Show of 10-15-2016

Tech Talk

October 15, 2016

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Carl Tyler: Dear Dr. Shurtz: On September 20 of this year cyber security expert and journalist Brian Krebs website was attacked with an extremely large DDOS attack which eventually took his site down. Akamai, a company which specializes in website protection, defended his site for a while but eventually had to stop defending it because it was costing the company to much money and the company was doing it pro bono. Google’s “Project Shield” eventually took Brian Krebs’ site under it’s wing. My question to you is how do companies like Akamai and “Project Shield defend websites against DDOS attacks?
  • I’ve been rereading “The Code Book” by Simon Singh. In it he tells the story of a man named Marian Rejewski. He was a Polish mathematician and cryptologist who who reconstructed the Nazi German military Enigma cipher machine sight-unseen in 1932. The cryptologic achievements of Rejewski and his two colleagues enabled the British to read Enigma encrypted messages at the start of World War II. I know this happened a long time ago, but I think people like Rejewski need to be recognized for the great contribution they made in defeating Nazi Germany. Could you do a profile on this great man on “Profiles in IT”? Thanks to you, Jim, Andrew and Mr. Big Voice for a great podcast. Loyal podcast listener, Carl Tyler
  • Tech Talk Responds: That is a great suggestion for Profiles in IT. I discussed the Kreb’s attack last week. However, I didn’t really talk much about Project Shield, Google’s service to protect sites from DDOS attacks. Project Shield is a free service that helps protect websites from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. A DDoS attack is an attempt to make your website unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. Project Shield works by filtering out harmful traffic and passing safe traffic to your website server.
  • Project Shield is a reverse proxy: Project Shield servers receive traffic requests on your website’s behalf and then sends safe traffic to your website’s server. This protects your site against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in two ways:
    • It filters harmful traffic. Project Shield filters out harmful traffic using Google’s technology and DDoS tools. If someone tries to take your website down with a DDoS attack, Project Shield can identify and block harmful traffic so your website stays up and running.
    • It absorbs traffic through caching. Project Shield can cache versions of your content to serve to website visitors. This reduces traffic requests to your website server and absorbs potential DDoS attacks. For example, if many visitors want to view the same content on your website, Project Shield will fetch the content from your website’s server once and then serve a cached copy repeatedly.
  • News websites, human rights websites, and elections monitoring websites are eligible to apply. Project Shield individually reviews applications and invites eligible applicants on a rolling basis.
  • Email from Macy in San Francisco: Dear Doc and Jim. I use Does that mean I don’t need Outlook? Are those just other names for the same thing? If not, how do they relate to each other? Love the show. Macy in San Francisco
  • Tech Talk Responds: They are not related. They have only two things in common: they’re both related to email, and have the word “Outlook” in their names.
  • Outlook, which is often called “Microsoft Office Outlook”, is:
    • A program you install onto your computer.
    • Part of Microsoft Office.
    • An email program that downloads your messages to the computer on which it’s installed.
    • A full-featured personal information manager (PIM) with address book, calendar, to-do list, and more.
    • Extensible, meaning Outlook can be extended via add-ins and macros.
  • On the other hand, is:
    • A website you visit using your web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, or many others.
    • An email service on which you can create your own free email address ending in “”.
    • A replacement for
    • A web-based user interface used to access your existing Hotmail (and other Microsoft) email.
  • The only thing shares with Outlook is the word “Outlook”, which is apparently Microsoft’s attempt to create some kind of generic branding for anything email-related.
  • Email from Jim in Michigan: Dear Tech Talk. I am trying to read a PDF file in my Windows 10 computer. I installed Adobe Acrobat Reader. However, whenever I click on the file, it opens in the Edge Browser and does not render properly. How can I fix this problem? BTW, I installed the cell phone extender that you recommended and I now have great reception at my house by the lake. Jim in Michigan.
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to adjust the default settings for your Adobe Acrobat Reader. Go to the Control Panel and select Default Programs. Click on set your Default Programs. From the list of the programs, select Adobe Acrobat Reader. Then select Set this Program as Default. It will not open all PDF files. What has happened is that MS Edge has hijacked the default setting. MS has done this on purpose to get you to use Edge. But Edge still has problems. Glad the cell phone extended is working.

Profiles in IT: Edwin Earl Catmull

  • Edwin Earl “Ed” Catmull is a computer scientist and current president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
  • Edwin Catmull was born March 31, 1945 in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
  • He moved with Mormon family to Utah. Catmull as a young man served as a missionary to the New York City area in the 1960s.
  • Early in life, Catmull found inspiration in Disney movies such as Peter Pan and Pinocchio and dreamed of becoming a feature film animator.
  • He even made primitive animation using so-called flip-books. However, he assessed his chances realistically and decided that his talents lay elsewhere.
  • Instead of pursuing a career in the movie industry, he used his talent in math and studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah.
  • After graduating, he worked as a computer programmer at The Boeing Company in Seattle and at the New York Institute of Technology.
  • In 1970, he entered the University of Utah doctoral program and became one of Ivan Sutherland’s students and part of the university’s ARPA program.
  • Catmull saw Sutherland’s computer drawing program Sketchpad and the new field of computer graphics in general as the future of animation.
  • During his time there, he made two new fundamental computer-graphics discoveries: texture mapping, and bicubic patches. He invented algorithms for spatial anti-aliasing and refining subdivision surfaces. He also independently discovered Z-buffering.
  • In 1972, Catmull made his earliest contribution to the film industry: an animated version of his left hand which was incorporated in the 1976 movie Futureworld.
  • In 1974, Catmull earned his doctorate in computer science. That year, he accepted the position as the director of the new Computer Graphics Lab at NYIT.
  • In his new position, Catmull formed a research group working with 2D animation, mostly focusing on tools that could assist the animators in their work.
  • Catmull and his team eventually left 2D animation and started to concentrate on 3D computer graphics, moving into the field of motion picture production.
  • George Lucas approached Catmull in 1979 and asked him to head up a group to bring computer graphics, video editing, and digital audio into the entertainment field.
  • In 1979, Catmull became the VP of the computer graphics division at Lucasfilm.
  • He helped develop digital image compositing technology combine multiple images.
  • In 1986, Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm’s digital division and founded Pixar.
  • At Pixar, he was CTO and a key developer of the RenderMan rendering system used in films such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo.
  • After Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger put Catmull and John Lasseter in charge of reinvigorating the Disney animation studios.


Verizon Drones for Cellular Service during Emergency

  • Over the past two years, Verizon has been working on a new initiative called Airborne LTE Operations, or ALO, which basically means it will be outfitting drones with 4G radios so that they can beam connectivity to those below.
  • The company will be using its drones to provide emergency LTE connectivity when cell towers are not an option.
  • Such connectivity could be very useful. For example, in 2012 Hurricane Sandy had a huge impact on the communication towers on the East Coast. At the time, it was said the storm wiped out 25 percent of cell towers in as many as 10 states.
  • Initially, Verizon will work with American Aerospace Technologies and will test connectivity using an unmanned aerial vehicle with a wingspan of 17 feet.
  • Verizon’s 4G drone could be used in more than just emergencies. At some point next year, the company hopes to implement the technology for a range of different purposes — including inspecting pipes and powerlines, as well as gathering data on farms and farmland.
  • AT&T is working on almost the exact same project. The company announced last month it was working with Qualcomm to analyze how drones could be used safely with its 4G network. Trials started in September and included testing things like coverage, signal strength, and more. The partnership also used Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Flight platform, which was built specifically for drones.

Samsung Surrenders To Apple As Note 7 Nightmare Gifts Victory To iPhone 7

  • Samsung has officially cancelled the Galaxy Note 7.
  • The cancellation of the Note 7 came after a series of battery fires. Although a global exchange program took place, the replaced units continued to overheat and explode.
  • Its best hope is to ride out the PR storm that will envelope it over the next few weeks, work hard on the Galaxy S8 (expected to launch in four months).
  • Apple is not only ready to sweep in and save the consumer with the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
  • Apple already has a suite of tools to import data from an Android device and move it onto an iOS enabled device. The software process is as smooth as Apple can make it.
  • Apple will seek to maximize this four-month window where its chief rival has no new device to offer high-end users.

Why Some Lithium-Ion Batteries Explode

  • Using high-energy synchrotron X-rays, researchers at the University College London have revealed the runaway chain reaction that can cause lithium-ion batteries to overheat and explode.
  • The process can occur in just milliseconds: Overheated battery modules create a domino effect, producing more and more heat, and the battery explodes. But it turns out that not all batteries are equally likely to fail.
  • The presence of certain safety features can mitigate against the spread of some of this thermal runaway process. Those features include mechanical supports inside the battery.
  • Lithium-ion batteries are found in everything from smartphones to jumbo jets to the Tesla Model S. They are typically made with two layers of material, called the anode and the cathode, separated by an electrically conducting fluid.
  • Lithium ions start off in the cathode, a layer of material that, in laptop and cellphone batteries, typically includes cobalt, manganese, nickel and oxygen. When the batteries are charged, electricity drives the lithium ions from the cathode, across an ion-filled electrolyte fluid, and into the anode, which is made of stacks of graphite.
  • As the battery drains, the lithium ions return from the anode back into the cathode. The batteries typically come in cells; a laptop battery may have three or four cells, whereas a Tesla Model S may have thousands, Shearing said.
  • Batteries can blow up or melt when internal electrical components short-circuit, when mechanical problems crop up after a fall or an accident, or when they are installed incorrectly.
  • But at the heart, all of these failures occur because one portion of the battery gets too hot and can’t cool down quickly enough, creating a chain reaction that generates more and more heat.
  • During thermal runaway, the miniature battery modules can melt, giving off heat, and the electrolyte material between the anode and the cathode may even boil.
  • But if a lithium-ion battery cell charges too quickly or a tiny manufacturing error slips through the net it can result in a short circuit – which can lead to fire.
  • Samsung’s problems are probably caused by defective battery management system (particularly during fast charge mode) and/or inadequate internal supports.
  • In the case of the Galaxy Note 7, it seems like a manufacturing problem. The company reports at least 35 cases where the batteries combusted because of “a very rare manufacturing process error” in which the anode and cathode touched.
  • It should be noted that Apple iPhone batteries charge slowly compared to the Note7, but they don’t overheat and catch fire.

Ada Lovelace Remembered on October 11

  • Ada Lovelace Day was celebrated on October 11, 2016
  • Although she was Lord Byron’s (yes, that Lord Byron) daughter, Ada Lovelace had no relationship with him. He left her and Lady Byron to go and pursue an actress before little Ada was a month old, and she never saw him again. He died when she was eight years old.
  • Lady Byron was worried that some of Lord Byron’s famously lascivious behavior might rub off on her little daughter, so she made the decision to build a math and science curriculum for Ada to follow from the age of 4 to distract her from more worldly concerns.
  • At the age of 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, and saw a demo of a model portion of his proposed Difference Engine. Her work with the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine are what we primarily remember her for.
  • When she was 28, Ada Lovelace translated an Italian paper on Babbage’s Analytical Engine into English and added enough original material to it to increase its length three times over.
  • Her additions to that paper showed how Babbage’s Analytical Engine could be coded to calculate Bernoulli numbers: the first machine algorithm, and the first computer program.
  • Ada Lovelace was a musician as well as a scientist, and worked on musical compositions based on numbers, an application which she intended for the Analytical Engine.
  • Lovelace came up with a method for the Analytical Engine to repeat a series of instructions: the first documented loop in computing.
  • She attempted to use her mathematical and analytical skills to give her the upper hand in gambling, particularly on horses. It wasn’t a great success, despite the development of complicated mathematical schemes: she had to pawn the family jewels, and on one occasion lost a staggering £3,200 on one horse race.ada-lovelace2
  • After her death, Ada Lovelace’s contributions to science were forgotten until 1953, when her notes were published by B.V. in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.
  • Since then she’s had a programming language (Ada) named after her, many books written about her – and we celebrate her, and other women in STEM, every year.

Hackers use decade old vulnerability to attack Internet of Things

  • The Internet of Things (IoT) has the opportunity to reinvent how we visualize the internet, but it also comes with a variety of challenges, including the threat of hackers devastating lives or destroying a business’s assets.
  • Researchers at Incapsula. The DDoS protection provider showed a 12-year old flaw on OpenSSH to attack IoT devices, which lack common security practices like unique addresses and strong passwords.
  • OpenSSH (also known as OpenBSD Secure Shell) is a suite of security-related network-level utilities based on the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol, which help to secure network communications via the encryption of network traffic over multiple authentication methods and by providing secure tunneling capabilities.
  • Hackers are able to create botnets with this OpenSSH vulnerability, acquiring the processing power from IoT devices to hack large websites, government platforms, and other secure locations.
  • One of the most popular botnets is Mirai, which is open source for hackers and researchers. The botnet not only hijacks computers, it fills them with malware and corrupts the system.
  • Some IoT developers take security seriously, but it is clear a few of the devices and applications on the market today do not go through minimal security analysis before being shoved onto the market.
  • This is worrisome, considering that IoT devices power our lights, our heating, and our doors. Hackers move from an online menace that can change your Facebook photo and Google account password to a real life horror, opening doors at night and freezing your pipes.
  • Researchers predict a rise in attacks on IoT devices over the next 10 years, as smart home and low-power enterprise devices become more commonplace.