Show of 10-22-2016

Tech Talk

October 22, 2016

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz. After one buys an iPhone or iPad or similar smartphone or tablet, and updates are published periodically for downloading. Depending on the capacity or storage, it appears that large updates diminish the storage capacity of the device significantly, especially over time. When one downloads updates, is the update just add on to what’s on the device or do updates erase old updates? Of course adding additional apps also affects storage capacity – and updates again reduce storage space. Then there comes a time when apps have to be deleted altogether for additional space. So the best way to keep storage space is ____? Thanks. Love the show. All sorts of great info. Arnie in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can check what are the memory hogs on your iPad. Go to Settings/General/Storage & iCloud Usage/Manage Storage. You will get a list of applications and their storage usage. You can decide what to delete. It is true that the new OS used more and more storage, make the 16GB devices nearly useless. Update do delete the old OS, but the new OS is just larger, make storage available for apps less and less. That’s why I got 128GB on my new iPhone. My usage is usally mail, photos, messages, and iBooks.
  • Email from the other side of the studio: Doc: I learned something interesting last week. As I have a propensity to do, I dropped my iPhone and shattered the screen last weekend. On Monday, I took it to the iPhone repair store in South Baltimore I’ve visited so many times. When I returned to get the phone, I noticed an array of swollen iPhone batteries on the counter. When I inquired, the shopkeeper explained that he left them out so when customers arrived with bulging iPhones, he could explain the problem. It seems that improper charging of an iPhone battery can lead it to swell. The external manifestation of this is that the screen bulges slightly out of the iPhone body. I asked the technician to explain the mistakes people can make while charging their phone that leads to this. Leaving the phone plugged in to a charger all the time, thus never allowing the battery to fully discharge can cause it to swell. Using an external battery extender that clips onto the phone case (just like the one you have) can lead to the same problem. There’s no question here. I just found this interesting and thought you might want to discuss this. Signed, Fully charged on the other side of the console, Jim
  • Tech Talk Responds: The swelling is caused by off gassing when the internal components start to break down. Basically the battery is like a layer cake. Very thin layers wrapped around each other. Over time these layers tend to break down and a chemical reaction happens that produces gas. The batteries are sealed so they start to bloat.
  • These batteries have a finite number of times that they can be charged (usually several hundred) before they will begin to swell/fail. Once you exceed that number you will notice swelling.
  • Overcharging is a accelerate the process. There are a number of “smart chargers” out there, and I believe that the OEM Apple Charger is one of those, that will actually stop sending a charge when it detects that the battery is full. If yours does not, charging overnight is a bad idea. Most devices don’t actually take more than 6 hours to charge and you would be amazed at what the extra time on the charger can do if it continuously feeds juice into the phone/tablet.
  • Excessive heat will speed the process up. So normal charging shouldn’t, but if you’re driving using navigation and its charging and the phone gets hot, well that right there over time and especially if its repeated often will cause this to speed up a lot.
  • Email from Tung in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. I am travelling to Europe next month. I have heard that people are frequently locked out of their email accounts when travelling. I will be using a Microsoft Hotmail account. What should I do before my trip to ensure that I won’t be locked out. Love the show. Tung in Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: Why does Microsoft lock accounts in the first place? The majority of Microsoft accounts are accessed from one, and only one, location. Perhaps more importantly, the vast majority are accessed from one and only one country. Most hackers operate from other countries. If your account, typically accessed from within one country, suddenly has a log-in attempt from a country on a completely different continent, that’s considered “unusual activity”. While it might be you doing the logging in, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not; it’s someone trying to hack your account. When Microsoft sees this kind of unusual activity, they simply must take additional steps to confirm you are who you say you are, and that you are authorized to access your account.
  • The security measures are simply about proving you are not a hacker trying to break in to the account. The way you prove you’re not a hacker is to confirm additional information that you previously associated with your account.
    • Proving you own an email account that you previously configured as one of the alternate emails for your account. You prove this by correctly entering the correct alternate email address (proving you know it), and entering a code sent to this email address (proving you have access to it).
    • Proving you own a telephone that you previously configured as the telephone number associated with this account. You prove this by entering a code sent to this number either by text message, or by voice (call).
  • Note that this information – the email addresses and/or phone number – are things you set up before you need them. If you didn’t set them up, or no longer have access to them, then you’re taken to the account recovery process, which tries to confirm you have the right to access your account via other means. Sadly, those other means are often both time consuming, and not guaranteed to work.
  • Email from Tracy in Fairfax: Dear Tech Talk. I have an iPhone and us iMessage for most of my communication. My boss communicates by iMessage with me on the weekend. I don’t like him to know that I have read the iMessage because sometimes I don’t want to respond. Can I turn off the “read message” notification for him, but leave it on for everyone else? That would make my life so much easier. Love the show. Tracy in Fairfax
  • Tech Talk Responds: Everyone knows that you can enable or disable read receipts across the board by opening the Settings app and toggling read receipts on or off from within the Messages menu. Most people want to leave them on, but there are always a few contacts who send you messages and you don’t want them to know if and when you’ve read them.
  • You can turn off notification for just one contact too. And it is so easy. Here’s all you need to do:
    • From within the Messages app, open a conversation with the contact in question
    • Tap the “i” in the top-right corner
    • On that screen, you’ll see a setting for “Send Read Receipts” — toggle it to off
  • That’s it. This setting will override your global setting and this specific contact will no longer know when you open his or her messages.

Profiles in IT: John McCarthy

  • John McCarthy is an artificial intelligence pioneer, who coined the term “artificial intelligence” and developed the Lisp programming language.
  • John McCarthy was born September 4, 1927 in Boston, MA to an Irish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant mother.
  • McCarthy was exceptionally intelligent, and graduated from Belmont High School two years early. McCarthy was accepted into Caltech in 1944.
  • McCarthy showed an early aptitude for mathematics; during his teens he taught himself college mathematics by studying the textbooks used at the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). As a result, he was able to skip the first two years of mathematics at Caltech.
  • McCarthy was suspended from Caltech for failure to attend physical education courses; he then served in the US Army and was readmitted, receiving a B.S. in Mathematics in 1948.
  • It was at Caltech that he attended a lecture by John von Neumann that inspired his future endeavors.
  • McCarthy initially did graduate studies at Caltech, but moved to Princeton University. He received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton University in 1951.
  • After short-term appointments at Princeton, Stanford University, McCarthy became an assistant professor at Dartmouth in 1955.
  • A year later, McCarthy moved to MIT as a research fellow in the autumn of 1956.
  • In 1962, McCarthy became a full professor at Stanford, where he remained until his retirement in 2000.
  • McCarthy coined the term “artificial intelligence”, and organized the famous Dartmouth Conference in summer 1956. This conference started AI as a field.
  • In autumn 1956, McCarthy served on the committee that designed ALGOL, which became a very influential programming language.
  • John McCarthy invented Lisp in the late 1950s. Based on the lambda calculus, Lisp soon became the programming language of choice for AI applications.
  • At Stanford University, he helped establish the Stanford AI Laboratory.
  • In 1961, he was perhaps the first to suggest publicly the idea of utility computing, where computer time-sharing could be sold through the utility business model.
  • In 1966, McCarthy and his team at Stanford wrote a computer program used to play a series of chess games with counterparts in the Soviet Union.
  • In 1982 he seems to have originated the idea of the “space fountain”, a type of tower extending into space and kept vertical by the outward force of a stream of pellets.
  • Notable awards: Turing Award (1971), Computer Pioneer Award (1985), IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1985), Kyoto Prize (1988), National Medal of Science (1990), Benjamin Franklin Medal (2003)

Don’t Buy Shady Cheap Chargers

  • Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy to buy these online, even from sites like Amazon, who often mistakenly sell the products as genuine.
  • Apple has sued Mobile Star LLC, a company that sells what it claims are real iPhone and iPad chargers, because it turns out, those chargers are counterfeit.
  • Most of the time, it can be easy to pick out a fake charger. In addition to selling for prices far lower than usual, these chargers are often made by companies you’ve never heard of and are “fulfilled” by Amazon, rather than being sold by the retailer directly.
  • That’s part of what makes this Mobile Star case so bad. The Amazon listings used official Apple product images, were sold directly from Amazon.
  • The only tip-off that something might be wrong is the price. Apple sells its chargers for around $30 while many counterfeits sell for under $10.
  • Counterfeit power products, such as those supplied by Mobile Star, pose an immediate threat to consumer safety because, unlike genuine Apple products, they are not subjected to industry-standard consumer safety testing and are poorly constructed with inferior or missing components, flawed design, and inadequate electrical insulation.
  • These counterfeits have the potential to overheat, catch fire, and deliver a deadly electric shock to consumers while in normal use.
  • The charging process itself is also fairly delicate. That’s why the UL and other groups have strict regulations about what kind of voltage output needs to exist, how insulated the chargers are, and how the circuits are designed to keep energy flowing the right way.

How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts

  • On March 19 of this year, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta received an alarming email that appeared to come from Google.
  • The email, however, didn’t come from Google. It was actually an attempt to hack into his personal account. Podesta didn’t know this and he clicked on the malicious link contained in the email, giving hackers access to his account.
  • Months later, on October 9, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of Podesta’s hacked emails. Almost everyone immediately pointed the finger at Russia.
  • The data linking a group of Russian hackers—known as Fancy Bear, APT28, or Sofacy—to the hack on Podesta is another piece evidence pointing toward the Kremlin.
  • All these hacks were done using the same tool: malicious short URLs hidden in fake Gmail messages. And those URLs, according to a security firm that’s tracked them for a year, were created with Bitly account linked to a domain under the control of Fancy Bear.
  • The phishing email that Podesta received on March 19 contained a URL, created with the popular Bitly shortening service, pointing to a longer URL that, to an untrained eye, looked like a Google link.
  • Inside that long URL, there’s a 30-character string that looks like gibberish but is actually the encoded Gmail address of John Podesta. According to Bitly’s own statistics, that link, which has never been published, was clicked two times in March.
  • That’s the link that opened Podesta’s account to the hackers, a source close to the investigation into the hack confirmed to Motherboard.
  • That link is only one of almost 9,000 links Fancy Bear used to target almost 4,000 individuals from October 2015 to May 2016. Each one of these URLs contained the email and name of the actual target. The hackers created them with with two Bitly accounts in their control, but forgot to set those accounts to private.
  • Researchers discovered that Fancy Bear used 213 short links targeting 108 email addresses on the domain. Bitly allowed the researchers to see their entire campaign including all their targets. It was one of Fancy Bear’s “gravest mistakes.”
  • This is how researchers have been able to find the phishing link that tricked Colin Powell and got him hacked. This also allowed them to confirm other public reports of compromises, such as that of William Rinehart, a staffer with Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • These malicious emails, just like the ones used against Podesta, Powell, Rinehart and many others, looked like Google alerts.

Tesla’s Self-Driving Hardware Gamble

  • Elon Musk made a bold move to speed the shift to automated cars capable of traveling to destinations without a human at the wheel by announcing that as of this week every new Tesla vehicle is built with state-of-the-art self-driving hardware.
  • Full automation won’t be activated for a while, possibly years, as the controlling software is perfected and calibrated.
  • The last 1% of circumstances that gets very, very difficult to solve. While significant progress has been made, the technology needs to be almost perfect before mass adoption, and there are many edge cases.
  • Edge cases refers to the challenge roboticists and computer scientists are working on: designing artificial intelligence algorithms to handle rare and unexpected circumstances on the road; like objects suddenly falling from trucks; deer jumping in front of cars on dark, icy roads; a presidential motorcade passing by, or erratic pedestrian behavior.
  • Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, said in a recent interview. “Autonomous in-town driving, won’t be here until 2028.”
  • Tesla’s new hardware “suite” includes eight cameras integrated around vehicles for a 360-degree imaging, 12 ultrasonic sensors, forward-facing radar and NVidia’s new Drive PX automotive supercomputer to assess a vast amount of sensory information.
  • The computer is capable of performing 12 trillion processes per second, via “neural net” programming developed by Tesla. The gear comes pre-loaded, though fully accessing it is a $8,000 option, based on pricing information on the company’s website.
  • The equipment is top of line, as of now. Yet with rapid advancement in optical sensors, lower-cost laser LiDAR systems capable of creating comprehensive 3-D maps and artificial intelligence programming, Tesla risks committing to technology that’s still relatively early-generation.
  • Musk’s reluctance to include LiDAR is notable in Tesla’s announcement. Most carmakers today have LiDAR in addition to radar and camera on their existing autonomous car development platforms.
  • The advantage of Tesla’s move is that the company can accumulate vast amounts of on-road data from its cloud-connected vehicles, while also allowing those cars to learn from real-world driving situations.
  • So what’s the near-term advantage of introducing self-driving hardware that won’t be fully optimized for some time? It’s a shrewd marketing move to encourage Tesla vehicle sales in the current and coming quarters.
  • Who doesn’t want to have access to the future right now, even if it hasn’t completely arrived?