Show of 03-05-2016

Tech Talk

March 5, 2016

Email and Forum Questions
  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz, I thought of this article after your last Podcast re Apple and the FBI and thought you’d like to see it. It talks about the impact of search results on voter opinion. Your views on the content would be a good discussion on Tech Talk. Having PAC control candidates with money and support is bad enough. Now there is this prospect. Arnie, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the reference. I am surprised at how vulnerable we are to search manipulation. The implications are quite significant. The question is whether this manipulation can be detected and stopped. Love your emails, Arnie.
  • Email from Christine in Arkansas: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a few free email accounts to communicate with my friends. How permanent are these accounts? Will I lose my email if I don’t check it for a while? Enjoy the podcast. Christine in Arkansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: It’s important to check in and possibly download your email from time to time so that you won’t lose email, or perhaps the entire account. If you don’t log in for several months, you may lose the account. Most email providers, particularly free email providers, keep an eye out for accounts they consider “inactive”. That means you haven’t accessed the account for a “long time”; how long that is varies from provider to provider. Inactivity generally initiates a multi-step process:
  • Usually several months of inactivity, everything in the account is permanently deleted, including email and contacts. After a few more months, the account is closed. You can no longer log in to it. After a while longer, the email address associated with the account is made available for anyone to create a new account.
  • One more problem. Many email providers limit the amount of email they will store for you – often called a quota. If you don’t download your email for a prolonged period of time, your email simply accumulates on your provider’s server until this limit is reached, and then further email is bounced back to the sender. Gmail’s 15 gigabytes. 
  • Email from Mike in Florida: Dear Doc and Jim. I would like to share about 20 documents with a group prior to my meeting. What are my options for quickly sharing these documents. They are large PDF files that a too big to email conveniently. Love the show. Mike in Florida
  • Tech Talk Responds: Mike, I have the same problem each time we have a board meeting. My solution is quite simple. I share my documents using Dropbox. I simply create a subdirectory in my Dropbox directory and save my Board documents to that directory. They are automatically synchronized with the cloud. I then go to the subdirectory that I want to share and right click on my mouse and select Copy Dropbox Link. I then paste that link to an email and send to my Board. They have access to the documents without creating a Dropbox account. I can update the documents without changing the shared link. Beware that this method of sharing is Security through Obscurity. Anyone with access to that link that see the documents.
  • Email from Azra in Fredericksburg: Dear Doc and Jim. I have many videos on my iPhone of my granddaughter. I would like to combine into one large video montage.  What are my options for this editing job? Enjoy the show live each Saturday morning. Azra in Fredericksburg
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are very many apps in the market that you can use to combine videos on both iOS and Android. 
  • The Desktop app on PC or Mac is the Filmora Video Editor. It’s the best video editing tool for users who doesn’t have much experience in video editing to export professional-looking videos. You would have to export your video to your Mac or PC to use this app.
  • Here are four iOS apps for you iPhone:
  • Video Editor (Free). It has features like merging, sharing and trimming which will make your editing work stress-free. You will not require any specialized skills for using the app since it’s very easy. It is compatible with several file formats and allows for saving of multiple projects at a go. 
  • Video Merger (Free). Apart from merging, use this app to add overlays to your edited video as well as several effects that are available for free. The user-friendly interface makes it possible to use and understand how it operates. 
  • Movie Director Pro ($2.99). This app has limitless features that include transitions, trimming, merging and background music that you can use to enhance your video. It has simple controls that are very easy to use and highly intuitive. 
  • Instant Video Editor & Slideshow Maker (Free). This app works at very high speeds when merging, trimming, cropping and performing other editing tasks it provides for. There are very many pre-defined video effects to allow you choose the ideal ones for use with your video. 
Profiles in IT: Oyekunle Ayinde Olukotun
  • Oyekunle Ayinde (Kunle) Olukotun is a pioneer of multi-core processors and director of the Pervasive Parallelism Laboratory at Stanford.
  • Kunle Olukotun was born in Nigeria in the mid-1960s during the Nigeria civil war.
  • In 1985, Olukotun received his BS from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • In 1991, he received a PhD in Computer Engineering from the University of Michigan, studying under the supervision of Trevor N. Mudge.
  • After graduation he joined the computer science faculty at Stanford University.
  • Olukotun argued that multi-core computer processors were likely to make better use of hardware than existing superscalar designs.
  • Instead of using more transistors to create more complicated CPUs that operate at high frequencies and produce a lot of heat, he combined several simpler processing units to perform the task in less time. 
  • In 1995, his Stanford group developed the first general-purpose multi-core processor. 
  • Olukotun led the Stanford Hydra research project which developed one of the first chip multiprocessors with support for thread-level speculation (TLS).
  • In 2000, Olukotun founded Afara Websystems to develop high-throughput, low power server systems with chip multiprocessor technology. 
  • In 2002, Afara was acquired by Sun Microsystems; the Afara microprocessor technology, called Niagara, is at the center of Sun’s throughput computing initiative. Niagara based systems have become one of Sun’s fastest ramping products ever.
  • Olukotun was one of the architects of the 2005 UltraSPARC T1 processor.
  • This work inspired the wide development and adoption of multicore processors, which are the current standard in computer hardware. 
  • Intel and other IT giants began to develop multi-core processes during the early 2000s. They have become the base of modern Central Processing Unites (CPUs), the key component of any computer system.
  • In 2008, Olukotun founded the Pervasive Parallelism Lab (PPL) at Stanford University, which is hoping to make it easier to write software for multi-core chips.
  • His recent work focuses on domain-specific programming languages that can allow algorithms to be easily adapted to multiple different types of parallel hardware. 
  • Olukotun is on the advisory board of UDC, a Nigerian venture capital firm.
  • He was elected as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 2006 for his “contributions to multiprocessors on a chip and multi-threaded processor design”.
  • He became a Fellow of the IEEE in 2008.
  • Olukotun has used several words from his African heritage in his research. Afara, the name of the company he founded, means “bridge” in the Yoruba language, and he has named his server at Stanford Ogun after the Yoruba god of iron and steel, a play on words since large computers are frequently called big iron.
The New Mind Control: Search Engine Manipulation
  • Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, warns us of an insidious and pervasive new form of mind control: search results.
  • Since 2013 Epstein and colleagues have conducted a number of experiments in the US and India to determine whether search results can impact people’s political opinions. 
  • Epstein points out that about 50 percent of our clicks go to the top two items on the first page of results, and more than 90 percent of our clicks go to the 10 items listed.
  • And of course Google, which dominates the search business, decides which of the billions of web pages to include in our search results, and it decides how to rank them.
  • To Epstein’s surprise, in his initial experiment he found that the proportion of people favoring the (bogus, skewed) search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by more than 48 percent! 
  • Also, 75 percent of the subjects in the study were completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings.
  • He conducted several more experiments, including one that involved more than 2,000 people from all 50 US states. 
  • In that experiment, the shift in voting preferences induced by the researchers was 37 percent, and as high as 80 percent in some demographic groups.
  • Epstein was still skeptical. He asked,
  • So off his team went to India. They arrived just before voting began in the largest democratic election in the world, to select the nation’s prime minister. They recruited 2,150 people from 27 of India’s 35 states and territories to participate in their experiment. 
  • To take part, they had to be registered voters who had not yet voted and who were still undecided about how they would vote.
  • On average, the researchers were able to shift the proportion of people favoring any given candidate by more than 20 percent overall and by more than 60 percent in some demographic groups. 
  • In addition, 99.5 percent of participants showed no awareness that they were viewing biased search rankings.
  • Searcher beware of being manipulated.
Remembering Jef Raskin, the Mac’s other inventor
  • Jef Raskin’s original concept for the Mac was very different from Steve Jobs.
  • Jef Raskin passed away on February 26, 2005, 11 years ago.
  • Raskin not only named the Macintosh — after his favorite type of apple, the McIntosh (even though that spelling was already being used by an audio company) — he also gave the computer some of its lasting personality traits.
  • Raskin’s original concept for the Mac, which he began working on in 1979, was very different from the machine that ultimately shipped in 1984. 
  • He imagined a highly portable computer that would rely less on separate programs than the ability to adapt to whatever the user was doing.
  • In Raskin’s vision, typing a letter would make the Mac recognize you wanted a word processor; writing an equation would make it shift to become a calculator.
  • He also didn’t like the concept of a mouse, which he noted would require the user to continually move their hands from keyboard to mouse and back again.
  • In his college thesis, he argued that computers should be completely graphical rather than text-based. He took this idea to Apple, where he was allowed to start researching it during the era of the then-popular Apple II, which lacked a graphical user interface.
  • Raskin also believed computers should be made affordable to the masses, and set a target price for the Mac of $500 or less. 
  • Steve Jobs eventually took over the Mac project and booted out Raskin (the idea of reverse-engineering a computer around a low price went with him). 
  • But, years later, it seems that a low-cost, ultra-portable computer is exactly what Apple achieved with its biggest-ever hit: the iPhone.Raskin died at 61 of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that eventually killed Jobs. 
Calligrapher Monk Who Inspire Mac fonts
  • Rev. Robert Palladino, whose work as a master calligrapher influenced Steve Jobs and subsequently the typography of Apple’s first Mac computers, died on Friday at the age of 83. 
  • Father Palladino was a Roman Catholic priest who learned the art of calligraphy as a Trappist monk.
  • Palladino met Jobs during his tenure at Reed College in Portland, Ore., where he taught calligraphy from 1969 to 1984. 
  • Jobs audited Palladino’s class after dropping out from Reed in 1972.
  • In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Jobs talked about the impact Palladino’s teachings.
  • Jobs said: “None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”
  • While he had a hand in shaping the personal computing revolution, Palladino never once owned or used a computer, The Times said.?
Apple to make iPhones Less Hackable
  • The New York Times reported that Apple engineers are building new encryption tools for unlocking iPhones and iCloud backups that would make it nearly impossible to hack. 
  • The new encryption tools would also prevent law enforcement authorities from exploiting iCloud security vulnerabilities. These actions are in response to an order from a federal court for Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C belonging to the San Bernardino shooter.
  • The encryption tool would close a loophole that enables Apple to help authorities break into iPhones. Apple currently has a troubleshooting feature that enables it to install new firmware on iPhones to upgrade operating systems without requiring the user passcode. This loophole was intended to make it possible to repair malfunctioning customer iPhones.
  • The FBI is requesting Apple to create an alternate version of iOS (nicknamed “GovtOS” by Apple) with government specifications to penetrate Farook’s iPhone 5C. “GovtOS” would allow the government to brute force the password and time delays will not be implemented in the customized software. Currently, there is an 80 millisecond time delay every time a password is entered, which may not seem like a long time. But the time delay has been effective at deterring hackers from correctly guessing passwords. When the wrong passcode is entered several times, the time delays are extended and there is an option to erase the iPhone data after 10 tries. So the government wants Apple to create an option to enter passcodes electronically rather than tapping on the display. This would make it possible for the FBI to run a script that rapidly cracks the passcode.
  • Currently, iCloud backups are encrypted and the keys are stored on Apple servers. Apple provided an iCloud backup of Farook’s iPhone 5C to the FBI, but it was backed up only until October 19th. However, the local county police reset the Apple ID password so now that iPhone cannot not authenticate with backup servers any more. The FBI wants Apple’s help by building the customized software to collect more data beyond October 19, 2015 since there could be essential data leading up to the terrorist attack on December 2, 2015.
  • The new encryption tool Apple is reportedly developing would tie the keys to the local user device. Apple would not be able to decrypt those backups, thus would no longer be susceptible to law enforcement requests. This means customers that forget their iCloud credentials and cannot reset the password for some reason may potentially lose their data. New York Times sources said that Apple engineers started the new encryption solution even before the attack took place in San Bernardino.
  • Apple may even consider making hardware changes to future iOS devices with new security technology. For example, the system storage may be designed to erase when new firmware is applied if the passcode is not entered correctly. Hypothetically Apple would still be able to overwrite the existing firmware, but it would still require users to enter the correct passcode. Without the correct passcode, the device would be erased along with all of the private user data. By making this change, the iPhone would become nearly impossible to hack by government agencies even with Apple’s assistance.
CMU engineers hacked TOR network
  • A recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones reveals that the U.S. Department of Defense paid researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute to look into ways of subverting the TOR network’s ability to hide user IP addresses.
  • The FBI subsequently forced SEI to hand over data (and possibly technical details) via subpoena, which led to the arrest of Brian Farrell, a man accused of using the TOR network to carry out a host of crimes anonymously. 
  • In this new case, the representatives of the TOR network argue that SEI engineers accessing their network and pulling out the IP address of one of its clients was not only illegal, but immoral, as its network is used by more than just criminals trying to hide their activities.
  • Jones’s ruling also sent shock waves through the dark net, as he declared that users on the TOR network “clearly lack a reasonable expectation of privacy in their IP addresses.” because such users voluntarily give up their addresses to TOR operators in order to gain access to the network. 
  • That means that the FBI is free to use all the data it obtained from SEI to go after other TOR users, which could include people using the network to illegally download software, movies or music. 
  • It appears that the FBI might have also obtained information, tools and/or software via their subpoena regarding the means by which the engineers at SEI hacked the TOR network, which means the FBI could use what SEI learned, to hack the TOR network, or others like it, on their own.
Big Idea: Internet for Everyone
  • By the end of 2016, Facebook plans to launch its own satellite. The AMOS-6—built and deployed with French firm Eutelsat—will provide Internet access to millions in sub-­Saharan­ Africa, where in several countries fewer than 2 percent of the population is online. 
  • Also this year, Google will begin testing balloon-­powered Internet service in Indonesia, whose more than 17,000 islands stand in the way of nationwide infrastructure.
  • “The easy-to-reach populations have already been reached,” says Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the Internet’s impact on poor countries.
  • Smartphones and Internet cafes have proliferated in places with cell towers and stable grids.
  • But there are still 4 billion people who don’t have Internet access. And they are in the developing world.”
  • The benefits of access go beyond posting pictures. Individuals can transfer funds without a bank account, and local businesses can plug into the global economy. 
  • For that reason, the State Department’s Global Connect initiative, which kicks off this year, hopes to exert diplomatic pressure to bring the Internet to 1.5 billion people by 2020. 
  • As Mark Zuckerberg told the United Nations this fall, “Internet access needs to be treated as an important enabler of human rights.”