Show of 04-18-2015

Tech Talk

April 18, 2015

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email form Mary: Dear Dr. Shurtz, I needed to use my dell running WINXP to access the internet. I have a new Verizon FiOS router (about 1 1/2 months old) that works fine with my iMac. But now that I have the new Verizon FiOS router the dell won’t connect to the internet (though it did before with the old Verizon router). Do you know how to make this work? I assume that the new router name and password have to be put into the Dell? No one in tech support at Verizon knows how to resolve. Thanks, Mary
  • Tech Talk Responds: Mary, you will need to select the new Wi-Fi network and enter the password. You can go to the Control Panel and open the Network and Sharing Icon. From that panel you can reach the wireless network configuration. When you see the list of Wi-Fi networks, select yours and enter the password.
  • Email from Chris: Dear Doc & Jim. Love the show and I try not to miss any episodes. I’ve been using Ooma for my phone service for over 2 years after hearing the Doc talk about it on the show.  I recently found out about a new service offered by Ooma for those who pay for the premium service.  In addition to the personal and community blacklists, Ooma now has an expanded blacklist feature that automatically blocks more than 800,000 known robo-callers and telemarketers.  Premium customers need to log into their accounts to enable the expanded blacklist. I only discovered this service by accident probably because I opted out of their news and information emails. 🙂 Just thought I’d let you and the listeners know about this great feature. Thanks for the great information and the podcasts. Chris
  • Tech Talk Responds: I love the Blacklist feature. Ooma has a community blacklist, an expanded blacklist using Nomorobo, and a personal blacklist. I use all three and never get a sales call. This does require the premium service which is around $10 per month. There are many other features that you get for this.
  • Benoit from New Jersey: Dear Tech Talk, My son’s friend is launching an impressive company on Kickstarter. These guys seem driven by a purposeful mission and what seems to be a clever idea to bring more economical computers to developing countries. It is called Endless Computers. They have a Kickstarter goal of $100K, which they have already reached. Have you heard of this and what do you think? Benoit from New Jersey
  • Tech Talk Responds: It is a great idea. Almost 5 billion people do not have computers. A computer can mean access to information, health, livelihood, and jobs in our global economy. They said on their website: “A few years ago, on a trip to India, we had an epiphany: If we ran a full desktop operating system on the inexpensive processors that power smartphones, and plugged them into the TVs people already own, we could make a computer that is affordable to more people.” Three years later, they announced Endless on Kickstarter, a computer, operating system, and ecosystem of applications tailored specifically to users in developing countries. An Endless computer with 500GB drive is a little over $200. Their goal is to outfit schools with this computer. High volume production should reduce the cost.
  • Email from Tuc in Chantilly: Dear Tech Talk. My iPhone just stopped working. The screen is blank. It won’t ring when called. I didn’t do anything to it. No water damage, etc. What are my options? Love the show. Tuc in Chantilly
  • Tech Talk Responds: This has happed to me a couple of times. Once with my iPad and once with my iPhone. If the operating system hangs up, your device will become non-responsive.  I simply do a hard reboot and it has brought it back both times. Press both buttons on the device (power button on the top and thumb print button on the front). Hold them down for ten seconds until you see the Apple indicating that it is rebooting. Good luck. If this doesn’t work, take it to the Apple store. They may replace it if it is in the warranty period.
  • Email from Lynn in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. I love to take pictures and I store them all on my laptop. I am running out of space on my laptop. It has a solid state hard drive and cannot be upgraded. I have stored lots of pictures on this computer and need to do something. What do you recommend? Love the show. We listen to the podcast every week here in Ohio. Lynn in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can upload your pictures to the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, or One Drive). I talked about these options last week. I would also back them up onto an external USB hard drive. You can get a 1TB drive for around $100. This will give you two copies of your all your pictures. As you get more pictures, you can copy them to both the external drive and the drive in the cloud before removing from you laptop. You can always access them on the cloud anytime you want to view them. This should solve your laptop storage problem.
  • Email from Rich in Glen Allen: Dear Tech Talk. I would like to jump start my career in Tech. What would you recommend that I could do quickly to make myself more marketable? Thanks, Rich in Glen Allen, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: I would learn Apple newest programming language, Swift. Then I would create an application for the iPhone. Many businesses would love to have their own app. Development on Swift began in 2010 by Chris Lattner, with the eventual collaboration of many other programmers.  On June 2, 2014, the WWDC app became the first publicly released app written in Swift. A beta version of the language was released to registered Apple developers at that time. The Swift Programming Language, a free 500-page manual, was also released at WWDC, and is available on the iBooks Store. This is the latest hot language to learn. 
  • There are many online courses to learn Swift. Stratford students have access to a great online resource,, which has an excellent Swift course. Good luck. The key to being marketable is actually doing something. Tech resumes without projects are a dime-a-dozen.
Profiles in IT: Hiroshi Mikitani
  • Hiroshi Mikitani is co-founder and CEO of Rakuten, known as the Japanese Amazon.
  • Mikitani was born March 11, 1965 in Kobe, Japan.
  • In 1988 he graduated from Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo with a BS in commerce.
  • An accomplished tennis player, Mikitani was on the verge of going pro when instead he joined the Industrial Bank of Japan (IBJ) in 1988.
  • IBJ transferred him to the US and sent him to Harvard. He earned an MBA in 1993.
  • One of the first things he noticed was how much more Americans respected entrepreneurs than the Japanese did. 
  • A massive Kobe earthquake hit Japan on January. 17, 1995, killing thousands of people, including his aunt and uncle and some friends. 
  • It was a hard lesson about the fragility of life. A year later he left the bank and started a consulting company called the Crimson Group, named after the Harvard colors.
  • In 1997, working with three partners, he developed a platform to help mom-and-pop retail stores sell their products online. He wanted to revitalize Japan’s economy.
  • Rather than rely on outside investors, Mikitani funded Rakuten with $250K of his own money. His wife ran the back office.
  • Rakuten makes selling easy for the merchant. Merchants can communicate with their customers and build loyalty. In contrast, Amazon makes buying easy for the customer and doesn’t care which merchant is used.
  • He was president from its founding and in 2001 he became chairman. 
  • The site started with 13 shops, most owned by Mikitani’s friends.
  • By year two 320 merchants had signed up to Rakuten Ichiba (ichiba  means “market”). By the end of 1999 it had 1,800.
  • Instead of emphasizing efficiency and convenience, Rakuten tries to create a personalized, bazaar-like shopping experience.
  • Rakuten was getting 80% of its revenue from sales commissions and merchants’ membership fees, 10% from advertisers and 10% from auctions.
  • It has become the number one e-commerce company in Japan.
  • Rakuten acquired in the US, Ikeda in Brazil, in the UK, and Kobo in Canada. It recently invested a $100 million in Pinterest.
  • In 2010, he declared English as the official language of Rakuten. He believes communication in English is the key to compete globally. This was viewed a un-Japanese and called “stupid.” It was featured as a Harvard Case Study.
  • By 2013, Rakuten earned $400M with revenue of $5.3B. In September 2014, Rukuten had 11,156 employees. In April 2015, Rakuten has a market cap of $24.2B
  • Called Mickey by his friends, Mikitani is married with two children.
  • In March 2015, Mikitani was valued at $8.7 billion by Forbes, a number 151.
Virginia Decommissions Voting Machines
  • The Virginia is decommissioning a long-serving electronic voting system after learning of its gaping security holes.
  • “The security review determined that the combination of weak security controls used by the devices would not be able to prevent a malicious third party from modifying the votes recorded by the WINVote devices,” the Virginia IT Agency (VITA) wrote in a report to the board . VITA is, as the name suggests, the state’s IT department.
  • AVS WINVote devices have been in use by the state for more than a decade. 30 counties in Virginia used the machines to record votes last year.
  • The VITA investigation was kicked off after one of the machines displayed error messages and was unable to correctly report a tally of votes from an election held last year. 
  • Many of the systems allowed for administrator access with either the default “admin” password, or an easily guessed password such as “abcde.”
  • Even if a strong password was used on the box, other lapses, such as an always-on Wi-Fi connection and the use of weak WEP encryption, would potentially allow for data to be intercepted and compromised.
  • The WINVote systems were based on Microsoft’s OS: in this case, unpatched versions of Windows XP Embedded 2002. Researchers found that the devices were vulnerable to exploited flaws which have been known of as far back as 2004.
  • The voting devices themselves had accessible USB ports and the printer and power button were housed behind a lock which could be “easily bypassed.”
  • Shortly after the VITA report was published this week, the state’s Board of Elections formally decertified the machines for use, effective immediately.
  • The WINVote ballot boxes were built by Texas-based Advanced Voting Solutions, which ceased production in 2007.
FBI pulls Computer Security Expert off flight
  • Chris Roberts, a Colorado-based security fiend, used twitter to notify United Airlines about what he believes is a weakness in its security systems.
  • His tweet from on board a United flight on Wednesday read: “Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)”
  • His specialty is aircraft security systems. He and the company he works for, One World Labs, have for some time nagged Airbus and Boeing. 
  • Their concern is how easy it allegedly is to connect a laptop to a box beneath an airline seat and witness many of the plane’s systems in action.
  • Roberts says that after his tweet — which specifically referenced the notion that he could get the oxygen masks to deploy — he was pulled from the plane by the FBI.
  • He says he had all his computer gear taken from him, as well as having many questions tossed at him.
  • Since his detainment, Roberts has continued to tweet about it. He laughed about United sending him an email wanting to know about his latest flight experience.
  • Today, he was on another flight and tweeted: “Ok made it TO plane in Syracuse…now let’s see what happens 🙂 still NO warrant, and no electronics…..”
  • And just hours ago, he tweeted that he was safely back in Colorado and hadn’t been stopped by “suited agents.”
  • Roberts’ initial motivation, he told CNN, was simple: “I’m just so frustrated that nothing is getting fixed.” He did admit, however, to having been “probably a little more blunt than I should have been.”
  • IFE systems on commercial airplanes are isolated from flight and navigation systems. While these systems receive position data and have communication links, the design isolates them from the other systems on airplanes performing critical and essential functions. 
  • Roberts told CNN that he’s tried connecting to flight systems 15 to 20 times and seen all sorts of things, such as the flight management system. I have contacted Roberts directly for more information and will update, should I hear.
  • Given that he appears to have been allowed on another flight today, one imagines he’s not deemed an actual security risk.
  • Should someone next to you on a flight be plugging their laptop in to something beneath their seat, what would you do? I’d ask them for their business card, naturally
Moore’s Law Turns 50
  • Fifty years ago Sunday, Electronics Magazine published a very technical paper by Gordon Moore.
  • Moore, who was then research director of William Shockley’s Fairchild Semiconductor and later the co-founder of Intel.
  • The article observed that the number of electronic components then fitting on a chip–at least in the laboratory–was about 60. He noted that the figure had roughly doubled every year since the first silicon oxide transistor in 1959. Moore “blindly extrapolated” that trend 10 years into the future, as he recalled later. By then, he computed, a single chip would hold 65,000 components. 
  • Moore’s Law remains one of the most poorly understood yet underappreciated landmarks of the silicon revolution. 
  • Moore, now 86, didn’t posit it as a “law” himself–he simply observed the trends of the previous five or six years and projected them forward as far as he considered to be prudent.
  • The observation was dubbed Moore’s Law a few years after that, by Carver Mead of Caltech. Mead went further: He and Lynn Conway of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, codified the principles of designing very large-scale integrated circuits, a crucial step forward for the entire industry. 
  • Calling Moore’s observation a “law” had the drawback of suggesting that Moore had derived an immutable trend, prompting people to measure the progress of integrated circuit design against an imagined curve. 
  • The most common projection, that complexity would double every 18 months, was a further rough calculation by Dave House, then of Intel.
  • What might be most unappreciated about Moore’s 1965 article was his perceptiveness about how integrated circuits would become integrated into our daily lives.


A Conference Table That Takes Notes For You
  • It’s called the Listening Table, and it not only transcribes meetings, but knows when they’re important.
  • The New York Times holds a lot of meetings. Editorial meetings, ad sales meetings, design meetings, you name it; all centered around a table.
  • The New York Times decided to give its table a purpose. The Listening Table by NYT is a smart conference table that is always listening to the conversations.
  • When users sit at the Listening Table and tap their fingers on it, they’re not bored: they’re dropping bookmarks, which the Table then collects into a transcript of the meeting’s most important moments.
  • The goal of the Lab within the New York Times, says the Labs’ Creative Director Alexis Lloyd, is to look at emerging technologies and behaviors, and then build them out into “tangible artifacts of the future that are relevant to news and media.”
  • For the Listening Table, the Lab found itself to drawn by the rise of pervasive electronic ears that can understand human speech, as seen in Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and even dedicated products like the Amazon Echo. 
  • In particular, the Lab wanted to see if it was possible to design an object that not only heard what was being said around it, but knew when what was being said was important or not.
  • At the same time, though, it was critical that the Listening Table not be viewed as a “sneaky spy,” 
  • When people meet around the Listening Table, they immediately know it isn’t like a normal table. 
  • A large, omnidirectional microphone is integrated into the tabletop, and a ring of LED lights gently pulses to indicate,  “I’m listening.”
  • If that makes you uncomfortable, you can flip a switch—the only switch on the table—and it’ll stop. But if you do let the Listening Table eavesdrop on your meeting, there’s no need to take notes. 
  • Every time someone taps the table’s subtle capacitive strips, the Listening Table makes a note that what was just said is important, and at the end of the meeting, it sends out a machine transcript of the 30 seconds on either side of each tap, tagged with a list of about three keywords or phrases that the Listening Table thinks might have been most relevant to the conversation.
  • This functionality has a couple of benefits. For one, it means that as long as one person at a meeting is paying attention, the Listening Table can automatically give good notes. And if you miss a meeting, the Listening Table makes it easy to catch up with what was discussed.
iRobot and Observatory in dispute over Frequency Use
  • Robot vacuum maker iRobot, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) are engaged in a dispute over a radio frequency band. 
  • iRobot is apparently working on a way to build a robot similar to its Roomba vacuum, for outdoor use—to cut lawns. 
  • iRobot has decided that the best approach to keeping an automated lawn mower in its own yard is to have homeowners install little beacons around its edges.
  • iRobot filed for an exception with the FCC, asking for permission to sell such a product. Exceptions must be requested to allow the FCC to review bandwidth ideas to prevent the development of networks that could disturb existing systems, such as phones and GPS. 
  • The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) found out about the request and filed a waiver of their own.
  • NRAO has a lot of observatories some of which are dedicated to spectral line observations of methane in space, which just happen to be in the same frequency range (6650-6675.2 MHz) as that requested by iRobot. 
  • If a lawn bot’s beacons began emitting near such an observatory, the NRAO pointed out, the observatory would not be able to operate.
  • At this time, it is not clear which side the FCC will favor.