Show of 03-20-2021

Tech Talk March 20, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Al in Calvert County: Hello Doc and Jim. I’m a long time listener from Calvert County and a fellow physicist. Viva F = ma. I’m well aware of Google’s pervasive harvesting of one’s search interests and selling profiling information based on that data.  Consequently, I am using DuckDuckGo and ixquick much more often now.  My first question is whether Bing and Yahoo search are as bad as Google.  It would seem Microsoft in particular has many other ways to make money other than selling data.  Your thoughts? My second question is whether Google harvests search data from searching within a website accessed via Google Chrome.  For example, if I open a Chrome browser tab and navigate to an auto parts company and search for specific auto parts or how-to videos, does Google see those in-site searches, enter that data into a profile and eventually start sending me auto repair related ads? Thanks for an always informative show. Viva E = mc2. Al from Calvert County
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you are using Chrome, Google tracks your browser history and hence your internal searches in a website. Many websites actually use the Google search engine for their internal search. It is easy to implement and works really well. We use it at Stratford. If they do use Google for search, they are tracking you again. If you do not want Chrome to track you, do not sign into your Google account. But they still have ways to track your machine identifier, etc.
  • The fact is Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Bing want to make your business their business. Google is the worst because of their invasive ecosystem (YouTube, Gmail, Search). Yahoo and Bing are tracking, recording and analyzing your private internet search moves too. Microsoft has bundled Bing search results together with Cortana, in Windows 10.They all collect and sell your information.
  • If you want anonymous search, there are good three sites.
    • StartPage (https://www.ixquick.com/) does not collect, share, or save your information. You can visit pages anonymously.
    • Duck Duck Go (https://duckduckgo.com/) does not collect share or save your information. The search is fast and vast.
    • Yippy Yippy Yea (http://www.yippy.com/) does not collect share or save your information. This search engine works by searching all the other search engines and then supplying results.
  • Email from Richard in Rockville: Good morning Dr. Richard Shurtz & Jim Russ. Thank you for High Tech Talk. My laptop battery light indicated for a few weeks that my laptop battery was getting old. Although the battery died a couple of weeks ago, my laptop has worked just fine being plugged into the AC wall outlet.  I would like to continue using the laptop in AC mode.  Can I continue to use it (trouble free) in this mode even though it houses a dead battery? I have saved whatever files are important on flash drives, etc. Thanks again, I listen every Saturday on WFED 1500. Richard in Rockville.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can continue to operate your laptop without a battery. It will function just like a desktop. However, you are giving up a backup power supply in the event you lose power and the convenience of moving your computer without interruption. However, replacement batteries are cheap (probably around $70). If it were my laptop, I would get a replacement battery for convenience. There are a number of websites that specialize in laptop batteries. And you always have Amazon. Get a battery with good reviews.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the elusive Mr. BigVoice, Since Doc’s internet seems to be intermittent at the beach house, making it tough for him to do research for the show, I thought I might just continue to make suggestions to help doc out a bit: Minor league baseball reportedly experimenting with robot umpires. All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: This is a great use of technology. MLB announced that it plans to expand testing of the Automatic Ball-Strike System (ABS) that had previously seen testing by the Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League. In the expansion of testing, two minor leagues will use the systems.
  • ABS is essentially a radar dish that scans and analyzes how pitches and swings are made. The product is typically installed above home plate, and communicates its assessment to the human ump via an earpiece, who then makes the physical signal of the call to the crowd. Rather than calling a pitch a ball or a strike as usual, the umpire waited for a determination of the call from an audio signal. While a delay in the ultimate call from the home-plate umpire was anticipated, little difference was noticed by this observer in the time it took the umpire to physically call the pitch.
  • Similar systems are being tried in tennis. They track the ball and determine if it was in or out. Players prefer the computer because it is more reliable and does not favor one player over another.
  • Email from Peter in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I just heard Wikipedia is going to start charging people a monthly fee if they want to keep using their website. I use them a lot and it concerns me that they might start making me pay. Are they really planning to start charging their users a fee? Peter in Fairfax.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Wikipedia is in fact planning to start charging for access to their data, but it will not affect individual users like you and me in any way. They are negotiating with large companies like Google, Apple and Amazon to get them to pay for access to Wikipedia data. Those companies are using data from Wikipedia to make money for themselves.
  • For example, when you ask Siri, Alexa or “Hey Google” a question, the answer you receive more often than not is retrieved from Wikipedia. Those virtual assistants and the immediate answers they provide are huge selling points.
  • Wikipedia has historically been financed by voluntary contributions, and that will not change. You will continue to see requests for donations.
  • Email from Tracy in San Francisco: Dear Tech Talk. Someone is sending me threatening emails, and it has me worried. I am sure I know who it it. He mentions things in the emails that only he should know about. I do not recognize the email address. Is there any way to trace the IP address from the email headers and find out where the emails are being sent from? I know where this person lives now so it should be easy to prove that it is he. Tracy in San Francisco
  • Tech Talk Responds; You can easily find out the general location that corresponds to a public IP address, with a one of exception. If this person is using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) then the IP address contained in the email he is sending out won’t show his actual IP address. Instead, that IP address will be one that was assigned by the VPN server.
  • If this person is not using a VPN you just might be able to determine the general location where the email was sent from by simply visiting the IP Location Finder website (https://tools.keycdn.com/geo) and paste the originating IP address into the search box. The tool will then look up that IP address and display its corresponding city and state. This is actually the location of the ISP who provide the IP address, which should be in the general area, but not the exact address.
  • Email from Brad in Colorado Springs: Dear Tech Talk. I have a problem with my laptop. Ever since I updated it to Windows 10 the WiFi automatically disconnects after about 30 minutes and I have to reboot the computer to get it turned back on. How can I keep the WiFi working until I actually shut the laptop down? Brad in Colorado Springs, CO.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your computer is turning off WiFi to save power. You can prevent your laptop from automatically disconnecting from your WiFi network with a simple settings adjustment to power management.
    • Right-click on the Network icon that is located in the notifications area in the bottom-right corner of the screen, then select Open Network and Internet settings.
    • Click Change adapter options. You should see a list of network connections.
    • Right-click on your wireless connection, then click Properties.
    • Click the Configure button.
    • Select the Power Management tab.
    • Uncheck the box beside Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power. Click OK.
  • Your laptop’s WiFi connection should stay active now throughout your entire computing sessions without disconnecting on its own.

 

 

Profiles in IT: Geoffrey William Arnold Dummer

  • Geoffrey William Arnold Dummer was an English electronics, who popularized the concepts that led to the development of the integrated circuit or microchip.
  • W. A. Dummer was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, 25 February 1909, and educated at Sale High School and Manchester College of Technology.
  • His first job was with Mullard Radio Valve Company in 1931 examining defective valves returned by customers to establish the cause of failure.
  • In 1935 he moved to A. C. Cossor Ltd to work on cathode ray tubes and circuits.
  • In 1938, he moved to Salford Electrical, working in the high-frequency laboratory.
  • In 1939, he joined the Ministry of Defense as a Technical Officer and on time bases at the Telecommunications Research Establishment. The group was responsible for the first plan position indicator (PPI) ever built. PPI is a radar display that represents the radar antenna in the center of the display, with the distance from it and height above ground drawn as concentric circles.
  • In 1942 Dummer started a Synthetic Trainer Design Group and was responsible for the design, manufacture, and installation of radar training equipment.
  • In 1944 he had been made Divisional Leader of the Physical & Tropical Testing Laboratories and the Component Group.
  • His interest in components grew out of his experience with radar. Out of his drive for reliability came the search for new techniques and methods of construction.
  • With Dr A. C. Vivian he made the first plastic potted circuit in January 1947 to protect components from shock and moisture.
  • The pioneered the use of printed wiring methods and etching for radar equipment.
  • In 1952, Dummer presented a paper at the US Electronic Components Symposium.
  • He noted that with the advent of the transistor and the work on semiconductors generally, it now seems possible to envisage electronic equipment in a solid block with no connecting wires. The block may consist of layers of insulating, conducting, rectifying and amplifying materials, the electronic functions being connected directly by cutting out areas of the various layers.
  • This was the first public description of an integrated circuit.
  • His ability to turn his idea of an integrated circuit into practical reality was restricted by his lack of responsibility for active devices.
  • He got over his lack of suitable authority to commission development work by placing a small contract with Plessey.
  • The result was shown at The International Components Symposium in September 1957, where he demonstratd a flip-flop circuit on solid block of semiconductor material with four transistors. Resistors and capacitors were deposited in film form.
  • The model was not too different from the circuit patented by Jack St Clair Kilby two years later at Texas Instruments.
  • He began a campaign to encourage substantial UK investment in IC development, but was met largely with apathy.
  • The Ministry wouldn’t place a contract because they hadn’t an application. The applications people wouldn’t say we want it because they had no experience with it.
  • The Americans took financial gambles, whereas this was very slow in this country. It was years before the UK had a significant semiconductor industry.
  • His knowledge and experience of components, their design, construction, application, and reliability had become widely recognized.
  • He appeared on the popular BBC Television, extolling the virtues of integrated circuits.
  • In 1964 he sponsored a symposium on Electronic Beam Techniques for Microelectronics at RRE.
  • He produced numerous books on electronic equipment, inventions and discoveries, components and reliability, for several publishing houses.
  • His retirement as Superintendent of Applied Physics in 1966 allowed him to take up the role of a consultant.
  • He was Editor-in-Chief of Pergamon’s International Journal Microelectronics and Reliability, which he had founded.
  • He died in September 2002 and was interred in Malvern Cemetery.

Observations from the Bunker

  • Britain did not have the tech ecosystem to take advantage of Dummer’s innovation, but the US did and took advantage of it.
  • Ecosystems of craftsmen date back to the antiquities. Ecosystem in the last 500 years include Venetian glassmakers of the 14th Century, Swiss watchmakers of the 16th Century, and British steam engines of the 18th Century.
  • Creating a thriving startup ecosystem requires at least six components:
    • Talent — This pool of talent needs to extend well beyond the entrepreneurs starting the companies, including product design, marketing, sales, etc.
    • Education — This talent pool is ideally created and augmented locally, at universities and other learning institutions.
    • Locations and Events — Ecosystem flourish when ideas are shared. Ideas are more readily shared when startups and their staff are co-located.
    • Mentorship — When these shared ideas include lessons from experienced mentors, fewer mistakes are made by the new entrepreneurs.
    • Incubators and Accelerators — These institutions provide a centralized program to bring the talent together in a single location and provide the necessary education and mentorship to help first-time entrepreneurs.
    • Funding — While it is possible to import the necessary funding, the final component of a thriving startup ecosystem is local funding.
    • A Virtuous Cycle — A virtuous cycle begins wherein new entrepreneurs find the training, help, and funding required to get started. They in turn help their peers and the next generations of entrepreneurs, who continue the cycle.
  • We have the tech ecosystem centered in and around San Francisco (Silicon Valley).
  • The talent pool began with Hewlett Packard (1939) and Fairchild Semiconductor (1957) and includes Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

Bad Idea of the Week: Penalizing Unsecured WiFi

  • Under German law, not only are Wi-Fi node operators (be they individuals or businesses) liable for any activity on their Wi-Fi node, but running an open node without a password is an offense that incurs a fine of $126 USD per incident.
  • German citizens are none happy about restrictive and antiquated laws applied to Wi-Fi, and the topic of relaxing the restrictions and implementing a more progressive system to govern Wi-Fi deployment have been hot topics in recent elections.

Impact of CA’s Net Neutrality Law (Goodbye Free Streaming)

  • California’s net neutrality law is having its first tangible effects on consumers and their internet service providers.
  • AT&T informed its nationwide cellphone customers on Wednesday that it was ending a program that allowed websites and services to buy their way around AT&T’s data caps.
  • In particular, the “Data Free TV” program enabled customers to stream video from selected services, including AT&T’s own HBO Max, without using up their monthly data allowances.
  • But under California’s law, internet providers can’t charge sites and services for that sort of thing.
  • They can exempt applications from data caps (a practice known as “zero rating”), but only if they do so for every application at no charge to the provider.
  • Zero-rating only works when you have a low data cap. That creates an incentive for ISPs to keep low data caps and keep unlimited plans expensive.
  • For example, in the European Union, ISPs that don’t zero-rate video give subscribers eight times more data for the same price than ISPs that zero-rate video.

What Is ProtonMail (More Private Than Gmail)

  • ProtonMail (https://protonmail.com/) is a secure email provider. Google profits off its free Gmail service by showing you ads, while ProtonMail doesn’t have any ads.
  • ProtonMail does not log identifying information, storing data on the server in a manner that’s useless to third parties.
  • The free plan is limited. It only offers 500 MB of storage. You pay for more storage or features. That is how they make money.
  • Many of the features that make Gmail so useful are not possible in ProtonMail due to the emphasis on privacy and security. For example, it won’t automatically crawl through your email and add events to your calendar.
  • ProtonMail encrypts all data on the server so that it is rendered useless to anyone without the key to decrypt it. In the case of a security breach, data swiped from ProtonMail’s servers wouldn’t be of any use.
  • ProtonMail also makes it easy to send encrypted messages between users. All communications between ProtonMail users are automatically end-to-end encrypted so that not even ProtonMail’s employees can read them.
  • ProtonMail also facilitates the use of Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, which allows you to “lock” email contents so that only recipients with the key can open them.
  • ProtonMail even allows you to send password-protected, self-destructing messages to users of any webmail platform.
  • In addition to not being able to read the email stored on their servers, ProtonMail is based in Switzerland, where privacy laws are notoriously strict.
  • This means that ProtonMail can’t be forced to hand over data to authorities in the U.S. Switzerland is not part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement that exists between the U.S., Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

InterPlanetary File System

  • The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is a protocol started by Protocol Labs in February 2015 to create a new way to server information on the web.
  • Currently the Internet works off a location based addressing where you go to a URL like stratford.edu which has an IP address of X.X.X.X and then you get served your articles. These URL’s are pointed to certain servers around the world.
  • Instead, what IPFS does is it serves information based on what it is as opposed to where it is (location).
  • With their routing algorithms, you can choose where you get your content from and you can set your privacy of what peers/nodes you trust to receive your files.
  • Hash addressing makes the content immutable. Does not disappear like current HTTP protocol
  • Saves bandwidth by collecting content from multiple nodes and pieces instead of from one server
  • FileCoin was proposed as a way of creating a decentralized storage network by using the unused storage lying around and incentivizing users to be part of the sharing economy through FileCoins (FIL) by using the IPFS protocol.
  • They did their Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in September 2017 and they are still in building their product.
  • Indivuals are essentially rewarded for serving and hosting content on their space hard drives in reward for FIL.
  • The Catalan independence referendum in 2017 was deemed illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain and many related websites were blocked.
  • Subsequently, the Catalan Pirate Party mirrored the website on IPFS to bypass the High Court of Justice of Catalonia order of blocking.
  • During the block of Wikipedia in Turkey, IPFS was used to create a mirror of Wikipedia, which allows access to the content of Wikipedia despite the ban. That archived version of Wikipedia is a limited immutable copy that cannot be updated.
  • Link to website: https://ipfs.io/

Combining IPFS and Ethereum: A Grand Proposal

  • Blockchains are terrible at storing large amounts of data. When a piece of data gets added to Ethereum, the new data becomes part of a block.
  • This means that thousands of computers around the world are working together to verify that data by coming to a “consensus”.
  • The consensus process is what makes Ethereum so powerful. While we can’t add a lot of data to Ethereum at once, the consensus process assures us that all data added to the chain is immutable.
  • IPFS helps solves a lot of problems for the new decentralized web.
  • It turns out that by combining a blockchain with IPFS, we can timestamp much larger amounts of data than we’re able to using just the blockchain.
  • When data is added to IPFS, the protocol returns a hash of the data that was just added. Hashes provided back from IPFS are currently 46 bytes in size.
  • If we wanted to timestamp a large piece of data, all we would have to do is upload that data to IPFS and then put the corresponding hash onto Ethereum.
  • Let’s say that a company signed a rather large legal agreement. The signed PDF of that agreement was stored on IPFS and the corresponding hash was printed onto the Ethereum blockchain.
  • Ethereum is really good at timestamping data but can only handle very small amounts of data at a given time.
  • IPFS is really good at storing data in a tamper proof way but there’s no way of proving when the data was added to the IPFS network.

When we combine Ethereum and IPFS, we gain the ability to timestamp any data we want, no matter how big the size.