Show of 10-23-2021

Tech Talk October 23, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a relatively new way of ownership of unique items – from what I have read. NFTs tokenenise (whatever that is) things like art, collectibles, even real estate. They can only have one official owner at a time and they are secured by the Ethereum blockchain – no one can modify the record of ownership or copy/paste a new NFT into existence. Non-fungible is an economic term that you could use to describe things like your furniture, a song file, or your computer. These things are not interchangeable for other items because they have unique properties.
  • My question is, if I had a non-fungible item I made or song I wrote, for example, how would I would register it with whatever /whoever controls the block chain? And just how do NFTs protect it from being copied, stolen, or plagiarized? How do patents & copyrights come into play with NFTs? Who is in charge of the NFT system? Thanks for Tech Talk for keeping us abreast of all the tech stuff going on nowadays. Arnie in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are like Certificates of Authenticity given by art dealers to prove the value of the piece of artwork. NFTs are attached to a particular piece of art (usually digital). When the NFT is transferred from the artist to a buyer, the transaction is recorded in block chain. Once the block chain is locked with encryption, the transfer data is immutable. As the NFT is transferred to additional owners, the chain of custody is recorded permanently. This is the same process that is used for Certificates of Authentication. In that case, it is call providence. The Block Chain is public and transfers are validated and locked by miners. It is immutable and owned by now one. It is decentralized. This is simply the digttal equivalence of what we had done for millennia using paper Certificates of Authenticity.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc and Andrew. You forgot to click the link in the letter last week to discover the real trick cybercriminals were using to make money easily. They installed malware that included a clipboard stealer module. They targeting victims with crypto wallets and made lots money. Thought you would be interested. Even with an error or two here or there, Stratford University Tech Talk is STILL my favorite show! All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: That is an interesting way to steal crypto and they targeted other crypto-criminals. That made it even more interesting. Security firm Avast has now confirmed its operators have acquired at least $24.7 million in various cryptocurrencies that have been transferred to Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin accounts.
  • When the clipboard stealer module detects that someone has copied a cryptocurrency wallet address (for example to make a payment) this module then swaps in a different cryptocurrency address controlled by the gang. Security firm Sophos’s research found that the clipboard stealer, a Trojan, monitors PCs for the use of various coin wallet formats. It works because people often use the copy/paste function to insert relatively long wallet IDs when accessing an account. This method relies on the practice that most (if not all) people don’t type in the long wallet IDs rather store it somewhere and use the clipboard to copy it when they need it. In fact, I do the same thing when I transfer coins to another crypto wallet. However, after finding about this Trojan, I always check the actual address after the cut and paste operation.
  • Email from Leslie in Oakton: Dear Tech Talk. I am considering buying a new mobile phone this year. I actually quite happy with my two year old 4G phone and its camera, but I hate to miss the new 5G networks. Are they worth the upgrade, or should I just wait until my phone is a little older. Enjoy the podcast. Leslie in Oakton, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Every flagship phone in America has 5G now. The question is should you upgrade. It depends.
  • 5G devices improve every year, so it might seem like you should hold off as long as you can before picking up a 5G phone. Depending on your carrier, though, now (for T-Mobile) and next year (for AT&T and Verizon) will be major turning points in the race to 5G.
  • There’s no downside to getting a phone that happens to have 5G if it’s the phone you want for other reasons. In the US, you can’t buy a flagship phone without 5G! So if a high-end phone’s powerful camera or amazing screen attracts you, that’s a great reason to buy it, and you get 5G. However, there are no killer new 5G applications yet.
  • T-Mobile has spent the past year blanketing the country with 5G. If you are T-Mobile, you will see a speed increase. 5G can make a big difference in congested areas on T-Mobile. Unlike on AT&T and Verizon, 5G on T-Mobile can improve coverage as well as speed. Part of T-Mobile’s 5G network uses a low-frequency band, n71, that covers small towns and rural areas. A small amount of that is set aside for 4G, but much of it is used for 5G. So performance in those rural areas will probably improve with a 5G phone. All of T-Mobile’s 5G phones, from the low-cost OnePlus Nord N10 5G to the premium iPhone 12 Pro Max, have the 5G technologies T-Mobile intends to use between now and 2023.
  • AT&T and Verizon also claim to have a lot of “nationwide” 5G coverage. But they don’t devote wide channels to 5G, so their nationwide 5G performance has been very similar to 4G. That means you will be just fine for now on these carriers with a recent 4G phone.
  • There is an exciting change coming next year to most of the largest metro areas in the US: C-band. Starting early next year, Verizon and AT&T will turn on C-band 5G, which will likely double or triple their 5G speed across many cities and suburbs. That system will then go nationwide in 2024. So if you want a phone that will have top performance well into the future, you need to find one with C-band 5G. I would wait to get a Verizon or AT&T phone until next year and get one with C-Band.
  • Email from Karen in Virginia Beach: Dear Tech Talk. I am always losing my key fob in the house and would like to find a tracker that can be used with my mobile phone. What are my best options? I need to get it quickly. Yesterday I was late for work because I could not find my key. Love the show. Karen in Virginia Beach, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Wireless key fobs typically transmit at 315 MHz. You might find a frequency that could pick them, but they don’t transmit unless interrogated by the car. So you would have to send a wake up signal. Probably not practical.
  • You could get a tracker fob that is attached to your keys. It would communicate with your cell phone using Bluetooth. There are three good options, depending on hour phone.
    • Tile Pro — The best key finder for keeping track of easy-to-lose items remains the latest version of the Tile Pro, which takes on stepped-up competition with extensive ranges (up to 400 feet, the company says) and other top features that set the bar for other devices. The Tile Pro is $35..
    • Galaxy SmartTag — If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy phone, you’ll want to consider the Galaxy SmartTag, as it matches the Tile Pro’s range. It is $24.99 on Amazon.
    • Apple AirTag — If you’ve got an iPhone, especially one of the more recent models, you’ll want to try Apple’s AirTag. This key tracker pairs with your iPhone over Bluetooth to help you track down lost items in the iPhone’s built-in Find My app. If you’ve got an iPhone 11 or later, you can tap into the Precision Finding feature, which uses the U1 Ultra Wideband chip in newer Apple phones to provide more detailed directions on finding lost items. Apple AirTag is $29.00 on Amazon.
  • Email from Charu in New Delhi: Dear Tech Talk. After using Windows computers for years I decided to try a Mac after my last Acer laptop stopped working on me. However, when I’m using Safari it only shows the website’s domain name and not the entire URL in the address bar. How can I force Safari to display the entire URL of the current page? Love the podcast. Charu in New Delhi, India
  • Tech Talk Responds: I also like to see the full web address. Follow these steps to force Safari to show the current web page’s entire URL in the address bar:
    • Select Safari from the top menu bar.
    • Click Preferences.
    • Select the Advanced tab.
    • Check the box beside Show full website address.
  • From now on Safari will show the entire URL of the current web page.

 

Profiles in IT: Jaron Zepel Lanier

  • Jaron Zepel Lanier is a computer scientist, visual artist, and composer, who is considered a founder of the field of virtual reality.
  • Jaron Lanier was born May 3, 1960, in NYC and raised in Mesilla, NM. His mom, a holocaust survivor, was the breadwinner — a concert pianist, dancer, and day trader.
  • When he was nine, his mother was killed in a car accident. After his mother’s death, he had a succession of infections, including scarlet fever and pneumonia.
  • During this time, their house in El Paso burned down. Unemployed and grieving and penniless, his father bought a parcel of uninhabited land in the NM desert.
  • In 1972, they built a house, which Jaron designed. It was unconventional, all spires and crystals, with a geodesic dome as its centerpiece.
  • At the age of 13, Lanier convinced New Mexico State University to let him enroll, where he took graduate-level courses.
  • While at NMSU, he received a grant from the NSF to study mathematical notation, which led him to learn computer programming.
  • From 1979 to 1980, Lanier’s NSF-funded project at NMSU focused on digital graphical simulations for learning. This project sparked his interest in virtual reality.
  • One day he met a hippie with a goatee and a van who went to art school and hung out with artists and poets. He followed him to Bard College in upstate NY and enrolled.
  • However, Lanier dropped out of Bard during the first year, disgusted with the elitism.
  • He eked out a living as a musician in NYC, before returning to New Mexico to organize protests against the expanding nuclear power industry in the state.
  • However, activism did not pay and he needed money. He kept goats, selling their milk and cheese, but his income was still not enough. He found work as an assistant midwife, helping indigent Mexican farmworkers deliver their babies.
  • In 1980, when given a beat-up car by a grateful father, he drove to Silicon Valley.
  • While in the epicenter of computer startups, he made a small fortune programming.
  • In 1982, he created Alien Garden for Atari (with Beernie DeKoven).
  • In 1983, he released the pioneering, graphically complex Moondust for the C64.
  • He then turned his garage into a VR workshop and started tinkering with electronics.
  • The virtual reality thing slowly took solid form. Lanier joined forces with a fellow programmer from Atari, Thomas Zimmerman, who had designed a glove as a VR input device. Within three years, a head-mounted display had been completed.
  • More ambitiously, they developed a DataSuit, a full-body garment capable of sensing movements of the arms, legs, torso and feet. Lanier coined the phrase virtual reality.
  • In September 1984, Lanier’s groundbreaking work made the cover of Scientific American magazine. That same year he formed VPL Research with Zimmerman.
  • Soon, they were supplying research labs around the world with VR equipment. Full VR systems sold for $225,000. At its height, VPL had annual sales of $6M.
  • Lanier paid little attention to the legal and commercial niceties of running a company.
  • He staked his patents in virtual reality as collateral against a loan. In the early 90s, VPL filed for bankruptcy and his patents were lost after a seven-year legal battle.
  • At 32, Lanier was ousted from VPL, abandoned without payoff or patents.
  • In 1999, Sun Microsystems bought VPL’s virtual reality and graphics-related patents.
  • Lanier loved contemporary classical music. A pianist and a specialist in non-western musical instruments, he wrote orchestral music and concertos.
  • In 1994, he released the contemporary classical music album Instruments of Change, Western exploration of Asian musical traditions, including medieval bowed harp and musical patterns drawn from India and the Far East.
  • Lanier pioneered the use of Virtual Reality in musical stage performance with his band Chromatophoria, where he played both virtual and real instruments.
  • From 1997 to 2001, he served as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying applications for Internet2.
  • On May 9, 2000, Lanier and his Columbia colleagues demonstrated of “tele-immersion”, which Lanier has been developing since the collapse of VPL. People at separate locations appear physically in 3D in real space as they communicate.
  • From 2001 to 2004, he was Visiting Scientist at Silicon Graphics Inc., where he developed solutions to core problems in telepresence and tele-immersion.
  • Having made and lost a paper fortune with his pioneering virtual reality headsets, he sold an interest in another company involved in face recognition to Google in 2006.
  • In addition to his music, Lanier displayed his art in galleries throughout the world.
  • He made large-scale paintings on a canvas-like material from computer images. This involves a huge “printer” with its own chimney. Some are available for collectors.
  • Over time, he become disillusioned with the Silicon Valley culture and the Internet.
  • He felt that they were robbing us of our humanity. He believed that we must express our humanity in order to put computers in their place. He believed that VR allowed such expression and that it was the good computer-user interface.
  • In the end, he was more of a humanist than a computer scientist.
  • In 2010, he was named one of Time magazine’s Time 100 most influential thinkers.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Jaron Lanier was a humanist disguised as a geeky computer scientist.
  • He represented the best of both worlds. He was a rare and gifted and talent.
  • He was disappointed with the exploitation of the Silicon Valley culture. He felt the world deserved better. He wrote extensively about his misgivings.
  • In One-Half a Manifesto (2000), Lanier criticized the claims made by writers, such as Ray Kurzweil, that computers become ultra-intelligent masters of matter and life.
  • In Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism (2006), he criticized the omniscience collective wisdom (like Wikipedia), describing it as digital Maoism manipulated behind the scenes by anonymous groups of editors.
  • In his book You Are Not a Gadget (2010), Lanier accuses Web 2.0 of devaluing progress and innovation, glorifying the collective at the expense of the individual.
  • In his 2013 book Who Owns the Future?, Lanier posits that online economies convince users to give away valuable information about themselves in exchange for free services. Lanier calls these firms Siren Servers, alluding to the Sirens of Ulysses.
  • In his 2017 book Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality, he explains that VR helps users focus on reality, rather than the virtual.
  • In Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), Lanier is concerned that social media making users cruder, less empathetic, more tribal.
  • His message is clear. We must control the forces that are driving the Internet and computer science in general using the moral compass of humanity.
  • If we fail to assert our humanity, the results will be dehumanizing and counterproductive. We must re-evaluate our ties with the digital environment.