Show of 07-24-2021

Tech Talk July 24, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc, Jim, and the somnolent Mr. BigVoice. A Belgian artist has created an AI tool that shows how little politicians pay attention during their meetings. Tool tracks the time politicians spend on their phone. Called the Flemish Scrollers, the tool is written in Python and uses machine learning and face recognition technologies. The law of the land requires that all meetings of the Flemish government be in the public domain. The government broadcasts it live on its YouTube channel. Through the Flemish Scrollers project, he intends to highlight the issues with face recognition, AI, and privacy. Since the tool, targets lawmakers, it is likely to motivate them to act. What do you think about this, Doc? All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds:
  • Email from Alex in Baltimore: Dear Doc and Jim. I would really like to build my own computer and save some money, but I can only find directions for building a desktop computer. I already have one of those so what I really need is a laptop. Is it really to save money by building my own laptop? Do you have any tips? Alex in Baltimore
  • Tech Talk Responds: It really isn’t possible to save money by building a laptop instead of buying one at retail. Laptops are constructed from proprietary parts that aren’t standard from manufacturer to manufacturer. This means it would be extremely difficult to buy a laptop case and populate it with a good used motherboard, video card, RAM and hard drive like you could if you were building a desktop PC.
  • There are companies that sell bare bone laptop kits that you can use to build a working laptop by purchasing the “extras” you need and installing them yourself. Bare bone kits sometimes include everything except for the CPU, RAM and hard drive or SSD. You would need to purchase those components separately (either new or used). The thing is, by the time you finished purchasing the bare bone kit and the extra parts needed to turn it into a working laptop, you would not save any money over buying an off-the-shelf laptop.
  • Building a desktop is a useful exercise. My son learned computers by building several desktops, overclocking them, experimenting with difference components, and designing an optimized system. He did not really save money, but he learned a lot about system design and optimization. He now has a full-time IT job running worldwide operations for an international company.
  • Email from Mark in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. I bought a new graphics card and the salesman said I would need to replace the power supply in my computer before I install it. The power supply that was in there was 350 watts and the one I replaced it with is 750 watts. Everything seems to be powering up correctly but now I’m getting a “Disk Boot Failure” message. How can I fix this? Do I need to change a BIOS setting or maybe move a jumper somewhere to get the hard drive to work with the new power supply? Mark in Richmond
  • Tech Talk Responds: You should not have to change any settings or make any other changes to your system. If the machine was booting into Windows from the hard drive before you swapped out the power supplies, it should still boot up now without having to change any settings of any kind. My guess is you either disconnected a cable to the hard drive and forgot to reconnect it or you accidentally tugged it loose while working around inside the computer. It is also possible that you simply forgot to connect the hard drive to the new power supply after you finished installing it. I recommend that you double-check the connections at both ends of the two cables that plug in to the hard drive. I have a feeling you will find a loose (or possibly disconnected) connector somewhere.
  • Email from Azra in Fredericksburg: Dear Tech Talk. I have a pair of AirPods. I’ve used many different kinds of headphones and earbuds and the AirPods have the best sound quality of any of them. I’ve recently started having a problem with them though. At random times the Bluetooth connection drops out and it interrupts my music. This usually happens several times every time I listen to music on my iPhone 11. Do you think I need a new pair of AirPods or is there something I can do to fix this? Azra in Fredericksburg, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: AirPods are great, they do have a habit of developing Bluetooth issues over time. These issues can usually be cleared up (at least for a while) by simply resetting the AirPods back to their factory default settings. I recommend that you give that a try and see if it helps.
  • Follow these steps to reset your AirPods back to their factory default settings:
    • Place the AirPods in their charging case and then close the lid.
    • Wait for a full 30 seconds and then open the lid to the charging case.
    • Open the Settings app on your iPhone by tapping the “Gear” icon.
    • Next, tap Bluetooth and then tap the “i” icon inside the blue circle next to the “AirPod” entry.
    • With the lid to the charging case still open, press and hold the Setup button on the back of the case for about 15 seconds until you see the status light flash amber and then white.
    • Again, with the lid to the charging case still open, place your AirPods close to your phone and then follow the steps on the phone’s screen.
  • That’s all there is to resetting your AirPods.
  • Email from Jeannie in Pittsburgh: Dear Tech Talk. My neighbort recently sold her house and moved to another state. Before she left she gave me a used, but working Acer Aspire U5710 computer with Windows 10 on it. She said she did not want to pack it up and move it because she wanted to buy a new computer anyway. I tried setting it up to use but it’s asking for a password. I do not know the password and the one my aunt gave me does not work. Is there any way to reset the password on this computer? Jeannie in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are actually several ways to reset an unknown password. But that being said, I don’t recommend that in your situation, for two reasons:
    • You would likely have a better user experience if you simply wiped out the current Windows installation and reinstalled Windows 10 from scratch.
    • There could well be sensitive files and photos on the Acer’s hard drive that your aunt would rather not allow others to see.
  • I would feel a lot more comfortable providing instructions for starting fresh with a brand new Windows installation instead of resetting the existing login password. The first thing you’ll need to do is create a new Windows 10 installation drive. Here’s how:
    • Make sure you have a USB Flash Drive with at least 8GB of free space on it.
    • Visit this page on the Microsoft website and click the Download tool now button.
    • Follow the instructions in this section of that same page:
      • Using the tool to create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) to install Windows 10 on a different PC.
    • Once you have created the Windows installation media (on the USB Flash Drive) you can follow the steps below to install Windows 10 from scratch on the Acer machine:
      • Insert the USB Flash Drive you created using the steps above into an empty USB port on the Acer PC.
      • Press the Power button and see if the machine boots from the installation USB drive. If it does, follow the directions as they appear to install Windows 10 from scratch.
      • If the machine boots up to the login screen and asks for a password just like it did before, you’ll need to go into the machine’s BIOS settings and set the machine to boot from the USB drive instead of the hard drive.
    • Follow these steps to make the change in the BIOS settings:
      • Press and hold the PC’s Power button until it shuts down.
      • Turn the machine back on and repeatedly press the Del key on the keyboard until the BIOS Settings Screen appears.
      • Go into the “Boot” settings and enable booting from USB.
      • Follow the instructions to designate USB as the primary boot device.
      • Save the change you made to the BIOS settings.
    • Boot the PC from the USB Flash Drive and initiate the Windows 10 installation procedure.
    • After the Windows 10 installation is complete you can help your daughter set up the machine to her liking, including the installation of her preferred programs, apps and printer driver.

Profiles in IT: Thomas Harold Flowers

  • Thomas Flowers was an English engineer who designed and built Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer which decrypted Nazi messages.
  • Flowers was born December 22, 1905, in London.
  • Raised in a working class neighborhood in the East End of London, Flowers obtained a technical apprenticeship at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich after finishing a mathematics fellowship at East Ham Technical School.
  • East Ham was a good fit for Flowers who had for years been building mechanical and electrical devices with his father’s tools.
  • In 1926, he joined the telecommunications branch of the General Post Office (GPO).
  • In 1926, Flowers went to work for the Post Office, which ran Britain’s telephone and telegraph networks as well as its mail service. By 1932, Flowers had attained the rank of assistant engineer at the research station at Dollis Hill in Northwest London
  • The next year, he completed his university education at night, earning first class honors in the University of London examinations.
  • In 1935, he began exploring the use of electronics for telephone exchanges. By 1939, he was convinced that an all-electronic system was possible.
  • Flowers’ first contact with wartime codebreaking came in February 1941 when he was asked to help Alan Turing, who was working at Bletchley Park.
  • Turing wanted Flowers to build a decoder for the relay-based Bombe machine, which Turing had developed to help decrypt German Enigma codes.
  • The decoder project was abandoned but Turing was impressed with Flowers’s work, and in February 1943 introduced him to Max Newman who was leading the effort to automate part of the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher.
  • This was a high-level German code generated by a teletypewriter in-line cipher machine, the Lorenz, a secret writer systems called “Tunny” (tuna fish) by the British.
  • Flowers and Frank Morrell (also at Dollis Hill) designed the Heath Robinson using relays, in an attempt to automate the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher machine.
  • The final development of the concept was a machine called Super Robinson that was designed by Tommy Flowers. This one could run four tapes and was used for running known-plaintext attack runs
  • Flowers proposed a more sophisticated alternative, using an electronic system using perhaps 1,800 thermionic valves (vacuum tubes) instead of 150, called Colossus.
  • Some were skeptical that the system would be reliable. Flowers countered that the British telephone system used thousands of valves and was reliable.
  • Management was not convinced and encouraged him to proceed on his own. He proceeded the Post Office Research Labs, using some of his own funds to build it.
  • Flowers finally gained full backing for his project from the director of the Post Office Research Station.
  • With the highest priority for acquisition of parts, Flowers’s team at Dollis Hill built the first machine in eleven months. It was immediately dubbed ‘Colossus’ by the Bletchley Park staff for its immense proportions.
  • The Mark 1 Colossus operated five times faster and was more flexible than the Heath Robinson, which used electro-mechanical switches.
  • The first Mark 1, with 1500 valves, ran at Dollis Hill in November 1943; it was delivered to Bletchley Park in January 1944.
  • The algorithms were developed by W. T. Tutte and his team of mathematicians.
  • Colossus proved to be efficient and quick against Lorenz cipher SZ42 machine.
  • On 2 June 1943, Flowers was made a member of the Order of the British Empire.
  • Flowers began working on Colossus Mark 2 which would employ 2,400 valves.
  • The first Mark 2 went into service at Bletchley Park on 1 June 1944 and produced vital information for the imminent D-Day landings planned for Monday 5 June.

On June 5, Eisenhower was given a note summarizing a Colossus decrypt. This confirmed that Adolf Hitler wanted no additional troops moved to Normandy, as he was still convinced that the preparations for the Normandy landings were a feint. Eisenhower announced to his staff, “We go tomorrow”.

  • Ten Colossi were completed and used during the Second World War in British decoding efforts and an eleventh was ready for commissioning at the end of the war.
  • After the war, Flowers received little recognition for his contribution to cryptanalysis.
  • The government granted him £1,000 payment which did not cover Flowers’ personal investment in the equipment; he shared much of the money with the staff.
  • It was not until the 1970s that Flowers’ work in computing was fully acknowledged.
  • He remained at the Post Office Research Station where he was Head of the Switching Division. He and his group pioneered work on all-electronic telephone exchanges.
  • In 1964, he became head of the advanced development at Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., where he continued to develop electronic telephone switching including a pulse amplitude modulation exchange, retiring in 1969.
  • Flowers died in 1998 aged 92, leaving a wife and two sons.

Observations from the Bunker

  • The nature of innovation. Applying one technology to another area.
  • Tommy Flowers has worked for the British telecomm and was developing switches to automatically route calls without the use of operators.
  • He could either use the standard relay to valves (vacuum tubes) to route the signals.
  • He was able to apply this technology to the development of computers, as conceived by Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park.
  • The next big innovation in computer development was replacing the vacuum tubes with transistors, integrated with capacitors, resistors, and conductors on a silicon chip.
  • This innovation was pioneers by Bell Labs, TI, and Intel. It is the reason that the SF area is called Silicon Valley.
  • Innovation starts with management, then radiates across the organization. Managers and staff understand that the organization needs to be fluid. Creative thinkers, agents of change, who are comfortable pushing their limits and getting uncomfortable can innovate.
  • Decision makers must be comfortable taking risks regardless of whether they’re 100 percent sure what the market opportunities are. Companies that want to move forward and stay ahead can’t afford to wait six months for strategic analyses, full business requirements. They will just fall behind.

Iran Railway Network Attacked by Cybercriminals

  • Suggested by Bob in Maryland
  • Iran’s railway service and network dissolved into what state media called unprecedented chaos due to an alleged cyberattack.
  • The electronic boards used to display arrival and departure information to passengers at train stations were compromised.
  • The boards asked travelers to call a number to reach a help desk for further information.
  • The number actually belonged to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Iranian officials from the Ministry of Road and Urban Development confirmed the attack on Saturday.
  • The rail service’s website now appears to be operational.

TikTok Tightly Controlled by Chinese ByteDance

  • Former TikTok employees say there is cause for concern when it comes to the popular social media app’s Chinese parent company.
  • They say ByteDance has access to TikTok’s American user data and is closely involved in the decision-making and product development.
  • Some cybersecurity experts worry that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spread propaganda or censorship to American audience, or to exercise influence over users who may come to regret what they posted on the service.
  • TikTok launched internationally in September 2017. Its parent company, ByteDance, purchased Musical.ly, a social app that was growing in popularity in the U.S., for $1 billion in November 2017, and the two were merged in August 2018.
  • In just a few years, it has quickly amassed a user base of nearly 92 million in the U.S. In particular, the app has found a niche among teens and young adults.
  • TikTok has surpassed Instagram as U.S. teenagers’ second-favorite social media app, after Snapchat.
  • Last year, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok in the U.S. or force a merger with a U.S. company. President Joe Biden signed an executive order that

Courts Reject Baltimore Spy Plane Program

  • The city of Baltimore’s spy plane program was unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search, and law enforcement in the city cannot use any of the data it gathered.
  • The Aerial Investigation Research (or AIR) program, which used airplanes and high-resolution cameras to record what was happening in a 32-square-mile part of the city, was canceled by the city in February.
  • The AIR program was run by a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems with funding from two Texas billionaires. The city police department admitted to using planes to surveil Baltimore residents in 2016 but approved a six-month pilot program in 2020, which was active until October 31st.
  • City authorities said the AIR program was meant to help stem violent crime, and a district court had ruled that the program was capable only of short-term tracking and that people weren’t necessarily identifiable in the images collected.
  • Local Black activist groups, with support from the ACLU, sued to prevent Baltimore law enforcement from using any of the data it had collected in the time the program was up and running.
  • The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that “because the AIR program enables police to deduce from the whole of individuals’ movements, we hold that accessing its data is a search and its warrantless operation violates the Fourth Amendment.

 

Twelve Year Old Made $160,000 in Ethereum on NFTs

  • Weird Whales, a collection of 3350 whale-themed NFTs, sold out in about 9 hours earlier this week.
  • It is part of a project by Benyamin Ahmed, a 12-year-old from Pinner, England.
  • The NFT collection is Weird Whales—a set of pixelated whale icons inspired by a stock image..
  • He got interested in the NFT space because originally I thought it was cool as an online option.
  • It was only later, after developing a “respect” for the digital-first art style of popular NFT collections like CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club, that he decided to make a collection of his own.
  • For the uninitiated: an NFT is a kind of cryptocurrency that can be attached to files on the internet and sold as proof of ownership.
  • As with CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club, each Weird Whale image comes with a set of distinct “traits,” some rarer and more valuable than others.
  • The 1205th image in the collection, which RaritySniper.com ranks as the eighth rarest of the 3350 total Weird Whale NFTs, recently sold for around $6,000 on the secondary market.
  • Ahmed’s father, Imran, works as a web developer for a financial services organization; he introduced Benyamin and his brother to HTML and CSS at the age of “5 or 6.” Recently, the siblings have been honing their skills on an online coding platform called Codewars.
  • Weird Whales began when one of the developers behind another alliterative NFT project, Boring Bananas, sent Ahmed an annotated Python script with a template for creating his own tiered images.
  • His father walked him through the process of plugging in his own assets: “I told him, ‘Look, you need to replace the variable names here, so where they’ve got bananas and backgrounds and stuff, you need to replace it with yours.”
  • Thanks to some clever networking with the Boring Bananas team, Weird Whales went viral, and Ahmed made 80 ETH in about nine hours.
  • It’s hard to imagine that the traditional financial system—with its pesky safeguards and consumer protection laws—would have allowed $160,000 to simply drop into Ahmed’s lap without a sign-off from a parent or guardian.