Show of 07-07-2018

Tech Talk

July 7, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Mary Lane: Hello, I am a novice with cell phones. Just have a pay-as-you-go plan and an old flip phone. My parents (in their 80s) recently bought a 2018 Accord EX. The car salesman recommended that they get a cell phone to link up to the car so that if they get in an accident it will automatically call 911 through Hondalink. They too just have an old flip phone under a pay as you go plan.  I told my parents I would look into this.  If the carrier has a friends and family plan, a friend and I might take the plunge and get smartphones (nothing fancy) to share in the cost of the package if that were economical.  My parents live in Fredericksburg, VA and all their driving is local. Thanking you in advance if you have any suggestions.  I enjoy your radio show (when I remember to tune in to it!). Mary Lane
  • Tech Talk Responds: Hondalink is an application that you can download and install on your smartphone. It is available for both iPhone and Android phones. The applications supports navigation, music streaming, and emergency services. It also supports CarPlay and Android Auto. The emergency service option is a monthly subscription (after a three month free trial). Most cars have a satellite link for this service (like OnStar) and don’t use a cell phone connection. They are also a subscription service. Your best bet is a prepaid plan for the phones. All carriers have them. So does Walmart with SmartTalk. This seems like a lot of work for this service, if that is the only thing that you plan to do with it.
  • Email form Tom Schum: When quantum computers start mining bitcoin, what will happen to the value of the bitcoin? Tom Schum
  • Tech Talk Responds: The bitcoin algorithm is designed to release bitcoins at a certain rate. The first minor to verify the block is paid. The number of coins released will stay the same. However, the competition for new coins will grow as miners get better software. I may become unprofitable to compete in this space. A more dire thought is that quantum computer may break the underlying security of bitcoin and the entire system would fail.
  • Email from Hac in Bowie, Maryland: Dear Doc and Jim, I have a problem with my cell phone. When someone calls me, it goes immediately to voicemail. Then when they call back a minute later, it rings properly. I have an iPhone7. Is there something wrong with my carrier, or is my phone broken? Enjoy the podcast.
  • Tech Talk Responds: I suspect that you Do Not Disturb Feature is turned on. It sends calls to voicemail immediately, but lets them through if they recall within three minutes. You can configure DND to allow contacts, everyone, or no one. You can also configure it to automatically turn on when you are in your car. Finally you can configure to automatically responds to text messages that you are driving. You can configure it, by going to Settings/Do Not Disturb. You can turn it on by swiping up on your phone and clicking on the quarter moon icon in the middle of the screen.
  • Email from John in Kansas: Dear Tech Talk. I would like to plug my laptop in while travel in my car. What are my best options. The only power in my car are cigarette lighters and USB ports. Love the show. John in Kansas
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your car’s electric system runs on DC. Your laptop charger needs AC. What do you do? Use a power inverter, which allows standard electronics and appliances to run off your car battery. Plugging an inverter into to the 12-volt cigarette lighter is enough to charge a laptop or few pieces of car stereo equipment, but anything above 200 watts or so will need to be wired either to the car battery or the fuse box.
  • Inverters output electricity at 120 volts, the same as a standard home power outlet. To determine how many watts you need, here are a few examples.
    • High-speed phone charger: ~15 watts
    • Laptop charger: 45-90 watts
    • Game console: ~150 watts
    • Television: 80-400 watts, depending on size
    • Mini-fridge: ~40 watts
    • Microwave: 900-1500 watts
  • If you happen to overload your inverter, the internal fuse will trip and it will stop working before it damages itself. Some of the more robust models include user-serviceable fuses that you can replace.
    • Cigarette Lighter Inverter: Bestek 200-Watt Cup Portable ($30) — If all you want is a convenient way to charge up some portable electronics in a car with no factory installed outlet, this is it. This device sits snugly in your car’s cup holder, presenting two AC outlets with a maximum of 200 watts of electricity. It also has two USB charging ports with 4.5 amps each (enough for standard-speed charging) and a pass-through cigarette lighter port, so you can keep your regular charger active so you can keep using your GPS unit—or, um, light cigarettes, I guess.
    • Potek 750-Watt ($46) — This budget option is a great pick if you need some flexibility, or aren’t sure you’re ready for a permanent installation. When plugged into a cigarette lighter port, it can output 150 watts to two AC outlets with two USB charging ports as a bonus. When you’re ready for more juice, you can connect the power clips directly to your car’s battery for 750 watts, enough to power a game console and TV or high-end car audio.
    • Krieger KR1500 1500-Watt ($140) — This heavy-duty model is designed to be fixed in the car or truck interior, with an included remote power switch you can mount to the dashboard for easily enabling and disabling of the power draw. Cables are included for a direct battery installation, along with a spare user-replaceable cable fuse.
  • Email from Judy in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. I am thinking of purchasing a Wi-Fi camera for my house. I am worried that they may not be secure and that someone could hack it and access video. Am I being too paranoid or are they secure? Love the show. Judy in Richmond
  • Tech Talk Responds: There are two main types of Wi-Fi-enabled security cameras: traditional IP (or networked) cameras, and modern “smart” cameras like Alphabet’s Nest Cam and Amazon’s Cloud Cam.
  • Most of the stories you see online about insecure cameras are about IP cameras. These are simply security cameras that connect to the network, over either Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection. In practice, many people don’t set up these cameras securely. They leave them configured with the default username and password. In fact, a website has listed 73000 unsecured IP cameras in 256 countries.
  • Modern security cameras like Alphabet’s Nest Cam, Amazon’s Cloud Cam, and Netgear’s Arlo, for example, are different than IP cameras. These are designed as easy-to-use smarthome devices.
  • Instead of providing a dumb web interface pre-configured with a default username and password, cameras like these require you use an online account system. Live video feeds and recorded video clips are available through those online accounts.
  • That account can sometimes be configured with two-factor authentication for additional security, which means even an attacker that knows your account’s password wouldn’t be able to view your cameras. These types of cameras are automatically updated with the latest firmware, too. You don’t have to manually update them to fix security problems.
  • The core advice here is pretty simple. Here’s how to choose a secure security camera and keep your video feeds private:
    • Buy a “smart” security camera, not an IP security camera that requires more configuration.
    • Get a camera from a trustworthy brand you recognize, like Nest or Amazon.
    • Use a strong password when you create your online account for the camera.
    • Enable two-factor authentication. (Be sure to buy a camera with this feature for maximum security.)
  • If you do all these things, you should be completely secure. The worst case scenario would be a massive breach of Nest or Amazon’s servers, but that would be a big shocking story, and would be fixed immediately.

Profiles in IT: Alfred J. Gross

  • Alfred J. Gross, the founding father of wireless communication, invented an early walkie-talkie, Citizen’s Band radio, the telephone pager and the cordless telephone.
  • Gross was born in Toronto, Canada on February 22, 1918. The son of Romanian immigrants, he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • In 1927, he became fascinated with things wireless at age 9 when his parents took him on a cruise on Lake Erie, and the ship’s radio operator let him listen in.
  • At 12, he scrounged parts from a junkyard to cobble together a ham radio.
  • At 16, he earned an amateur operator’s license, using the call sign W8PAL.
  • He was determined to investigate the frequency region above 100 MHz.
  • By 1938, Gross had developed a portable high-frequency radio with two-way communications. The device, which he called a walkie-talkie, caught the attention of the U.S. Office of Strategic, which recruited him to develop a two-way, air-to-ground radio system for covert use by troops behind enemy lines.
  • These mobile “walkie-talkies” made it possible for the military to conduct a high level of surveillance throughout World War II.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff later praised Mr. Gross’s project as having ranked among the Allies’ most successful wireless intelligence-gathering operations.
  • After the war, Gross demonstrated his walkie-talkie for the FCC, which allocated the first frequencies for the Citizens’ Radio Service Frequency Band in 1946.
  • He embraced CB radio, adopting the name Veeblefetzer as his own CB handle.
  • Veeblefetzer is a word used facetiously as a placeholder name for any obscure or complicated object or mechanism, especially in auto repair.
  • Gross formed Gross Electronics Co to produce two-way communications system to utilize these frequencies, receiving FCC approval in 1948. He sold more than 100 thousand units of his system, mostly to farmers and the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • In 1949 when he adapted his two-way radios to one-way for cordless remote telephonic signaling, effectively inventing the first telephone pager system.
  • According to Gross, doctors hated it, because that it would interrupt their golf.
  • This same technology is used in signaling devices such as garage door openers.
  • In 1950, he tried in vain to interest Bell Telephone in mobile telephony. They were firmly tied to their wired infrastructure.
  • His patents expired before mobile telephones and pagers were widely accepted. He joked that if he were born 20 years later, he would be a rich as Bill Gates.
  • He served as principal engineer at such leading electronics companies as Sperry Corp., Westinghouse, and Orbital Sciences until his death in 2000 at age 82.
  • Gross received the IEEE Edwin Howard Armstrong Achievement Award and Medal (1999), the Marconi Memorial Gold Medal of Achievement (1997) and a Presidential Commendation in Telecommunications from Ronald Reagan (1981).

Drone “Fireworks” Displays Displace Traditional

  • There aren’t any 4th July traditions more firmly entrenched than fireworks.
  • However, a handful of towns in the Western U.S. are turning to drones to keep things wildfire-friendly.
  • While traditionalists might complain that a fireworks display just is not a fireworks display without the sternum-rattling booms, drone-based solutions are rather clever.
  • There’s nearly zero environmental impact, no air quality impact, and no risk of wildfires in the parched states where towns are experimenting with the alternative displays.
  • Travis Air Force Base, California, has a great drone show that could be seen on YouTube.
  • Link to video:

Is your smartphone spying on you?

  • Some popular apps on your phone may be secretly taking screenshots of your activity and sending them to third parties, according to a study by Northeastern researchers.
  • The study was designed to investigate a persistent urban legend that phones are secretly recording our conversations and then selling that information to companies so they can pepper you with targeted advertisements.
  • While the researchers found no evidence of recorded conversations, they discovered activity that could be even more dangerous because user name and passwords could be captured with the screenshots.
  • What they found is that some companies were sending screenshots and videos of user phone activities to third parties.
  • The researchers analyzed more than 17,000 of the most popular apps on the Android operating system, using an automated test program written by the students. 9,000 of the 17,000 apps had the potential to take screenshots.
  • There were no audio leaks at all, not a single app activated the microphone. However, the apps were automatically taking screenshots of themselves and sending them to third parties.
  • In one case, the app took video of the screen activity and sent that information to a third party. That app was GoPuff, a fast-food delivery service, which sent the screenshots to Appsee, a data analytics firm for mobile devices.

Musk sends Boring aid to Rescue to Team Trapped in Cave

  • Elon Musk has offered his boring expertise to help rescue a party of schoolboys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand.
  • Twelve boys and their football team coach were visiting the Tham Luang cave system in Northern Thailand when they were stranded by floodwaters 10 days ago.
  • More heavy rain is expected to flood the caves further, and sections of the passages out are too narrow to pass through wearing scuba tanks.
  • Former navy diver Saman Gunan died after delivering oxygen to the children on Thursday, demonstrating how dangerous the escape from the caves would be.
  • Employees of the SpaceX and Boring companies founded by Musk are on their way to Thailand to offer assistance. The Boring Company was set up to drill traffic tunnels, and could employ ground-penetrating radar or air pumps.
  • Musk says he can build inflatable Kevlar tubes to help rescue the kids, and is attempting to contact divers to figure out the proper dimensions

The Splinternet Here is to Stay

  • Most democratic countries see one internet. It is called the World Wide Web, and since its commercialization, its content has been generally accessible to all but those living in authoritarian societies.
  • But pending lawsuits and sweeping new international regulations could rewrite the rules of digital business in free societies and dismantle the web in its current form, effectively creating many different “splinternets.”
  • When the internet shifted from academia and government to the private sector in the 1990s, we let it propagate freely, instead of treating it like a regulated utility.
  • Lawsuits and new regulations are pending worldwide.
    • In Germany, social media sites that don’t remove “obviously illegal” posts could be fined up to 50 million per offense.
    • Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that Google must scrub search results of pirated products, such as movies.
    • Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation is a broad set of rules giving European Union citizens more control over their data. Anyone doing business in the E.U. now must comply with the GDPR.
    • The Supreme Court may has decided whether online retailers like Wayfair and Overstock are subject to sales tax in every state.
  • Big tech companies will find it impossible to comply with every legal permutation.

IBM sending real-life HAL robot to International Space Station

  • CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) will be the first-ever flying, autonomous, artificial intelligence-based robot in the ISS.
  • It is a round, basketball-shaped autonomous assistant that is supposed to help astronauts with their space work
  • Despite its obvious resemblance to HAL-9000, CIMON was actually inspired by a comic book character from the 1940s and early 1950s, Captain Future.
  • Developed in conjunction with European aerospace company Airbus, CIMON’s role on the ISS will be to assist German ESA astronaut and ISS Commander Alexander Gerst on his missions, carry out scientific work, assist with experiments and even act as a flying webcam, while keeping its data secure and private.
  • The 11-pound CIMON currently only speaks English, but the hope is in the future, via software updates, it can speak different languages.
  • CIMON will move autonomously throughout the ISS, able to follow astronauts at their beck and call.
  • CIMON’s battery lasts for two hours and is charged via another system.
  • CIMON is already being used on Earth, in approximately 20 industries, including healthcare, where it’s used to support doctors, nurses and patients.

Mark Zuckerberg is now the third-richest person in the world.

  • The Facebook CEO jumped ahead on Friday with a net worth of $81.6 billion, according to calculations by Bloomberg.
  • That put him about $373 million in front of Buffett, the legendary investor and Berkshire Hathaway CEO.
  • Zuckerberg claimed the No. 3 spot on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index because Facebook (FB) shares rose 2.4%. The stock has spiked about 15% this year.
  • For the first time, the three richest people alive are all tech titans. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, worth about $141 billion, is first, followed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
  • Tech stocks have been a bright spot in a sometimes volatile market this year. Netflix has more than doubled, Amazon has surged 46%, Apple is up about 11%, and Google has gained 9%.
  • Berkshire Hathaway bought about 75 million shares of Apple stock during the first three months of the year, adding to the 165 million shares it already had.
  • Buffett didn’t report his first purchase of Apple shares until two years ago. Now Apple is one of Berkshire’s largest holdings.