Show of 10-09-2021

Tech Talk October 9, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Neha in Ashburn: Dear Doc and Andrew. I have a peculiar problem with text messages. Occasionally when I send a text message to a friend, it arrives as an email with the return address of myphonenumber@vzwpix.com. They are with T-Mobile and I am with Verizon. The email actually contains my text message as an attachment. What is going on? Neha from Ashburn, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Vzwpix is a legitimate multimedia messaging service (picture and video messaging) provided by Verizon. The service allows users to send emails via their phones, so it includes the sender’s number. You can send an email to this gateway and it shows up as a text message on the mobile phone. All of your text messages with pictures go through this gateway. Apparently, when the Verizon gateway delivered the text message to the T-Mobile gateway, it configured it as an email, in error. I say this because the attachment was the actual text message that you sent. Send a test email again and see if the action is repeated. Such a gateway error is very rare.
  • However, if I received that email, I would delete it. Vzwpix email virus is a trick used by malicious actors to make users install malware on their devices. In most cases, users receive a message from an email address, which consists of a spoofed ten-digit phone number followed up by @vxwpix.com. Initially, users might believe that the email consists of a picture attachment due to its name (for example, 8400587498Img_Picture), although in reality, it is a Zip file, with an obfuscated executable (exe) format.
  • Once clicked, the Vzwpix email virus can infect the machine immediately, as executables run a set of commands on the computer immediately. There is countless various malware that could be extracted, depending on what the attackers compiled in the background. For this reason, it is important to familiarize yourself with email scams not to infect your machine with malicious programs.
  • Email from Hac in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I got an iPhone11 Pro last year and love it. However, recently it has been locking up. I have to push a few buttons to free it. This has become annoying. What can I do to fix it? Hac in Bowie, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can try several fixes.
    • First try a hard reboot. UpVolume/DoVolume/PowerButton. Hold the power button until you see the Apple.
    • Second check the memory usage. If you are running out of memory, the iPhone is behave erratically. Go to Setting/General/iPhone Storage. If you have exhausted your memory you can free up some by deleted unused apps or storing only thumbnails of your pictures (full pictures would be on iCloud).
    • Check for software updates. Go to General/Software Update. Then go to the App Store. Click on Today Tab on bottom left. Click on Account in upper Right Hand Corner (your picture). Scroll down to Apps ready for update. Click Update All.
    • Fourth, if you recently installed a new app when the problem started, remove.
  • That should fix your problem. Good luck.
  • Email from Remy in Reedville: Dear Doc and Andrew. Recently, driver update notices have been popping up on my Windows computer. These messages are usually presented in pop-up windows or messages in the notifications area at the bottom-right corner of the screen. Are these messages legitimate? Should I update my drivers, whatever they are? Remy in Reedville, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Device drivers are a layer of software that link the operating system with the hardware. The device driver has an application programming interface that matches the OS requirements. When the hardware changes, the manufacturer updates the device driver, keeping the application programming interface the same.
  • However, regardless of how these messages show up, the vast majority of them are scams. These notices typically say your computer’s hardware drivers are out of date, which could lead to serious problems unless they are updated. The scammer then asks you to pay a fee in order to either download and install the updated driver(s) from their website or install and/or activate a “driver update” program that will update the driver(s) for you.
  • While it is true that on rare occasions a hardware driver might possibly need to be updated to keep your system operating as it should, those rare necessary updates are completely free. There is a great chance that your machine will keep working just fine throughout its useful life without you ever having to install a single driver update.
  • The drivers installed by some driver update programs are actually malware that can give the scammer a back door into your system. Ignore any and all offers to install a driver or a driver update program from a third-party website.
  • If your machine is running Windows 10 or Windows 11 you’ll probably never even need to be concerned about driver updates because Microsoft has configured those versions of Windows to either automatically install driver updates as needed or let you know when they are available via the Windows Update process.
  • Email from Joe in Reston: A will be visiting the UK for a six week visit. I will need a laptop to use while I work from my hotel room every day while I am over there. The problem is my laptop’s charger operates at 120 volts and there is no switch to change it to 240 volts like there is with my desktop computer. Is there any way I can use my existing laptop during my visit to the UK? Joe in Reston, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Most laptops have a power block that converts AC to DC. Check the input specs on the power block. Most power blocks these days support an input of 110 -240V. If that is the case you done need any type of voltage converter. You only need a plug adaptor. The Anker UK Travel Adapter, PowerExtend USB Plug International Power Adapter with 2 USB and 1 US Outlet is only $12.99 on Amazon. Moreover, you get two USB ports to charge your phones.
  • On the other hand, if your power block only supports 110V (unlikely), you will need a travel power converter. The FOVAL 200 W Power Step Down 220V to 110V Voltage Converter with 4-Port USB International Travel Adapter is $40.98 on Amazon. However, if you plan to use it with a hair dryer, get a 2000W converter. Good luck.
  • Email from Dennis in Pittsburg: Dear Doc and Andrew. I have been reading about Windows 11. Should I install it or wait awhile to see if there are any bugs? Love the podcast. Dennis in Pittsburg, KS
  • Tech Talk Responds: Windows 11 arrived on October 5, 2021. Unlike the big Windows 10 upgrade offer that felt impossible to avoid, Microsoft is not encouraging everyone to upgrade this time. In fact, Microsoft is recommending many PC owners not upgrade.
  • Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for PCs running Windows 10, just as Windows 10 was a free upgrade for PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.
  • Windows 11 officially supports only very recent hardware: In addition to requiring TPM 2.0 (Trusted Platform Module) and UEFI with Secure Boot (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), Windows 11 only supports certain relatively recent CPUs. Specifically, PCs with Intel processors must have an Intel 8th generation or newer processor. AMD PCs must be running at least AMD Zen 2. ARM PCs must have Qualcomm 7 or 8 Series hardware.
  • Not sure what hardware your PC has and whether it will support Windows 11? Microsoft offers an official “PC Health Check” app that will tell you whether your PC can officially run Windows 11. If not, the PC Health Check will tell you what the problem is. Link: https://aka.ms/GetPCHealthCheckApp
  • Windows 10 will be officially supported for years to come. Microsoft will continue supporting Windows 10 with security updates until October 2025, which is four years after Windows 11’s release. If you don’t want to upgrade immediately, you can wait. If your PC cannot run Windows 11, there is a good chance you’ll want a new PC within the next four years, anyway. Microsoft isn’t rushing you to upgrade to Windows 11. If you choose to seek out the update on your PC at Windows 11’s release, you’re an early adopter.

 

Profiles in IT: Timothy Dean Sweeney

  • Timothy Dean Sweeney is a game programmer, known as the founder and CEO of Epic Games and as the creator of the Unreal Engine, a game development platform.
  • Timothy Sweeney was born in 1970 and raised in Potomac, Maryland.
  • At a young age, he tinkered. He took apart a lawnmower as early as five or six, and later built his own go-kart.
  • Sweeney would play Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” when he was a child as a way to discover what games were doing. He loved arcade games..
  • At the age of 11, Sweeney visited his older brother’s new startup in California, where he had access to early IBM Personal Computers.
  • Sweeney spent the week there, learning BASIC. While he had had a Commodore 64 at home, Sweeney impressed by how easy the IBM PC was to use.
  • When his family got an Apple II, Sweeney began in earnest learning how to program.
  • Sweeney estimated that between the ages of 11 and 15, he spent over 10,000 hours teaching himself how to program using information on online bulletin boards.
  • As a teenager, he made a good deal of money by offering to mow lawns of wealthy residents in the area for half the price of professional services.
  • Sweeney established a business, Potomac Computer Systems, but it never took off.
  • Sweeney attended the Univ. of Maryland starting in 1989. During his second year, he decided to go all-in with gaming by creating his first full-fledged video game, ZZT.
  • Sweeney dropped out of college. With $4000 in savings, at age 20, Sweeney founded Epic Games – then known as Potomac Computer Systems – in his parents’ basement.
  • He released ZZT in 1991, using the shareware model, earning about $100 per day.
  • Following ZZT, Sweeney started working on his next title, Jill of the Jungle. He formed a team of four people to complete the game by mid-1992.
  • For continued development, Sweeney sought a business partner. He brought in Mark Rein, who had just been let go by id Software.
  • Unreal, which was released in 1998, was a PC-based game that allowed users the ability to play together on separate computers.
  • The 3D graphics technology behind the game was called the Unreal Engine. He licensed Unreal Engine to game developers for other video games.
  • With the success of Unreal, the company relocated Epic to North Carolina in 1999.
  • In 2006, Epic’s Gears of War was released. It was built for Microsoft’s Xbox 360.
  • The Gears of War franchise has sold over 22M units and made over $1B in revenue. Microsoft bought the Gears of War franchise in 2014 for an undisclosed amount.
  • Epic Games is also responsible for games like Shadow Complex and the Infinity Blade series, both role-playing fighting games set in past and futuristic periods.
  • In 2013, Chinese Tencent invested $330M into Epic Games for a 40% stake.
  • In 2015, Epic Games announced that the Unreal Engine would be made free, to help aspiring game developer. Epic Games gets a cut when games sell.
  • Epic revealed a new game it was working on in 2011, Fortnite. Everything changed in September 2017 with the release of Fortnite Battle Royale, where users collect resources, make tools and weapons, and try to stay alive.
  • The game found worldwide success just a few months after its release, amassing over 200 million players across seven different game platforms.
  • With over 400 million registered Fortnite players, the company has made well over $4 billion since launch in September 2017 (on skin and accessory purchases).
  • In August 2020, Epic issued an update on Apple and Android smartphones to Fortnite that allowed players to bypass the companies’ digital payment systems.
  • Instead of Apple and Google, payments went directly to the Epic Games. In response, both companies removed Fortnite from their respective app stores.
  • After Fortnite was removed from Apple and Google’s digital storefronts, Epic filed suits against both companies.
  • In September 2021, a federal judge ordered Epic to pay Apple $6 million, but also ruled that Apple had to permit links to other payment options.
  • Epic generated $5.1 billion in revenue in 2020 and raised $1 billion in an April 2021 funding round that valued the company at $28.7 billion.
  • In 2016, Sweeney also donated $15 million to protect 7,000 acres of forests in western North Carolina.
  • In his free time, Sweeney likes to program or go hiking. Sweeney’s office attire consists of a T-shirt and cargo pants and his favorite food is Bojangles’ fried chicken.
  • According to Forbes, as of April 2021, he has a net worth of $7.4 billion. However, Bloomberg estimates his wealth at $9.4 billion.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Tim Sweeney’s Success Formula
  • By leaning into user experience as the best kind of marketing — Sweeney has a singular focus on gaming experience, and his marketing tactics have typically relied primarily on word of mouth, buzz, and social sharing. His games are revered by users across generations, from little kids to baby boomers.
  • By focusing on the wellbeing of his team — In interviews, Sweeney frequently lavishes praise and credit on his team, and talks often about hiring people with passion and holding them up as the reasons for his success. If you take care of your team, and inspire them, that reverence for care translates to more users.
  • By offering SDK kits — From day one, Sweeney’s games have come with software development kits (SDKs) in order to enable other developers to create more games. Sweeney’s SDKs were the foundation for Unreal Engine, which hundreds if not thousands of games are now built upon. When Sweeney started to offer SDKs, this was a counterculture move.
  • By tearing down “the walled gardens” of gaming — Sweeney is also known for railing against the gaming establishment in many ways. While typical app marketplaces take a 30 percent cut, the Epic Games store takes only a 12 percent cut. He’s adored by developers.

A Really Bad Week for Facebook

  • Facebook has not had a great week.
  • Internal documents published in the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files show that the social media giant knowingly encourages anger and divisiveness on its platform, despite real-world and political consequences.
  • The Facebook employee who leaked this information to the Journal testified before Congress, just one day before Facebook appeared at a congressional hearing.
  • As it struggled to control its public image on Monday, something odd happened—Facebook and its services disappeared from the internet for six hours.
  • The unexpected outage, which is the longest Facebook has experienced since 2008, took down all of its apps and services. People across the globe were unable to use Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and other Facebook-owned platforms during the outage. And because many people use Facebook to log into 3rd party apps, they found themselves locked out of games, athletic apps, and other software.
  • So what happened? Facebook and its domains were pulled from global routing tables, effectively blocking anyone from connecting with the company’s servers. The “facebook.com” domain disappeared from the internet, and even showed up as “for sale” on domain websites.
  • Facebook says that a “routine maintenance job” led to the outage. The company’s engineers issued a command to assess Facebook’s global network capacity, and for whatever reason, the command “unintentionally took down all the connections in the backbone network, effectively disconnecting Facebook data centers globally.”
  • Facebook’s networks could no longer respond to DNS queries, making them totally inaccessible. This problem required a hands-on fix from engineers, who had trouble getting on-site because Facebook facilities are defended by smart security systems, such as network-connected keycards.
  • Unfortunately, Facebook hosts these security systems on its own servers, which were unresponsive. Facebook engineers got to the company’s servers using an angle grinder to break down doors and cages because all physical security systems were down.
  • To make matters worse, Facebook has another of Friday of the same week. Because WhatsApp was down, users flooded to Signal and Telegram, both excellent end-to-end encrypted messaging apps.

Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony Completed with AI Software

  • The project was conceived in celebration of the famous composer’s 250th birthday
  • Artificial intelligence has completed Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony. A world premiere of the music will take place on October 9, 2021.
  • In 1817, the Royal Philharmonic Society in London commissioned Ludwig Von Beethoven to compose his Ninth and Tenth symphonies. He completed the Ninth Symphony, which concludes the fourth movement with the all too familiar “Ode to Joy” (below).
  • Due to declining health and his subsequent death in 1827, he never completed his Tenth Symphony. All that remains of that work is some scrawled musical sketches.
  • The Karajan Institute partnered with a group of scientists from AI startup Playform led by Ahmed Elgammal.
  • The team spent two years training an AI model using Beethoven’s complete works, the Tenth Symphony sketches he left behind, and what is known about his methods of composing music.
  • Computational music expert Mark Gotham led efforts to transcribe the centuries-old sketches and process Beethoven’s entire work to train machine learning algorithms.
  • Harvard musicologist Robert Levin, who had previously completed several musical compositions from Mozart and Bach, also helped on the project.
  • The human side of the project required intensive study of the Tenth Symphony sketches to determine what Beethoven’s intentions were for the piece.
  • Using the composer’s completed works as a template, they puzzled out which of Beethoven’s incomplete musical phrases belonged in which of the four movements of the symphony.
  • The AI’s task was to figure out how to fill in the gaps. It needed to take very short musical phrases of just a few notes and expand them into longer, more elaborate structures. It did this by learning how Beethoven built his Fifth Symphony on a simple four-note motif.