Show of 11-06-2021

Tech Talk

November 6, 2021

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Doug in Kilmarnock: Dear Tech Talk. Every time I check for new Windows Updates on my Windows 10 Lenovo laptop it tells me there are a couple of driver updates available as “optional” updates. Should I go ahead and let Windows Update install those optional updates or should I just skip them? Doug in Kilmarnock, VA.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The short answer to your question is no, I don’t recommend installing “optional” driver updates via the Windows Update tool, for the following reasons:
    • It is best to leave a system’s hardware drivers alone unless, and until a need for updating one arises. If you do not need to update a driver to fix a problem you’re having with a device or make it work better, I recommend that you leave it alone. Bad driver updates can cause problems that did not exist before.
    • The drivers that Microsoft makes available via Windows Update are sometimes older than the ones that are already installed. What’s more, they can be “buggy” at times as well.
    • When a driver update really is necessary, the best place to install it from is the “Support” section of the hardware manufacturer’s website.
  • Skip any driver updates that Microsoft has labeled as “optional”. If an update really needs to be installed it will be bundled with the regular pending updates.
  • Email from Lilly in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Andrew. Is it safe to leave a laptop running in its laptop bag while I am on my way to work? I often find myself finishing a project at the last minute and leave my computer running and crunching numbers during my commute. A co-worker told me it is a bad idea to carry a laptop while it is running. Is she right? Love the show. Lilly in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your co-worker is right, Lilly. Laptops need proper air circulation or else they will eventually overheat and burn up. The damage done to the internal components can be gradual, but if they keep over-heating, they WILL fail at some point. Another danger of using a laptop while you are on the move is a potential head crash, depending on the brand and model of the hard drive. The hard drive’s read/write heads float just thousandths of an inch over the spinning platters. If you hit a pothole or speed bump too hard, the heads can easily crash into the platters causing your drive to fail. Most modern laptop hard drives are built to withstand a moderate “thud”, but some are not. Why take a chance? BTW, it is easy to set your laptop to shut down automatically when you close the lid. This may be your best option.
  • Email from Tracy in Ashburn: Dear Doc and Andrew. I have heard so much about Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. I would like to give it a try. What is your recommendation? Tracy in Ashburn, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Selecting the right crypto exchange depends on many factors: security measures, ease of use, trading fees and the number of coins available for trading. Here are five options to consider.
    • Coinbase — Coinbase, one of the most popular crypto exchanges in the world. Crypto traders have been using Coinbase since 2012, and the crypto exchange has only gotten better with age. A user-friendly interface, straightforward onboarding process and a free $5 in Bitcoin just for opening an account make Coinbase an excellent place for new traders to get started. Advanced users will enjoy Coinbase Pro, which provides more powerful tools for power users looking to dive into cryptocurrency trading. Coinbase is more expensive than other cryptocurrency trading sites.
    • Binance — Binance has been around for four years and has quickly taken the crypto market by storm. Based out of Hong Kong, Binance is an international exchange that supports more than 500 different cryptocurrencies. The website is very intuitive and straightforward. Low trading fees, strong charting tools and an easy-to-use mobile app allows for fast, simple cryptocurrency trading. Binance has become one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world.
    • Robinhood – Robinhood is easy to use and has low fees. In 2018, Robinhood began to roll out cryptocurrency trading. With the company’s mobile-first mindset, Robinhood has built an incredibly easy-to-use app, and no fees for trading mean the barriers to entry are extremely low.
    • Gemini — Founded by the Winklevoss twins in 2014, Gemini has established itself as one of the most trusted names in crypto. The two stars of Gemini were Bitcoin and Ethereum (ETH), but today the exchange allows users to trade more than 40 different cryptocurrencies. The site was founded with regulation compliance as a top priority. The company is a fiduciary, and the site is Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insured. Gemini’s trading fees are a bit higher than Coinbase Pro but less than Coinbase itself.
    • Kraken — Kraken has proven itself to be a trusted, secure crypto exchange since its founding in 2011. With 90 coins available for trading on the site, Kraken’s selection is smaller than some but it makes up for that with excellent features that experienced crypto traders love. Kraken’s Pro site is excellent. Advanced tools such as margin trading and crypto futures are sure to attract power users, while the ability to stake your coins will appeal to set-it and forget-it users. Kraken’s maker-taker fee schedule system is confusing and it often leaves users payer higher fees.
  • Email from John in Washington DC: Dear Doc and Andrew. I have been told that microwave ovens will interfere with my Wi-Fi router. If that is true, they must use the same frequency. Why in the world would anyone design these systems to use the same frequency? Seems like a bad idea. If I have interference, what are my options? Love the show. John in Washington DC.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Wi-Fi and Microwaves both operate on a similar frequency, which can lead to interference. In 1947 the International Telecommunication Union established the ISM bands, short for Industrial, Scientific, and Medical. The goal was to define what devices would be allowed to run at certain bands of radio frequency so that they would not cause interference with other radio communication services.
  • The ITM designated the 2.4 GHz band as an unlicensed spectrum specifically for microwave ovens. This band has three compelling properties: It does not require much power to broadcast, it is easy to contain, and at relatively lower power, it can heat food.
  • As the ISM name suggests, the original intention was for use only in devices that did not provide communication. In the years since the prospect of an unlicensed spectrum has been used outside the original purpose, such as cordless phones, walkie-talkies, and more recently Wi-Fi. The 2.4 GHz band was ideal with its low cost to implement, lower power needs, and decent distance capabilities.
  • Anything that runs on the ISM bands is supposed to be designed for intolerances to avoid interference, and Wi-Fi devices do have algorithms expressly for that purpose. However, a microwave is powerful enough to overwhelm any nearby Wi-Fi signals.
  • Microwaves have shielding to prevent this, but they are not a perfect Faraday cage. The very nature of a mesh window on the door prevents that. It is not uncommon to have some leakage from a microwave. Microwaves use more power than a Wi-Fi router; typically they generate 1000 watts of power. Conversely, a standard Wi-Fi router generates about 100 Milliwatts (or 0.1 watts) of power.
  • If you do see interference issues, you do not need to replace the microwave; most likely the leak is tiny and not harmful. Instead of replacing the microwave you could move it. Alternatively, buy a new Wi-Fi router that operates on the 5 GHz band. You will not only avoid interference from the microwave, but you will also prevent interference from your neighbors.
  • Email from Neha in Ashburn: Dear Doc and Andrew. I travel by air frequently and always must turn off my cell phone, but I am skeptical. Do cell phones really interfere with aircraft electronics? Neha in Ashburn, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Federal agencies and airlines typically err on the side of caution, even though researchers and aircraft companies have found almost no direct evidence of cell phones or other electronic devices interfering with aircraft systems. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found no interference and eventually recommended allowing the use of laptops, gaming devices and music players.
  • However, it suggested the precaution of banning the use of any and all devices during the critical takeoff and landing phases. My opinion is that they do not interfere, but I still turn my off during takeoff and landing so as not to offend anyone.

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 Source Forge, 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, 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.
  • Bitcoin reached a high of $65,607, apparently pushed by the launch of the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, which garnered a first-day trading volume of more than $1B.
  • Several people have been put forward as the “real” Satoshi Nakamoto, though none have been definitely proven to be Nakamoto.
    • 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.
    • 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. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    • 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 Faculty Lounge

  • Bitcoin may be the gold standard, but the two kids (Ethereum and Cardano) are coming on strong. So which kid is a better investment in the end?
  • Ethereum is one of the biggest names in the crypto industry right now, and its native token, Ether, is the second most popular cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin.
  • The Ethereum Foundation is led by Vitalik Buterin, the pied piper of crypto.
  • The Ethereum blockchain is one of the most widely used when it comes to decentralized applications (dApps) such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized finance (DeFi).
  • It also hosts smart contracts, which allow individuals to execute safe and secure agreements without help from a third party such as a lawyer.
  • Also, because the Ethereum blockchain is open source, anyone can create new dApps.
  • All applications on the Ethereum blockchain require the use of Ether, so if any of these dApps succeed, Ethereum will benefit from it.
  • One downside to Ethereum is that it’s currently using a proof of work (PoW) mining protocol, which is incredibly energy-intensive.
  • However, Ethereum developers are currently working on transitioning to a proof of stake (PoS) protocol, which is much more environmentally friendly.
  • With a PoS protocol, miners must put some of their own crypto holdings at stake to verify transactions for a chance at earning rewards.
  • Cardano was created by one of the co-founders of Ethereum, Charles Hoskinson, so it shares many similarities with its older competitor.
  • Like Ethereum, Cardano also allows users to create dApps on its network. Some of the projects currently in development include THEOS, an NFT marketplace, and Indigo Protocol, which will allow users to trade real-world assets (such as stocks) on the Cardano blockchain.
  • Unlike Ethereum, Cardano already uses a PoS mining protocol, which gives it an advantage over its competitor.
  • Cardano has a very structured code development process, similar to the Internet Engineering Task Force. Ethereum is classic open source development with a benevolent dictator.
  • Ethereum has the first-mover advantage over Cardano, so while the two may share many features, Ethereum has a longer track record and is more popular among users right now.
  • The Cardano’s market cap is $67B, while Ethereum’s market cap is $374.9B.

Trivia of the Week: Oldest Verified Computer Program Still In Use

  • The oldest verified computer program still in use is tasked with managing U.S. Department of Defense contracts.
  • First brought online back in 1958, Mechanization of Contract Administration Services (MOCAS) has, for decades, served as the hub of the entire Department of Defense’s contract tracking.
  • Written in COBOL, the system has received numerous upgrades over the years in terms of its interface—it was originally controlled using punch cards, then CRT terminals, and now it’s buried beneath layers of web interfaces and GUIs—but beneath the various interfaces, it’s still largely the same exact program brought on line to handle Cold War-Era contracts.
  • Why is the software so long lived? Surely there’s a more modern system that the Department could use, right?
  • The biggest impediment to any upgrade is simply the amount of data the software handles and the confusion it would throw into the daily operations of the Department if they replaced it.
  • The MOCAS software handles roughly 340,000 contracts at any given time, totaling over a trillion dollars in obligations.
  • Transitioning old contracts or even simply starting all new contracts in a newer system creates a mess that the Department simply isn’t willing to deal with unless there is an excellent and smooth path laid out between the old software and its successor.

NFT New York Coming Out Party

  • Nine months ago, few people knew what a non-fungible token (NFT) was. Now they have taken over Times Square.
  • The 2019 event drew 460 attendees. This year, over 5,000 people are attending hundreds of panels hosted by more than 600 speakers throughout midtown.
  • NFTs are unique digital tokens that are stored on a blockchain, which serves as a sort of digital ledger.
  • They have any number of potential applications, to which the list of panels at the conference can attest:
  • Perhaps the most intuitive way to understand NFTs is in the art world.
  • Many people first heard the term in March, when a digital image from an artist known as Beeple sold for $69 million. Anyone can download an exact copy — down to the ones and zeros — of the artwork for free.
  • But the NFT for the same artwork gives the digital image the kind of scarcity that has long created value in the art world in the physical realm. Just like the Mona Lisa, which doesn’t lose value with every new T-shirt with its image on it.
  • But not everyone is so bullish about the boom in NFTs and cryptocurrency. Some worry about the lack of regulation.
  • This will come in due time. Now it is like the Wild West, both danger and opportunity.