Show of 08-13-2016

Tech Talk

August 13, 2016

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Mike in Maryland: Hello Mr. Big Voice, I need your advice. Being a senior citizen and living alone, the aging process is starting to have a toll against my health. My adult sister lives approximately 400 hundred miles away from me. I, like most people do not want to be tracked with their cellphone, but I do want my sister to be able to know where I am, using Her cellphone at any time she chooses. She has an Apple iPhone and I currently have an Android Motorola G (3rd Gen). We do not have the same cellular carriers. I am hoping for a free phone tracker service, using these 2 different cellphones. Will you please have your crack team of technologist (Richard & Jim), have a discussion of 2 to 3 options that might work for us. Also, how accurate or precise are this tracker systems? Thanks for the great show! Mike from Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: If you were both on iPhones, you could use the Find iPhone app. I can track the entire family, once to activate permissions. Since you are not on the same phone system or on the same carrier, you will need to download and install an application.
  • Life360 Family Locator is a free app lets family members track one another in real time. One great feature automatically lets family members know when someone has entered a predefined location, like home or school. You can choose two such spots. The app also includes a full location history, which is nice for an overview of recent activity. The built-in “panic” option sends out an emergency beacon to designated emails, text and phones with your exact location of your GPS coordinates. The app can also be used to message family members.
  • While the app and service are free to use, a premium version sells for $5 per month (which covers the whole family) or $50 per year. That pro version comes with unlimited check-in places, roadside assistance, the ability to locate non-smartphones, and protection against stolen phones.
  • Google+ is another option. Google+ offers the ability to share location. To share your location with others, send a request to that contact through the Google+ app. Once the person accepts, you’ll be able to see each other through the app. Google+ still relies on the concept of grouping contacts together in “circles.” If you find yourself tracking tons of friends and family members, it’s easy to filter your map by circle, say karaoke buddies. Conversely, you can toggle exactly who you share your “where” with, too. Google+ is available for free for Android and iPhone.
  • Each of the four major US wireless providers also offers its own particular All four feature a number of free services and individual options tailored to the user; paid features come at a monthly premium. The carriers include Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. They vary from $5.99 to $9.99 per month and are less capable than Life360.
  • Since both of your phones have GPS, the locations will be quite accurate unless you are in a building. If you phone did not have GPS, it would simply use cell tower triangulation to estimate your location or WiFi router location. This is not as accurate.
  • Email from Tuc in Virginia Beach: Dear Doc and Jim. How are files “corrupted” and why do they go “missing”? I had this happen recently and was told that it was not a virus that caused it: that it “just happens”. Luckily I had backed up all of my document files. I didn’t have a disk image, so I had to reinstall Windows and all of the apps. What did I do wrong? How did this happen? Love the show. Tuc in Virginia Beach
  • Tech Talk Responds: This is mostly about the hard disk in your computer, but can apply to any data-storage medium. It’s not uncommon for a hard disk to develop or even come with a bad sector– an area on the actual medium that is somehow damaged.
  • Bad sectors develop for a number of different reasons. Magnetic media may come with a subtle flaw or a “thin spot” that simply wears out over time. Another common cause is motion – a disk drive getting banged around while it’s in use, and the read/write mechanism perhaps slightly touching the magnetic material, which should never happen, and scratching it. This is one of the reasons that the more rugged laptop drives are also somewhat slower: the mechanisms are often built more solidly with motion in mind so as to minimize this risk.
  • Exactly how data corruption manifests varies, based on exactly what’s been harmed and to what extent. You might never notice, because the bad sector is on some unused portion of your hard disk, or in part of a file you never or rarely use, or where the corruption is actually benign. In some relatively benign cases, you might get a “read error” , as the operating system detects that some form of data corruption had occurred. You might open a document to find its content scrambled.
  • If the corruption happens within the file that contains a computer program (usually an EXE or DLL file), the program might not run at all, might crash when you run it, or might crash at some point when you access a certain feature that uses the instructions that have been damaged.
  • You cannot prevent a hard drive from developing bad sectors or failing. It happens. The best you can do is prepare. The real solution is to be prepared with a complete and recent backup if your computer’s hard disk, your data, and whatever else is stored on any media that might fail (and by that, I mean all media). That way, when failure happens, you can replace the failed component (usually the drive), restore your files, and get on with your life as if nothing major happened.
  • My favorite disk repair program is Spinrite, which can repair bad sectors. I have used this for years. If you want a free utility, the Ultimate Boot CD has a couple of Hard drive repair utilities.
  • Email from Azra in Fredericksburg: Dear Tech Talk. I keep getting this error message on my iPhone (128GB RAM) and my Mac. “You are about to run out of iCloud space. Click her to buy more.” I just got back from vacation an took many pictures and movies with my iPhone. Should I begin deleting. I currently have 20GB of storage for $10.99 per year. I don’t want to keep spending more money on storage. Enjoy the show. Azra in Fredericksburg
  • Tech Talk Responds: Buy more storage. 20GB is not enough to back up a phone in 128GB of storage. The good news is that it is cheap. You can upgrade to 50GB of cloud storage for $.99 per month or a little less than $12 per year. You already paying near$11 per year, so it will only cost an extra $1 per year. Cloud storage is getting cheaper and is always an excellent investment.

Profiles in IT: David John Braben

  • David John Braben is best known for designing and developing the seminal computer game ‘Elite’ in 1984 and as co-founder the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
  • David Braben was born 2 January 1964 in West Bridgford, Nottingham, UK
  • Braben attended Buckhurst Hill County High School in Chigwell in Essex.
  • He studied Natural Sciences at Jesus College, Cambridge, specializing in Electrical Science. He then went on to study Computer Science as a post graduate.
  • Braben has been called “one of the most influential computer game programmers of all time”, based on his early game development with the Elite series in the 1980s.
  • Elite was developed in conjunction with programmer Ian Bell while both were undergraduate students at Cambridge University. Elite was first released in September 1984 and is known as the first game to have 3D hidden line removal.
  • The 3D space trading game had revolutionary 3D graphics and let the player make all kinds of intriguing moral decisions as they flew the known universe.
  • The game was released by Acornsoft for the BBC Micro and became widely regarded as the first in a new genre of computer games.
  • Another seminal game written by Braben was Zarch for the Acorn Archimedes (later released on some other platforms as Virus), which was one of the first true “solid” 3D games. It was published in 1987.
  • After Zarch, Braben went on to found Frontier Developments, a games development company whose first project was a sequel to Elite named Frontier.
  • Braben is still the Chairman and part owner of the company, whose recent projects have included RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, games based on the Wallace & Gromit franchise and the platformer LostWinds, which was a launch title Nintendo’s WiiWare download service.
  • In November 2012, Frontier Developments announced a new Elite sequel called Elite: Dangerous on Kickstarter. From December 2014 to April 2015, it sold over 500,000 copies.
  • In May 2011, Braben announced a new prototype e computer intended to stimulate the teaching of basic computer science in schools.
  • Called Raspberry Pi, the computer is mounted in a package the same size as a credit card, and has a USB port on one end with a HDMI monitor socket on the other, and provides an ARM processor running Linux for an estimated price of about $20 for a configured system.
  • In 2005, Braben received the Development Legend Award at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards in Cambridge.
  • In 2012, Braben was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.


Blocker Wars: Adblock vs Facebook

  • On Tuesday, Facebook changed its desktop website so that visitors would see ads on pages even if they are running an ad-blocking plugin. It did this by making adverts appear as normal legit posts albeit with a little “sponsored” label on them, fooling anti-ad tools.
  • Adblock Plus responded within a few hours by distributing a workaround that filtered out Facebook’s sneaky ads.
  • On Thursday night, Facebook updated its own site to once again circumvent the Adblock Plus block. The move was expected, since Facebook said earlier that day it would be moving to counter the Adblock Plus update, and warned the plugin would hide legit posts.
  • Adblock Plus said on Friday morning it had already updated its scripts to re-block the Facebook ads.
  • Facebook says it is circumventing ad blockers on its desktop page as part of an effort to overhaul its ad policies. The social network reasons that by giving users tighter control over what ads they see and what information is handed to advertisers.
  • Adblock Plus, meanwhile, has called Facebook’s policy of thwarting its tools as “anti-user” behavior.

Olympic Timing Technology Makes a Difference

  • For Olympians, the difference between first and second place can come down to accurate time measurements.
  • Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist and his firm make sure every millisecond counts.
  • US Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who was trailing by six tenths of a second at the halfway mark of 200-meter freestyle finals at the Rio Games on Tuesday night.
  • By the final turn, she had not only cut that gap but taken a lead. Ledecky touched the wall first just three-tenths of a second before the second place winner.
  • The razor-close finish is what Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist lives for. His unit has been the Olympics’ official timekeeper for nearly a century. Omega’s goal is both complex and simple. It wants to make sure its vast array of technology is precise and accurate for nearly 30 Olympic sports.
  • Switzerland-based Omega’s long history of furnishing timekeeping equipment for the Olympics started in 1932, when it provided 30 handheld stopwatches to keep track of winners at the Los Angeles Summer Games.
  • Omega has dispatched 480 timekeepers to Rio, where they’ll handle 480 tons of equipment.
  • That includes the Scan’O’Vision Myria camera, which can snap up to 10,000 high-definition images per second at the finish line in an effort to eliminate doubt as to a race’s winner.
  • Omega has also created a four-photocell technology to track movements and determine who’s the winner.

They placed a pressure sensor on the back of the starting blocks, so in case of a false start, the judge will immediately understand what an athlete did.”

  • Omega also has a new laser-targeting detection system for archery events. The system “scans the entire target so they would know very precisely where the arrow would hit, and get an instant result.”
  • For golfers, Omega has created a small radar that provides real-time swing information, including ball speed, rotation drive and distance. It calculates the information within milliseconds of a golfer’s swing and displays the data on one of Omega’s 300-plus scoreboards at the Rio Games.
  • For swimming events, Omega has placed underwater lap counters inside the pools and special cameras above them. The cameras can capture roughly 100 images per second and can be used in close finishes, such as American swimming great Michael Phelps beating Japanese swimmer Masato Sakai by four one-hundredths of a second on Tuesday in the 200-meter butterfly finals.
  • The cameras could come in handy when the touchpads that swimmers press at the end of races prove inconclusive. BTW, swimming is the only sport where athletes stop their time themselves.

Social Media Is Changing Politics

  • Our political discourse is shrinking to fit our smartphone screens.
  • Ever since the so-called Facebook election of 2008, Obama has been a pacesetter in using social media to connect with the public.
  • Ted Cruz live-streams his appearances on Periscope. Marco Rubio broadcasts “Snapchat Stories” at stops along the trail. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush spar over student debt on Twitter. Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham produce goofy YouTube videos. Even Bernie Sanders attracted nearly two million likers on Facebook, leading the New York Times to dub him “a king of social media.”
  • And then there’s Donald Trump. He’s the first candidate optimized for the Google News algorithm. What Trump understands is that the best way to dominate the online discussion is not to inform but to provoke.
  • Twice before in the last hundred years a new medium has transformed elections.
    • In the 1920s, radio disembodied candidates, reducing them to voices. It also made national campaigns far more intimate. Politicians, used to bellowing at fairgrounds and train depots, found themselves talking to families in their homes.
    • In the 1960s, television gave candidates their bodies back, at least in two dimensions. TV placed a stress on sound bites, good teeth and an easy manner. Image became everything, as the line between politician and celebrity blurred. John Kennedy was the first successful candidate of the TV era, but it was Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton who perfected the form.
  • Today, with the public looking to smartphones for news and entertainment, we seem to be at the start of the third big technological makeover of modern electioneering.
  • The presidential campaign is becoming just another social-media stream, its swift and shallow current intertwining with all the other streams that flow through people’s devices. This shift is changing the way politicians communicate with voters, altering the tone and content of political speech.
  • But it’s doing more than that. It’s changing what the country wants and expects from its would-be leaders.

States with Greatest Risk for Vote Hacking

  • Despite the recent examples of Russian hacking, 31 states use the Internet to collect votes in some way.
  • The recent cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee has raised the specter of an Internet-based assault on the democratic process in the U.S., leading computer security experts to call on the federal government to do more to protect the voting process from hackers.
  • Since national elections involve some 9,000 separate jurisdictions, and they use a variety of technologies, the problem at first appears to be hopelessly complex. But there is a simple way to manage the risk of cybercrime: keep voting off the Internet.
  • Many states are currently exposing their systems to the risk of cyberattack by allowing voters to return absentee ballots via poorly secured e-mail, Web portals, or Internet-connected fax machines.
  • Internet-based voting has obvious potential benefits, especially for voters who live outside the country and for people in the military.
  • But most security experts agree that it is not technically feasible to guarantee the security of online voting systems at this point.
  • Congress passed a law in 2009 that made it mandatory for states to electronically deliver blank ballots to voters in the military and overseas. But it said nothing about the electronic return of completed ballots.
  • Of the 31 states that now do this, 29 allow it only for military and overseas voters, and several of those impose fairly tight restrictions on the process, according to Verified Voting. Utah extends the option to voters with disabilities, too. Alaska allows any voter in the state to use a Web portal to return a completed ballot.
  • Four other states besides Alaska use Web portals. Six states, including Florida, a crucial swing state for the 2016 presidential election, allow electronic ballot return only via fax, despite the fact that many fax machines now send data over the Internet. Twenty allow at least some voters to use either e-mail or fax to deliver their ballots.