Show of 04-03-2021

Tech Talk April 3, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Susan in Alexandria: Good Morning, Dr. Shurtz and Jim. I just read that the Bank of England released a new 50-pound note honoring Alan Turing. Of course, you have already featured Alan Turing in your “Profiles in IT” segment. Have you discussed the technology used in those polymer bank notes? One thing led to another.  In searching for the term “polymer” on the techtalk.stratford.edu website, I noted that in your show on 4/13/2013, you covered the topic “Stanford Creates Biological Transistor.”  You explained “We are now close to biological computers that can detect changes in a cell’s environment, store a record of that change in memory made of DNA, and then trigger some kind of response.  Where transistors control the flow of electricity, transcriptors control the flow of RNA polymerase as it travels along a strand of DNA.” I don’t pretend to understand this subject, but I can’t help being impressed with the connection of this research you reported on nearly 8 years ago to today’s mRNA Covid vaccines. We really appreciate your show! Susan in Alexandria, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the feedback. DNA is indeed an marvelous structure. Each position can have one of four bases and hence each position contains two bits of information. The human DNA is approximately 720MB is size and would fit on a DVD. A remarkable biological engine that can replicate and control. Recently it has been used as a miniature storage mechanism. Eventually molecular engines, like DNA will be used for manufacturing and the creation of new materials. The futuristic device that creates a hamburger from scratch will be possible in the future.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the reverberant Mr. Big Voice. A major flaw in SMS lets hackers take over phone numbers in minutes by simply paying a company to reroute text messages. Here is an interesting article about a hacker to diverted all the text messages for a particular cell phone for only $16. All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: This a very interesting and alarming story. The hacker used a service by a company called Sakari, which helps businesses do SMS marketing and mass messaging, to reroute my messages to him. This overlooked attack vector shows not only how unregulated commercial SMS tools are but also how there are gaping holes in our telecommunications infrastructure.
  • The hacker did not hijack the SIM. Instead, the hacker used a service by a company called Sakari, which helps businesses do SMS marketing and mass messaging, to reroute my messages to him. The hacker used a prepaid card to buy their $16 per month plan and then after that was done it let me steal numbers just by filling out a Letter of Authorization with fake data. The LOA says that the signer has authority to switch telephone numbers. Once the hacker is able to reroute a target’s text messages, it can then be trivial to hack into other accounts associated with that phone number. In this case, the hacker sent login requests to Bumble, WhatsApp, and Postmates.
  • Security Update: All of the major carriers made a significant change to how SMS messages are routed to prevent hackers being able to easily reroute a target’s texts. Verizon, T-Mobile or AT&T wireless numbers which had been text-enabled as BYON (bring your own number) no longer route messaging traffic through the Aerialink Gateway.
  • Email from Roblyn in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I installed a kid’s game on my iPhone that teaches the child how to do basic math in order to solve a series of mysteries. My daughter turned 4 a couple of months ago so I believe she should be able to successfully play the game. The thing is I don’t want her to be able to do anything with the phone except use that one app. Is there any way to limit an iPhone to using just one app? Roblyn in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: All iPhones have a feature called Guided Access that does exactly what you want to do. All you have to do is go into your iPhone’s “Settings” app and enable Guided Access and then tell it which app you want your daughter to be able to use. You will also be able to restrict which of your iPhone’s buttons, features and options your daughter can use as well. You can find detailed instructions by looking up Guided Access on the Apple website.
  • Link: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202612
  • By the way, Guided Access is also available on iPads. If you have one it might be easier for your daughter to play that game on the iPad instead of your phone.
  • Email from Helen in Rockville: Dear Tech Talk. I have a serious problem and I don’t know how to fix it. I have an ex that’s stalking me on Facebook. Every time I block him he just opens a new account and starts stalking me again. I’m afraid to post anything or comment on anyone else’s posts because every time I do he leaves a sarcastic (and sometimes borderline threatening) comment in response. Is there any way possible to prevent him from seeing the things I do on Facebook? Or at least prevent him from commenting on them? Helen in Rockville
  • Tech Talk Responds: Unfortunately, “stalkers” are everywhere on Facebook, and it’s always more dangerous when the stalker is someone you know personally and they live in close proximity to your city or town. I wish I could tell you there’s a 100% sure-fire way to “hide” from someone on Facebook, but there just isn’t.
  • However, you can make it difficult for him to see your posts. If you use Facebook in a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer:
    • Click the Account icon that is located at the far right side of the menu bar near the top of the Facebook window. (It looks like a down arrow.)
    • Click Settings & privacy.
    • Click Settings.
    • Click the Privacy link over in the left-hand column.
    • In the “Activity” section, change the “Who can see your future posts?” setting to Friends.
    • Now, go down a couple of lines and click Limit Past Posts and then click Limit Past Posts again.
    • Go to the “How People Find and Contact You” section and change every setting that has the option to Friends of Friends.
    • Click the Public Posts link over in the left-hand column to display the “Public Post Filters and Tools” page.
    • Change every setting on this page that has the option to Friends.
  • Be careful. He may create a fake account that looks like one of your friends.
  • Email from Craig in Virginia Beach: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a used, but working 500GB hard drive at home that I could install in my Windows 10 desktop computer to span with the 750GB drive that’s already in it to effectively give me a 1.25TB drive. I asked one of the Geek Squad techs if they could span the two hard drives into one for me. His answer was they could but they did not recommend it because if one of the spanned drives failed you’d lose all the data stored on all the drives. He recommended that I install a 2TB drive. He conveniently had one available to sell me. Was he telling the truth or was he just trying to sell me a new hard drive? Craig in Virginia Beach, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: What the Geek Squad tech told you is accurate. You should buy a brand new 2TB internal hard drive and install it yourself for less than you would have to pay Best Buy to span the drives for you.
    • Purchase a new 2TB hard drive. Either locally or from Amazon.
    • Install the new drive into an open drive bay inside your computer.
    • Download Clonezilla and use it to clone the contents of the old hard drive onto the new one.
    • After the cloning process is complete, shut down the computer and temporarily disconnect the cables from the old hard drive.
    • Boot the computer into Windows and test everything thoroughly to make sure the new drive (and the system in general) is working the way it should be.
    • Once you’re satisfied that everything is working properly, create a System Image Backup of the contents of the new hard drive.
    • Change the boot sequence in your PC’s BIOS Settings to instruct the machine to boot from the new (2TB) hard drive.
    • Turn the computer Off and reconnect the cables to the old hard drive.
    • Boot the computer back up into Windows and then format the old hard drive to free up its space to hold new data.
  • Your PC should now have 2.5 TB of hard drive storage, 2TB of which is on one large hard drive.


 

Profiles in IT: Pier Giorgio Perotto

  • Pier Giorgio Perotto is an Italian engineer and inventor, who designed Programma 101, the world’s first personal computer. Also known as the Italian father of the PC.
  • Pier Giorgio Perotto was born in Turin, Italy December 24, 1930.
  • After graduating in electrical engineering and aeronautical engineering at the Turin Polytechnic, Perotto taught for many years at the same University and published several books and articles regarding strategy, business organization and technology.
  • He began his career at Fiat’s aeronautical research group, performing stress calculations for supersonic aircraft design. These were complex calculations but were still performed largely on hand-operated mechanical calculators.
  • In 1957, Perotto left Fiat to join Olivetti, the Italian firm who had launched the country’s first typewriter factory in 1908.
  • Olivetti was eager to be pioneers again after watching the development of the first electronic computers in the United States and Britain.
  • Perotto collaborated in the production of the Elea 9003, one of the first fully transistorised mainframe computers in the world, which launched in 1959.
  • In 1960, following the death of Adriano Olivetti, the firm’s president, a financial crisis resulted in the disposal of the electronics division.
  • With a future in electronic computers apparently at an end, Perotto was appointed head of mechanical design at Olivetti’s headquarters.
  • Inside Olivetti this business-machine operation, Perotto began a clandestine project to build an electronic calculating machine affectionately known as the “Perottina”.
  • When he achieved initial success in 1962, he was appointed team leader for the Programma 101. He was off to the races.
  • It used an aritmetico-logica unit built with discrete transistors (integrated circuits were not available) and discrete mercury delay units employing as volatile memory.
  • It could store 10 records (22 digits each) or a chain of 24 instructions.
  • In addition to the arithmetic operations, it was able to run 16 different commands and control transfers of data between registers using conditional and unconditional jumps.
  • The unit used magnetic card storage that allowed read and record data permanently or temporarily. Some consider this an antecedent of the floppy-disc. In addition, it used a magnetic tape to record up to 120 instructions.
  • Its programming language proved very effective and easy to use. Soon an extensive library of programs was available on magnetic cards, especially math calculations, civil and electrical engineering, business administration, finance etc.
  • Launched in 1964, it was featured in Olivetti’s stand at the New York business equipment trade show in 1965. The unit was an immediate success.
  • Compared with regular electronic computers, which cost from $25,000 upwards, the Programma 101 was a bargain, retailing at just $3,200.
  • In 1969, it was used by NASA in the planning of the Apollo 11 space mission, which saw the first humans set foot on the surface of the moon.
  • By the early 1970s, some 44,000 machines had been sold, mainly on the US market.
  • Among his subsequent designs was the Olivetti P6060, the first personal computer with integrated floppy-disk drive.
  • Having been appointed head of the company’s research and development division in Ivrea in 1967, he led the transformed the company from a manufacturer of mechanical devices to a major player in electronics and systems.
  • From 1980 to 1993 he was president of Olivetti’s consulting subsidiary Elea SpA.
  • In 1991, he won the coveted Leonardo da Vinci Award from the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology in Milan for the Programma 101 design.
  • He retired from Olivetti in 1993 and lectured at Turin Polytechnic. He wrote numerous books on strategic management and business information technology.
  • His last years were spent as president of Finsa Consulting.
  • Married with two sons, Perotto settled in Liguria after his retirement. He died in Genoa in 2002 at the age of 71.

Observations from the Bunker

  • A culture of innovation according to by Gary P. Pisano, Harvard Business School.
  • A culture conducive to innovation is good for a company’s bottom line. It also is something that both leaders and employees value in their organizations. These five traits will ensure that innovation can thrive.
    • Tolerance for Failure but No Tolerance for Incompetence — Given that innovation involves the exploration of uncertain and unknown terrain, it is not surprising that a tolerance for failure is an important characteristic of innovative cultures. Yet for all their focus on tolerance for failure, innovative organizations are intolerant of incompetence.
    • Willingness to Experiment but Highly Disciplined — Organizations that embrace experimentation are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. A willingness to experiment, though, does not mean working like some third-rate abstract painter who randomly throws paint at a canvas. Without discipline, almost anything can be justified as an experiment.
    • Psychologically Safe but Brutally Candid — Psychological safety is an organizational climate in which individuals feel they can speak truthfully and openly about problems without fear of reprisal. Unvarnished candor is critical to innovation because it is the means by which ideas evolve and improve.
    • Collaboration but with Individual Accountability — People who work in a collaborative culture view seeking help from colleagues as natural. Ultimately, someone has to make a decision and be accountable for it. This is not consensus.
    • Flat but Strong Leadership — In culturally flat organizations, people are given wide latitude to take actions, make decisions, and voice their opinions. Deference is granted on the basis of competence, not title. Culturally flat organizations can typically respond more quickly to rapidly changing circumstances because decision making is decentralized and closer to the sources of relevant information.
  • If a company has these five traits, it will be on the way to creating a culture of innovation.

Happy Birthday: Email is 50 Years Old

  • Half a century ago, an MIT graduate named Ray Tomlinson became the first person to transmit a message from one computer to another, although it would be years before anyone referred to this practice as email.
  • Tomlinson worked for an engineering firm called Bolt Beranek and Newman (now Raytheon BBN), which had been contracted by the US Defense Department to help build the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a precursor to the internet as we know it today.
  • At the time, computers were isolated from one another and were extremely expensive, so each was used by tens of different people and notes for fellow users were dropped into numbered mailboxes.
  • With the arrival of ARPANET, which connected roughly 20 machines (used by more than 1,000 different people), the ability to send memos back and forth between computers became invaluable.
  • At some point in 1971 (the precise date has been lost to history), Tomlinson glued together the existing ARPANET SENDMSG utility and a file-transfer program he had been working on. Using his creation, he fired a message into an inbox on another machine on the network, separating the user identifier and destination address with the @ symbol.
  • Roughly 306 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2020, which equates to more than 110 trillion across the course of the year. Projections suggest this figure is set to rise to 375 billion per day by 2025.
  • The ability to attach files to emails did not exist until the arrival of the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) protocol in 1992.
  • Twenty years ago, researcher Nathaniel Borenstein emailed a picture and recording of his barbershop quartet, the Telephone Chords as the first MIME email attachments.

IBM Developed an AI Debater

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has been making great strides in recent years sometimes even coming close to being human-like.
  • In a new paper published in Nature magazine, IBM describes a system that can debate with humans and even sometimes win.
  • Project Debater, an autonomous debating system that can engage in a competitive debate with humans.
  • In tests of Project Debater, the AI was given only 15 minutes to research topics and prepare for debates. Each time, it proceeded to form an opening statement and even layer counterarguments.
  • For the most part, the humans won the debate but in one instance, it was able to change the stance of nine people. Not bad!
  • According to IBM, AI is not here to replace humans but rather to support them in building better arguments and reasoning with more nuance.
  • This reminds me of the AI teaching assistant at Stanford, called Watson, that won the Teaching Assistant of the Year award.

S!NG Launches Free NFT-ready App for Creators

  • S!NG, a developer of tools that allow creators to control distribution and monetize their work, today launched the world’s first free mobile application designed to instantly mint NFTs to sell or license online.
  • NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, allow artists to create verifiably-unique originals of their work, while protecting intellectual property.
  • Creators have the ability to monetize directly with fans in a way that’s never been possible before now.
  • The app is free to download for iOS, and can be used with no experience in Blockchain or NFT technology.
  • S!NG was co-founded by Jim Harmon and Geoff Osler, a veteran of Apple and Adobe, with significant input from musicians, visual artists, and entertainment industry executives.
  • The S!NG app is powered by the Ethereum blockchain, a technology that time stamps and verifies original ownership of a file, even after it’s been shared.
  • I downloaded and installed S!NG on my iPhone and minted two NFTs within twenty minutes, both photographs that I had taken while travelling.

Biden Lets Trump’s H-1B Visa Ban Expire

  • The H-1B visa ban introduced by President Donald Trump last year expired on Wednesday, with President Joe Biden allowing the rules to come to an end.
  • The US Department of State said visa applicants who were previously refused due to Trump’s freeze may reapply by submitting a new application.
  • Visa applicants who have not yet been interviewed will have their applications prioritized and processed under the State Department’s phased resumption plan.
  • The Trump administration in June 2020 stopped the government issuing H-1B visas through an executive order linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In October, Trump then placed new restrictions on H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers — rules that were struck down by a federal judge in December who said the administration failed to show “good cause” for issuing the rules on an emergency basis.
  • Biden’s decision will please business groups from Silicon Valley giants to India’s IT services leaders, which had pressured the administration to lift the ban ever since the new president took office.
  • Executives have grown frustrated that the directive was not immediately revoked, arguing it hurt U.S. companies.

North Korean Hackers Charged in Cryptocurrency Theft

  • Federal authorities said Wednesday that three North Korean computer programmers have been indicted for conducting a series of cyberattacks to attempt to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion in cash and cryptocurrency from financial institutions and companies.
  • The programmers, who are part of a North Korean military intelligence agency, also are accused of creating and deploying multiple malicious cryptocurrency applications, and to develop and fraudulently market a Blockchain platform.
  • And the scheme also deployed repeated “spear-phishing campaigns” from 2016 through early 2020 that targeted employees of the U.S. Defense Department, the State Department, and workers at U.S.-cleared defense contractors, energy firms, aerospace companies and tech firms.
  • Hackers also took control of bank ATMs to take out cash from them as part of the conspiracy.
  • The hackers developed and marketed the so-called Marine Chain Token, which allowed investors to buy fractional ownership interests in marine shipping vessels with Blockchain technology, allowed North Korea to “secretly obtain funds from investors, control interests in marine shipping vessels, and evade U.S. sanctions.
  • The indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles charges Jon Chang, 31, 27-year-old Kim Il, and Park Jin Hyo 36, were members of units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a North Korean military intelligence agency which engaged in criminal hacking.