenker and Nick McKeown, who were his professors and advisors.
  • By “primary”, I mean I was the only founder with a long-term, full-time commitment to the company. Scott initially took the CEO role, he only planned on staying at the company a year or two. Casado had the largest equity ownership and a board seat.
  • Casado was the founding CTO and felt his job was to figure out what to build, build it, and then sell it.
  • When Scott transitioned back to academia, he felt that he didn’t have time to be CEO: The company needed him to focus on what mattered. So they hired Steve Mullaney, who was previously interim CEO of Palo Alto Networks.
  • Seven years after he started the company, he decided to assume the leadership role as General Manager within VMware, the company that acquired then, and to really run the business. He scaled the business from roughly $160M in revenue to $600M, and grew the organization from around 400 to 1000+ employees over four years.
  • Hiring an external CEO was probably the single best decision he made in the journey of the company. Steve was a 20-year industry veteran, so he was able to hire executives quickly from his own network. He brought the deep enterprise go-to-market expertise and leadership we lacked, and was instrumental in developing the sales strategy. Steve was not only the right person at the right time, most importantly; he trusted the founding and technical team: He was there to help build a company, not make a power play. When the time was right, Casado took the reins.

Memory Lane: QR Code Invention

  • QR (Quick Response) codes are now ubiquitous, found everywhere.
  • Denso Wave engineer Hara Masahiro invented the QR code 25 years ago.
  • Denso Wave previously used barcodes to keep track of parts. There were up to ten barcodes on each box because barcodes could only embed 20 characters.
  • Hara Masahiro came up with a better way, a two dimensional code.
  • A QR code is a two-dimensional pattern of square black and white dots.
  • The codes can contain information like links to websites or large volumes of data consisting of over 4,200 alphanumeric characters that are encoded into the patterns.
  • The inspiration came from his love for the strategy game Go.
  • While arranging the black and white pieces on the Go grid, he realized that it was a straightforward way of conveying information. That was his eureka moment.
  • While Hara gets the credit for his inspiration, Denso’s development team is responsible for building the codes into what they are today.
  • The greatest challenge for the team was how to make reading their code as fast as possible. One day, he hit on the idea that their problem might be solved by adding positional information indicating the existence of a code to be read.
  • This was how the position-detecting pattern made up of square marks came into being. These marks enable high-speed reading.
  • Denso lacked the resources to develop the technology on its own, and instead chose to make the patents open in the hopes that other companies would use QR codes.
  • The strategy worked, and soon firms around the country were using QR codes.
  • With mobile phones equipped with cameras, QR codes began to come into their own.
  • One ATM being trialed by Kagoshima Bank scans a QR code that contains information on the account holder’s facial features and other details.
  • QR codes can also be found on the doors of subway carriages in Tokyo.
  • At Amazon Go, QR codes are used to identify shoppers entering the premises.
  • QR codes even appear on gravestones to link to online obituaries or websites.
  • Hara is glad to see his idea has caught on making live easier for everyone.

Cybercriminal ‘Joker’ Withdraws $2B in Bitcoins

  • The Joker’s Stash trading site for stolen credit and debit card data from the dark web has permanently ceased operations.
  • The owner of the page known as Joker could withdraw 2 billion dollars in bitcoins, assuming he is not caught by the FBI or Interpol.
  • Joker’s Stash started operations with stolen card data in 2014, as well as a cryptocurrency laundering service. It recently announced that it will shut down its servers and backups and will never reopen.
  • The “Joker” had announced that it would halt operations on February 15, but according to financial crime analysts at Elliptic , the page has stopped operations since February 3, leaving many users without being able to get paid.
  • The page made its money by charging deposit fees for converting Bitcoin to dollars and taking a commission on all stolen card transactions.
  • With this data, Elliptic analysts based their calculations to determine how much money the “Joker” would retire with.
  • His parting words to the other criminals on the site, all the money in the world will never make you happy and that the most valuable things in life are free.

Fake Amazon Reviews Sold in Bulk

  • Fake reviews for products sold on Amazon’s are being sold online in bulk.
  • The consumer group Which? found 10 websites selling fake reviews from $7 each and incentivizing positive reviews in exchange for payment or free products.
  • An Amazon spokesman said: “We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse.”
  • These fake review websites included “packages” of fake reviews available for sellers to buy for about $21 individually, as well as bulk packages starting at $870 for 50 reviews and going up to $11,000 for 1,000.
  • The group also suggested that five of the businesses it looked at had more than 702,000 “product reviewers” on their books.
  • Product reviewers are offered small payments ranging from a few dollars up to more than $14, alongside free or discounted products. They can even take part in “loyalty schemes” and earn themselves premium goods, from children’s toys to exercise equipment.

Tip of the Week: Fake Amazon Review Detector Tools

  • Although it is possible to spot fake reviews yourself, there are some handy tools out there which can help with what can be a slightly tedious job. Although there are quite a lot to choose from, below are our top two:
  • Fakespot — Fakespot is an analytics tool created specifically to analyze and sort product reviews on Amazon, EBay and other online shopping sites. A user simply copies a product’s link into the site’s search engine and, its proprietary technology then analyzes the reviews in order to identify repeated words and phrases, frequency, dates, purchasing patterns and verified purchases to produce a list of reviews which are likely to be fakes.  Fakespot is free to use via its handy online tool. Link: https://www.fakespot.com/
  • ReviewMeta — Reviewmeta promises to analyze millions of reviews in order to help you choose which ones to trust. Simply copy and paste the product link into the site’s search tool and the system will produce a result of ‘Pass’, ‘Warn’ or fail to help guide a buyer’s decision.  The system will base its findings on language used within reviews, frequency of reviews, how soon after listing reviews are received and the number of reviews which are unverified.  For convenience, Reviewmeta.com is available for laptops and ipads as well as a number of phone apps. Link: https://reviewmeta.com/