Show of 06-24-2017

Tech Talk

June 24, 2017

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Jim in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. I hear all of these specifications about cameras and am confused. How many megapixels do I really need? What is more, better? Love the show. Jim in Kansas.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Every digital camera has a sensor array. Each element of this array is a single picture element (called a pixel). When light hits a pixel, it determines what color that pixel should be in the resulting photo. One million pixels is one megapixel. This means a 20MP photo was taken with a camera that had a sensor with twenty million pixels.
  • The overall sensor size varies in digital cameras. The sensor inside your smartphone is smaller than the sensor inside a full-frame DSLR. The size of the sensor is very important for image quality and low light performance.
  • The more megapixels a sensor has, the bigger the image it can create. This is useful for fashion and studio photographers who want every single detail, such as the subject’s eyelashes. As Apple has demonstrated, you can make billboards from 12MP smartphone images when such detail is not essential.
  • The downside is that, with smaller sensors, you have worse low light performance. Compare a 20MP and a 50MP DSLR camera. The pixels on the 20MP sensor will be larger and get about twice as much light as those in the 50MP sensor. So it is a tradeoff between resolution and sensitivity.
  • Smartphones seem to have settled for around 12MP sensors over the last few years. The iPhone 7, Google Pixel, and Samsung Galaxy S8 all have sensors of about this size. For DSLRs, around 20MP is a great ballpark since those arrays can be larger. Canon and Nikon offer cameras with sensors between 18MP and 24MP.
  • Email from Barbie in Reston: Dear Tech Talk. I have a Macbook Pro. I love this computer, but am required to run some software for my work that only supports Windows. What are my options. Love the show. Hoa in Ohio.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your best option is to used a virtual machine program to run Windows applications on a Mac without rebooting. For maximum performance, which is particularly necessary for gaming, you should use a dual-booting systems.
  • A virtual machine allows you to install Windows and other operating systems in a window on your Mac desktop. Windows will think it’s running on a real computer, but it’s actually running inside a piece of software on your Mac. You’ll need a Windows license to install Windows in a virtual machine. If you already have a product key, you can download Windows installation media for free and install it in a virtual machine program.
  • Popular virtual machine programs for Mac include Parallels and VMware Fusion. Each of these is a paid program, so you’ll have to buy both a Windows license and a copy of your virtual machine program of choice. You can also use the completely free and open-source VirtualBox for Mac, but its 3D graphics support and Mac operating system integration aren’t as good. Parallels and VMWare Fusion both offer free trials, so you can try all these programs and decide which is best for you.
  • Installing Windows as a real operating system on your Mac is the best idea if you want to play Windows games or use demanding applications that need all the performance they can get. When you install Windows on your Mac, you’ll be able to use Windows and Windows applications with the maximum possible performance. Your Mac will perform as well as a Windows PC with the same specifications.
  • Apple’s Boot Camp allows you to install Windows alongside macOS on your Mac. Only one operating system can be running at a time, so you’ll have to restart your Mac to switch between macOS and Windows. If you’ve ever dual-booted Linux on your Windows PC, it’s just like that. The downside here is that you can’t run macOS applications and Windows applications side-by-side at the same time.
  • Email from Hoa in Ohio: Dear Doc and Jim. I have a problem on Facebook. Someone posted a picture of me that is not very attractive and I would like to get it removed. What are my options? Love the podcast here in Ohio. Hoa.
  • Tech Talk Responds: The simplest and quickest way to deal with a bad photo is to remove the tag. Once you’re no longer tagged in the photo, it won’t appear on your profile. It will still be in your friend’s Photos but, unless someone goes looking for it, random people aren’t going to find it.
  • If the photo is really bad and you want it removed from the internet, then the first step is to talk to your friend and ask them to remove it from their Facebook page. They took the photo, so they own it. You don’t have any rights to it. As long as they aren’t using it to promote something improper, they’re free to do pretty much whatever they want.
  • Facebook can only remove photos that violate their Terms of Service. The most relevant terms are: “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user. You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”
  • If the photo they’ve posted is particularly aggressive, edited to make you look bad, or is part of a series of photos that they’re constantly posting then you’ve probably got a decent argument that you’re being harassed and Facebook might act.
  • It’s worth reporting the photo and hoping Facebook takes it down. If they keep posting bad photos, keep reporting them and Facebook will probably act.
  • The other option is just to block the other person. This will stop them seeing your profile and being able to tag you in photos.

Profiles in IT: Arthur Lee Samuel

  • Arthur Lee Samuel was an American pioneer in the field of computer gaming and artificial intelligence. He coined the term “machine learning.”
  • Samuel was born on December 5, 1901 in Emporia, Kansas and graduated from College of Emporia in Kansas in 1923.
  • He received a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT in 1926, and taught for two years as instructor.
  • In 1928, he joined Bell Laboratories, where he worked mostly on vacuum tubes, including improvements of Radar during World War II.
  • He developed a gas-discharge transmit-receive switch (TR tube) that allowed a single antenna to be used for both transmitting and receiving.
  • After the war he moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, where he initiated the ILLIAC project, but left before its first computer was complete.
  • Samuel went to IBM in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1949, where he would conceive and carry out his most successful work. He is credited with one of the first software hash tables, and influencing early research in using transistors for computers at IBM.
  • He created a checkers program for IBM’s first commercial computer, the IBM 701 caused IBM’s stock to increase 15 points overnight.
  • He thought that teaching computers to play games was very fruitful for developing tactics appropriate to general problems.
  • His program used a search tree of the board positions reachable from the current state.
  • Since he had only a very limited amount of available computer memory, Samuel implemented what is now called alpha-beta pruning.
  • Instead of searching each path until it came to the game’s conclusion, Samuel developed a scoring function based on the position of the board at any given time.
  • The program remembered every position it had already seen, along with the terminal value of the reward function. He termed with “machine learning.”
  • Samuel’s later programs reevaluated the reward function based on input from professional games. He also had it play thousands of games against itself.
  • The Samuel Checkers-playing Program appears to be the world’s first self-learning program, and as such a very early demonstration of a fundamental concept of AI.
  • His pioneering non-numerical programming helped shaped the instruction set of processors. Logic functions are one example of instructions that supported his work.
  • In 1966, Samuel retired from IBM and became a professor at Stanford, where he worked the remainder of his life.
  • He worked with Donald Knuth on the TeX project, including writing some of the documentation. He continued to write software past his 88th birthday.
  • He was given the Computer Pioneer Award by the IEEE Computer Society in 1987.
  • He died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on July 29, 1990.

Idea of the Week: Using Servers to Heat Homes

  • Data centers generate a lot of heat. To mitigate this, companies have experimented with moving facilities to near the Arctic Circle and even submerging servers underwater.
  • Nerdalize, a Dutch company, has a different approach. Rather than trying to dissipate excess energy from servers, it wants to heat people’s homes instead.
  • The home owner pays Nerdalize to install a server in his home; it heats your house for free; and Nerdalize makes money by selling the server space to other companies.
  • Back in 2015, the company unveiled its first product — a standalone wall heater powered by a single server that was used in a year-long pilot in five households.
  • The heaters were slow, taking about an hour to warm up, and fairly weak, only providing enough heat for a small room. But they worked.
  • Starting in August, Nerdalize plans to equip 42 Dutch households with servers to heat their water supply, providing, it says, hot showers using nothing more than data.
  • The company says its setup will save customers $336 a year while costing companies 50 percent less for data services. Each installation also takes three tons of CO2 away from a household’s carbon footprint.
  • There are lot of unresolved questions about Nerdalize’s plans.
    • Will companies be happy about having their data sitting in people’s houses?
    • How will customers feel when they need to let an engineer in to fix their malfunctioning servers?

Spaces or Tabs: Programmers Holy War

  • There’s a raging controversy in the world of programming: Some programmers use spaces to indent their lines of code, others use tabs.
  • Spaces vs. tabs has literally been dubbed the “eternal holy war,” and is the subject of many a heated debate.
  • The debate centers on how to best line up those indented lines so that they are uniform, making the code easier to read.
  • Spaces vs. tabs was made famous by HBO’s comedy “Silicon Valley” when the hero character, Richard Hendricks, broke up with his engineer girlfriend because she uses spaces … and he’s a tabs guy.
  • It’s been the subject of research, too, like when a Googler analyzed a billion files of programs to find out which technique programmers preferred. Short answer: spaces, by a mile.
  • Now it appears the spaces people have another thing going for them: They make more money, according to a salary analysis done by Stack Overflow. This year StackOverflow asked developers whether they used spaces or tabs. Over 12,000 programmers who shared their salaries answered that question.
  • Stack Overflow’s data scientist David Robinson analyzed that data and discovered that coders who use spaces earn on average nearly 9% more than the ones who use tabs, even if they have the same amount of experience.
  • The spaces folks earned more than tabs across all subsets of developers, too: programming language, education, company size.

Trick of the Week: Search Spinner on Google.

  • Search spinner on Google and find an Easter Egg
  • You will get a working Fidget Spinner to play with.
  • During your next boring meeting, you will have something to play with.

Hack of the Week: Installing Echo Dot in the Car

  • Some people are hooked on Amazon Echo and would like to bring Alexa to their car. The would like to do things like:
    • Have books read their Amazon Kindle library.
    • Listen to music on Amazon Prime Unlimited.
    • Play audio games (like Jeopardy, delivered as an Alexa skill).
    • Get the latest news updates.
    • Look up quick bits of information (such as the weather).
    • Make audio notes of things I need to do.
  • The best option is to use the Amazon Dot with the car’s audio system.
    • First, plug the Dot’s USB cable into the USB socket or cigarette lighter for power.
    • Second, plug the audio cable from the Dot went into the AUX audio socket.
    • Third, turn on the WiFi hotspot on your cell phone.
    • Fourth, use the Alexa app on your cell phone to link the Dot to your Hotspot.
  • Get ready to have some fun with your passengers as they interact with Alexa.

Google’s Job Search Tool Released

  • Google is rolling out new features that will make it easier for jobseekers to connect with employers.
  • Here’s how it works. Jobseekers can simply type queries like “jobs near me” or “retail jobs” in the search box and Google will return a list of available positions. It all happens in the search page, so it’s quick and easy.
  • Google is going beyond returning a simple list of links that may or not may be current or even relevant to the user. Users will be able to narrow down their search by filtering positions by category, title, date posted, type, and even commute time. The latter filter is available if users are signed in and they share their location with Google.
  • Users can even set alerts so they are notified when new jobs that match their requirements are posted.
  • Google says it’s partnered with industry organizations like LinkedIn, Monster, WayUp, DirectEmployers, CareerBuilder, Glassdoor and Facebook. Jobs posted on any of these websites will surface in search results.
  • The new Search feature launched in the United States for English language users. It’s part of the Google for Jobs initiative, which uses AI and APIs to make it easier for people to find jobs and for employers to select the best candidates for their openings.
  • As part of the effort, Google launched the Cloud Jobs API – currently in private alpha stage – which lets companies plug their open positions into Search, so they surface when candidates search for jobs.

South Korean hosting firm Pays $1M in Ransomware Hack

  • South Korean web hosting firm Nayana announced in June 2017 it had suffered a massive breach affecting more than 150 of its servers, in which the attackers had managed to take control of an immense amount of user data.
  • In exchange, the hackers demanded nearly $4.4 million in Bitcoin to return the data back to the company. The two sides have now settled on a ransom fee of around $1 million in Bitcoin, which Nayana will pay out in three instalments.
  • The first two transactions have already been completed. The third round of negotiations is still being worked out.
  • The web hosting provider is currently in the process of transferring the stolen data back to its servers. The next step would be to create back-ups of the data and perform analysis to confirm the integrity of the recovered files.
  • The company estimates the entire process will likely take between four to seven days to complete. Stolen data is expected to be properly restored back to the almost 3,500 affected clients shortly after.
  • Dutch cybersecurity firm Trend Micro conducted research that seems to suggest the attackers relied on a variation of the Erebus ransomware specifically designed for Linux.
  • The incident marks yet another unfortunate case in a recent string of ransomware attacks. A few weeks back thousands of systems were infected with a persistent malicious software now infamously known as WannaCry.

Apples New File Format for Pictures: High Efficiency Image File (HEIF)

  • HEIF is the new photo format that Apple is using to replace JPEG. As of iOS 11, most iPhones will be switching from JPEG to HEIF.
  • HEIF, or High Efficiency Image File Format, is the still-image version of the H.265 video format (HVEC).
  • Its main advantage is that photos saved in HEIF are roughly half the size of JPEGs and of better quality.
  • Apple’s newest iDevices feature built-in hardware support for HVEC, and therefore HEIF, which means images can be encoded and decoded without stressing the system or the battery.
  • HEIF offers other advantages over JPEG. A JPEG is a single image, but a HEIF can be a single image or a sequence of images. This makes HEIF perfect for Apple’s Live Photos, but also makes it a potential replacement for GIF.
  • HEIF also supports transparency, and image color up to 16 bits, versus JPEG’s measly 8-bit color.
  • HEIF is also good for editing. A HEIF image can be rotated and cropped without altering the image or resaving it. This makes such edits undoable at any time.
  • However, we live in a JPEG world. To fit in, iOS 11 will convert its HEIF images to JPEGs upon export or for sharing to non-iOS devices. As a user, you will notice nothing. All of the work will be done behind the scenes.
  • It’s important to note that HEIF isn’t an Apple-owned technology at all, any more than JPEG
  • JPEG has been around for a quarter of a century. HEIF is a suitable heir, and may just usurp JPEG thanks to the massive iOS user base.

ProtonMail Offers Free VPN Service

  • ProtonMail, the encrypted email created by CERN and MIT scientists, has released a new product in response to the administration’s roll back of internet privacy rules.
  • You can now use its VPN service, which was in beta testing by 10,000 initial users for a year, by getting it from the official ProtonVPN website.
  • It has a free tier that’s free forever. It might not be as robust as the paid ones, but it still routes your connection through multiple encrypted tunnels in three countries.
  • By offering free options, the company can reach more people, especially now that there’s a lot more interest in using VPN all over the world.
  • In the US, the new FCC chairman and various Senators want to kill net neutrality in addition to nullifying rules that protect user data.
  • UK Prime Minister Theresa May wants to regulate the internet. People in China, Egypt and other places where the internet is heavily censored also need VPNs to get around restrictions, while others need the service to keep their info secure and private.
  • If you decide to stick with ProtoMail’s service as your primary VPN provider after using it for a while, you can always choose to pay later to help the company continue offering its free services.
  • ProtonMail says it relies on user upgrades to keep the company running, because (in its own fighting words) it doesn’t “abuse user privacy to sell advertisements” like “Google and Facebook.”