Show of 05-15-2021

Tech Talk May 15, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim and the ever-vigilant Mr. BigVoice. Many are nervous about the energy requirements of cryptocurrency mining, but I think Chia is another kind of cryptocurrency that does not involve the energy intensive mining, but instead a memory-intensive set of tasks called farming for verification. At least that is what it looks like to me. What do you think, Doc?
  • Tech Talk Responds: Chia seems like a good work around for the energy consumption problem. The Chia Network, which was founded by BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen, runs on the principle of using storage space to mine coins, rather than relying on energy-hungry mining rigs powered by graphics cards and ASIC miners.
  • Chia has an interesting way to validate the block. Users of the Chia blockchain will “seed” unused space on their hard-disk drive by installing software which stores a collection of cryptographic numbers on the disk into “plots.” These users are called “farmers.” When the blockchain broadcasts a challenge for the next block, farmers can scan their plots to see if they have the hash that is closest to the challenge. A farmer’s probability of winning a block is the percentage of the total space that a farmer has compared to the entire network.
  • Despite the fact that Chia isn’t being traded yet, prospective farmers in China are already snapping up hard drives and SSDs in bulk, with prices expected to shoot up to reflect the demand.
  • Because of the intense hard drive activity, an average consumer-grade 512GB SSD could be killed in as little as 40 days during the Chia farming process, with a 1TB SSD extending that tally to 80 days and a 2TB drive doubling it further to 160 days.
  • Email from Harry in Fairfax: Hi Dr. Shurtz. I was getting ready to upgrade to a new Roku player for the third time and I wondered if I should invest in a Roku TV instead. Maybe I would not have to upgrade as often. Or would I just end up having to get a new TV every few years. What do you think? Harry in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Roku is the best-selling streaming player in the United States. Roku TVs are now the third most popular smart TV sold in the United States. Many cord cutters wonder if they should buy a Roku player like the Roku Ultra or a Roku TV.
  • A Roku player is a streaming device that connects to existing TVs to access services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. A Roku player works a lot like a smart phone because it allows you to add apps to your Roku and stream content just like you would on a phone or tablet but on your TV. Roku players take any TV and turn it into a smart TV.
  • A Roku TV is, in short, a TV with built-in Roku. Roku TVs work like any smart TV on the market but come with built-in Roku. You will find all the same features of a Roku player in a Roku TV plus a few additional features like the ability to directly connect your antenna to your Roku TV and have access to free guide data to know what is coming up next on the station you are watching with your antenna.
  • Should you buy a Roku player or Roku TV? My suggestion is if you already have a great TV that you are happy with and want a Roku, get a Roku Player like the Roku Ultra. This will give you access to a huge collection of streaming services at a far lower price than buying a Roku TV.
  • If you need a new TV, invest in a Roku TV. Roku has a great history of supporting their Roku TVs for years—much longer than the typical smart TVs. A mid priced or better Roku TV like the TCL 5-series or the TCL 6-series Roku TVs are just as powerful as a Roku Ultra.
  • Email from Mary Ann in White Stone: Dear Tech Talk. I just set up a Robinhood wallet for trading crypto coins using my cell phone. When I logged into my Robinhood account on my computer, I wanted me to set up two-factor authentication. It gave me two choices: email or authenticator. I really don’t understand this question. What do you recommend? Mary Ann in White Stone, VA.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Enabling two-factor authentication on a crypto wallet is essential for security. In the beginning, two-factor authentication using email or text was sufficient because only you have control of those accounts. Email was first to go because, hackers would try to hack your email account and were frequently successful. Text messages were the next to go because hackers successfully deployed SIM card hijacking, through either social engineering or redirection (a security flaw used for delivering ads). The only secure way to generate a second authentication is using an authenticator. This program generates a onetime number. There are three popular authenticators: Microsoft Authenticator, Google Authenticator, and Cisco Duo Authenticator. I am currently using Google Authenticator for my wallets.
  • To configure the authenticator, open your wallet and select authenticator for two-factor authentication. The wallet will generate a QR code. Open the authenticator on you smart phone and point the camera at the QR code. The authenticator will automatically configure and thereafter generate a onetime code each time your open it.
  • Email from Brenda in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Jim. I took my laptop to the shop because the screen stopped lighting up. They checked it out and told me the screen was bad. They said it would cost almost $200 to replace the screen. I told them I could not afford that so they told me I could still use the laptop by hooking up an external monitor. I bought a monitor a new monitor and hooked it up to the laptop with a VGA cable, but I can’t get the monitor to show anything besides a blank screen. How can I get the external monitor to work this laptop? It’s a Lenovo that has been upgraded to Windows 10 and the monitor is a Dell 23″ LED display. Brenda in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Assuming that the video output circuitry inside the laptop is working as it should, your new Dell monitor should work just fine with your laptop. My guess is the laptop simply isn’t set up to cast the video image to an external monitor. Here’s how to set that up:
    • Press the Windows+P key combination just once. (Project)
    • Press the Down Arrow on the keyboard three times. (Second Screen Only)
    • Press the Enter key.
  • Assuming that your laptop’s VGA port is still capable of outputting a usable video signal, you should now see the contents of the Windows Desktop on the external screen
  • Email from Alex in Baltimore: Dear Tech Talk. Is there was a way to print out the passwords that are stored in my Google account. Alex in Baltimore, MD
  • While there’s no way to print Google’s stored password list directly, you can easily download the list to your computer as a plain text file and then print it using your favorite text editor. Just follow the steps below to print all the passwords that Google has stored from your devices:
    • Click here to visit the “Password Manager” page in your Google account (log in to your account if you’re prompted to do so).
    • Click the Password Options icon that’s located near the top of the page (it looks like a “gear” or “cog”).
    • Find the line labeled “Export passwords” and click the Export button located on the right-hand side of that line.
    • Click Export. You should now have a plain text file named Google Passwords.csv in your “Downloads” folder that contains a list of all your stored passwords.
    • Open the Google Passwords.csv file in Notepad (or your favorite text editor) and you’ll see the list of stored passwords.
  • After following the instructions listed above you’ll have a hard-copy printout of all the passwords that Google has stored from your Chrome browser and Android mobile devices.

Profiles in IT: Satoshi Nakamoto

  • Satoshi Nakamoto is the name used by person or persons who developed bitcoin, authored the bitcoin white paper, and created bitcoin’s original implementation.
  • Nakamoto was active in the development of bitcoin up until December 2010. Many people have claimed, or have been claimed, to be Nakamoto.
  • Nakamoto stated that work on the writing of the code for bitcoin began in 2007.
  • On 18 August 2008, he or a colleague registered the domain name bitcoin.org, and created a web site at that address.
  • On 31 October, Nakamoto published a white paper on the cryptography mailing list at metzdowd.com describing a digital cryptocurrency, titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. Link: https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
  • Nakamoto was the first to solve the double-spending problem for digital currency using a peer-to-peer network.
  • Nakamoto proposed a decentralized approach to transactions, ultimately culminating in the creation of blockchains. In a blockchain, timestamps for a transaction are added to the end of previous timestamps based on proof-of-work, creating a historical record that cannot be changed.
  • On 9 January 2009, Nakamoto released version 0.1 of the bitcoin software on SourceForge, and launched the network by mining the genesis block of bitcoin (block number 0), which had a reward of 50 bitcoins.
  • Embedded in the coinbase transaction of this block was the text: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”, referring to a headline in the UK newspaper The Times published on that date.
  • This note has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a derisive comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.
  • Nakamoto continued to collaborate with other developers on the bitcoin software until mid-2010, making all modifications to the source code himself.
  • He then gave control of the source code repository and network alert key to Gavin Andresen, transferred several related domains to various prominent members of the bitcoin community, and stopped his recognized involvement in the project.
  • Nakamoto has never revealed personal information when discussing technical matters, though has at times provided commentary on banking and fractional-reserve banking.
  • On his P2P Foundation profile as of 2012, Nakamoto claimed to be a 37 year-old male who lived in Japan; however, some speculated he was unlikely to be Japanese due to his native-level use of English and his bitcoin software not being documented or labelled in Japanese.
  • The use of British English in both source code comments and forum postings – such as the expression “bloody hard”, terms such as “flat” and “maths”, and the spellings “grey” and “colour” – led to speculation that Nakamoto, or at least one individual in a consortium claiming to be him, was of Commonwealth origin.
  • The reference to London’s Times newspaper in the first bitcoin block mined by Nakamoto suggested to some a particular interest in the British government.
  • Stefan Thomas, a Swiss software engineer and active community member, graphed the timestamps for each of Nakamoto’s bitcoin forum posts (more than 500); the chart showed a steep decline to almost no posts between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. This was between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Japan Standard Time.
  • By analyzing the blockchain, it is estimated that the value of bitcoins under Nakamoto’s control, which is thought to be about 1 million in number, may exceed $50 billion in value.
  • Given that the maximum possible number of bitcoins generated is 21 million, Nakamoto’s stake of 5% of the total bitcoin holdings has considerable market power.
  • Several people have been put forward as the “real” Satoshi Nakamoto, though none have been definitely proven to be Nakamoto.
    • Dorian Nakamoto — Dorian Nakamoto is an academic and engineer in California who was named as the creator of Bitcoin by Leah McGrath Goodman in a Newsweek article in March of 2014. The 64-year-old Japanese-American man whose name really is Satoshi Nakamoto has been ruled out after further investigation.
    • Hal Finney — Bitcoin is the product of the cypherpunk movement, and one of the pillars of that movement was Hal Finney. Finney died in 2014. Finney is the first person to receive Bitcoin in a transaction. He also coincidentally lived a few blocks from Dorian Nakamoto who might have been the inspiration for a pseudonym invented by Finney.
    • Nick Szabo — Like Finney, Szabo was an early cypherpunk and was friends with many people in that circle. In 1998, Szabo designed a mechanism for a decentralized digital currency he called “bit gold”. Bit gold was never implemented, but has been called a direct precursor to the Bitcoin architecture.

Observations from the Bunker

  • Importance of distributed ledgers. Personal autonomy versus big government and big business. This is the first major break though in accounting since double entry accounting was introduced by the Romans in 70 AD and brought into the modern age by the Medici Bank in Florence in the 1400s AD..
  • At the current time, nearly every transaction has an intermediary. Every intermediary is vulnerable to government intrusion. Banks, whether they like it or not, must collect copious information from their customers. Social media platforms have facilitated global surveillance of private individuals in the name of national security. Currency valuation is subject to whims of government fiscal policy.
  • In societies lacking the constitutional protections that allow individuals to preserve their freedom, decentralized networks can help people escape the yoke of tyranny. For example, Venezuelans in recent years have increasingly resorted to Bitcoin to avoid both the rapidly depreciating currency issued by their national central bank and the capital controls that trap people’s savings inside Venezuela’s borders.
  • By removing the need for a go‐between, decentralized networks also eliminate the chance that intermediaries might engage, or be forced to engage, in the abuse of individuals. Libertarians thus believe that decentralization can make people freer, more autonomous, and better able to preserve their freedom.
  • To learn where Bitcoin and similar networks will likely play an increasing role, start by asking, where are intermediaries currently doing a poor job?
  • International payments are one such area. Typically, a money transfer takes three to five days to arrive in a foreign account. Fees range between 3 percent and 10 percent of the transaction amount. Bitcoin can easily reduce the cost of international payments.
  • Decentralized networks will also put pressure on poorly performing governments. As regulators, legislators, and adjudicators with near‐monopoly powers, governments determine whether economic activity flourishes or perishes within their jurisdiction. Many countries in Africa and Latin America, whether through corruption, neglect, or path dependency, have struggled to grow.
  • Consider property titles. In developing countries, people often have difficulty proving ownership of the land they have lived on and worked for decades. Official property registries are inefficient and corrupt. Yet proof of title is often essential to obtain affordable credit, for which the land acts as loan collateral. Block chains can provide temper proof of ownership.
  • This is an important technology for social reform and progress. The value of the underlying cryptocurrency should continue to rise.

Colonial Pipeline Hit with Ransomware

  • Colonial Pipeline was suffered a ransomware attack forcing a shutdown.
  • The system delivers approximately 45 percent of the East Coast’s petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.
  • Many gas stations to shut down and the average national gas prices to rise above $3 for the first time since 2014.
  • The oil is now flowing after Colonial Pipeline paid a nearly $5 million ransom within hours.
  • It’s not clear which parts of the Colonial Pipeline were at risk.
  • There was no evidence the company’s operational systems were compromised.
  • Three sources say that the pipeline shut down because its billing system was affected and the company was not sure it would be able to charge properly for fuel.
  • Unnamed US government and private security sources engaged by Colonial said that the Russian criminal gang DarkSide is likely responsible for the attack.
  • DarkSide typically chooses targets in non-Russian-speaking countries but describes itself as “apolitical” on its dark web site.
  • DarkSide claims to avoid targets in medical, education, nonprofit, or governmental sectors—and claims that it only attacks companies that can pay the requested amount.
  • It seems quite possible that the group didn’t realize how much heat it would bring onto itself with the Colonial Pipeline attack.
  • The DarkSide ransomware crime gang announced it was closing up shop after its servers were seized and someone drained the cryptocurrency from an account the group uses to pay affiliates. Here is there post.
    • Servers were seized (country not named), money of advertisers and founders was transferred to an unknown account,”
    • A few hours ago, we lost access to the public part of our infrastructure,” the message continues, explaining the outage affected its victim shaming blog where stolen data is published from victims who refuse to pay a ransom.
  • DarkSide organizers also said they were releasing decryption tools for all of the companies that have been ransomed but which haven’t yet paid.

Innovation of the Week: EV Motor without Magnets

  • German company Mahle has just announced an EV motor that uses no magnets, thus lessening the United States’ reliance on Chinese magnets (which make up 97% of the world’s supply).
  • The new Mahle design uses no magnets, instead using powered coils in its rotor.
  • Unlike previous efforts, it transfers power to the spinning rotor using contactless induction — so there are no wear surfaces.
  • The lack of expensive metals should make it cheaper to manufacture than typical permanent-magnet motors.
  • Mahle says the ability to tune and change the parameters of the rotor’s magnetism instead of being stuck with what a permanent magnet offers has allowed its engineers to achieve efficiencies above 95 percent right through the range of operating speeds.
  • It is also efficient at high speeds, so it could help get a few extra miles out of a battery in normal use.
  • The company says it will scale from sizes relevant to compact cars up to commercial vehicles.
  • Mass production is about two and a half years away.

Bitcoin and Dogecoin Prices Driven by Musk

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted his company will no longer accept Bitcoin as a form of payment for its vehicles.
  • After Musk shared the news, multiple crypto coins took a dive, including the popular meme coin Dogecoin.
  • Bitcoin’s price fell by 14% to dip just below $49,000 on Wednesday. It rebounded a bit to get back up over $50,000 on Thursday.
  • Tesla had a hand in the jumps in Bitcoin’s price in February and March, when the electric-car maker said it bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and that it would start taking the cryptocurrency for buying its vehicles.
  • Dogecoin, which Musk has championed, also dropped by 13% to a low of 37 cents. It had continued to decline since Musk hosted Saturday Night Live last weekend.
  • However, prices for the meme coin moved back up Thursday following a tweet from Musk saying he is working with the Dogecoin developers to improve system transaction efficiency.
  • Dogecoin went up almost immediately after the tweet and peaked just shy of 60 cents Friday afternoon before settling at 55 cents.
  • Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin were initially intended to be uncentralized digital currencies, but in recent years, they’ve become more of an investment.
  • Prior to the start of the pandemic, Bitcoin’s price was just below $9,000. It peaked in April, almost reaching $65,000. Dogecoin, which started as more of a joke crypto coin, was worth just 5 cents at the start of 2021. Last week, in anticipation of Musk’s SNL appearance, it shot up to 74 cents.
  • Musk’s reasoning for no longer accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment was the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions.”
  • As a whole, Bitcoin uses more energy than the country of Argentina due to the vast array of computers solving complicated calculations that are the backbone of the cryptocurrency.