Show of 10-06-2018

Tech Talk

October 6, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Al in Waldorf: Hello Doc & Jim, Long time listener in Waldorf, Maryland. I have heard your concerns about public Wi-Fi without using a VPN.  As a former Intel person, I always think security and avoid putting anything personal on the air. Even at home, all my computer stuff is hard wired. My question is about the security of computers in hotel business centers.  I travel a few times a year, do not have a smartphone and would like to check E-Mail to avoid returning home to hundreds of days-old E-Mails. I worry about the security (or lack thereof) of these hotel computers and putting the password to my E-Mail account into such a computer.  The computers are cable connected, not on Wi-Fi, but I have no idea what security software may be present.  They would seem to be an easy target for hackers as full access to the hardware is readily available. The hotel people know nothing about the on-site computers. Any thoughts? Might it be possible to detect if malware or a keylogger might be installed? Thanks again for your interesting show. Al in Waldorf
  • Tech Talk Responds: Business center computers are risky. You can never tell if malware or keyloggers are been installed. Some hotels have created a secure system that resets that computer after reboot, so that no malware or keyloggers can be installed. However, you can never be assured that this is the case. For instance, we have Stratford employee who logged into a business center computer to check Stratford email. Within 12 hours, her Stratford account had been hacked and spam email sent. My advice is to avoid these computers. The Secret Service noted that the attacks, while not sophisticated, allowed the criminals to “access a physical system, stealing sensitive data from hotels and subsequently their guest’s information.” The Secret Service, in collaboration with the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center notified the hospitality industry of the threat to business center computers through a non-public advisory.
  • Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to detect whether a computer is secure or infected with malware. If you’re on the road and need to print something from your email account, create a free, throwaway email address and use your mobile device to forward the email or file to that throwaway address, and then access the throwaway address from the public computer.” Two factor authentication and unique passwords across all of your accounts can help protect you, but most people don’t take the time to establish such simple countermeasures.
  • Email from Dave in Everett, WA: Hello Dr Shurtz and Jim, Help! Now that it is so easy to take digital photos, I find myself overwhelmed by my photos! In fear of losing some “precious moment”, I have backups to my backups. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, an external hard drive and a backup program called “IDrive” all seem to be collecting photos at a feverish rate… duplicates of photos everywhere! Several of these are done seemingly automatically. Do you know of a program that will collect all my photos, put them in some sort of order, and delete the duplicates? I would like to have one easy to use and reliable backup for all my photos. Help! Dave in Everett, WA
  • Tech Talk Responds: You need to use photo-organizing software that can locate duplicates and sort photos using different criteria (date, location, face recognition, etc.). You will have to consolidate all your pictures into one locations, with a cloud backup. I have my pictures on my laptop with a cloud backup. Occasionally I back up everything to an external hard drive for extra security.
  • I personally loved using Picasas. That had been by free photo manager of choice for years and then Google bought them. The recently discontinued Picasa and transferred all the photos to Google Photo, which is a pretty good service. It includes free cloud storage if you limit each picture to 16MB. Paid storage is required for larger photos. Use Duplicate Sweeper to find and remove duplicate pictures stored in your Google Photos storage. First of all, please ensure that your computer is synced with your Google Drive account. Download and install the Google Drive ‘Backup and Sync’
  • I checked the reviews from many photo professionals and they preferred a program ACDSee. It is not free, but got great reviews from the pros. ACDSee has been around since the very earliest days of digital imaging on home computers. ACDSee Photo Studio is available in a number of editions, but the Standard edition is almost exclusively a photo manager. It is available for all versions of Windows for $89.99, but it is currently on semi-permanent sale for $39.99. There is also an unrestricted 30-day free trial available, but it does require the creation of an account in order to complete the launch process the first time you run it. ACDSee Photo Studio Professional Edition is $99 with professional photo editing in addition to photo organization. It also got great reviews, with it automatic photo editing features. There is a Mac version of ACDSee available, and while it doesn’t work exactly the same way, my research indicates that it’s just as capable as the Windows version. You can use the Duplicate Finder plug-in to search for duplicate files on your hard drive. Once you locate any duplicates, you can rename or delete them.
  • Email from Jean: Greetings Gentlemen, Thank you for all the interesting information you dispense with your own brand of humor. I have many VHS tapes that I made through the years that I want to save using my Windows PC. Have done this in the past transferring to DVD but I would like to be more forward looking and transfer them to a USB. I did look up the process on line but I would like to do this with the best of possible results and I do not know the best way.  Would appreciate some clarification. Some of these tapes are of great sentimental value. Thanks, Jean
  • Tech Talk Responds: I makes sense to convert all of those old analog VHS tapes to a digital format. The best file formats to store video in are: .MPG, .MOV or .MP4. You should then permanently store the files to two locations that are separated. I would suggest an external USB hard drive and the cloud. Cloud options include: Dropbox, Apple Microsoft OneDrive, iDrive, Google Drive, or Amazon Drive (free with Prime). I would not suggest using a USB storage device to permanent storage. You can use a USB device to transport and share with others, but do not count it as one of the two permanent storage locations. USB drives are too easily corrupted. Actually, cloud sharing is the most convenient method for me.
  • The first thing you will need to do is get that old VHS player out of storage. If you got rid of it, you can purchase one from your local consignment store or online (a used one on eBay goes for about $30). You will need an analog converter for your PC. I like Diamond the VC500 USB 2.0 One Touch. It is available from Amazon for $33.99. Its software will also burn the digital files to a DVD, if you wish.
  • You can even combine all your footage into a home movie using a basic editing program like iMovie (for Mac), MovieMaker (for Windows) or the software that came with your converter.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Just a note to let you know I still listen to Tech Talk every week religiously. And that even includes the times when I am up in Canada (since I am a Canadian down here with you yanks). I love the show and recommend it to all my friends. Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Thanks for the feedback. It is a joy to have listeners like you.
  • Email from Raymond in Virginia Beach: Dear Tech Talk. Can vendors track when I have opened their emails. I don’t like to be tracked and want to avoid it. Can they track me and, if so, how can I stop it. Love the show. Raymond in Virginia Beach
  • Tech Talk Responds: Practically every email message you receive from a company has a tracker in it. The sender gets a ping when you open the message. In theory, email is a very simple medium. Emails can contain HTML code, like on web pages. They can also load images, which is how the tracking works.
  • Companies that send email newsletters and other automated emails almost always include a special tracking image. This is a tiny invisible image file that’s only a single pixel in size, also known as a 1×1 image. Each person who receives a copy of the email newsletter has a unique tracking image address in it.
  • If the recipient is using an email client that’s set not to load images, the tracker won’t load, and you’ll have no way of knowing if that person looked at the email. This is also true if the recipient is using software that blocks these tracking images.

Profiles in IT: Eric R. Fossum

  • Eric R. Fossum is an American physicist and engineer known for developing the CMOS image sensor, the sensor used in all cell phones and digital cameras.
  • Eric Fossum was born October 17, 1957 and raised in Simsbury, Connecticut.
  • While in high school, he also spent Saturdays at the Talcott Mountain Science Center, which he credits for his lifelong interest in science and engineering.
  • He received his B.S. in physics and engineering from Trinity College in 1979 and his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Yale University in 1984.
  • In 1984, he joined the Electrical Engineering faculty at Columbia University.
  • At Columbia University, he and his students performed research on CCD focal-plane image processing and high speed III-V CCDs.
  • In 1990, Dr. Fossum joined NASA JPL to manage image sensor and focal-plane technology research and advanced development.
  • One of his research goals was to miniaturize charge-coupled device (CCD) camera systems onboard interplanetary spacecraft.
  • Fossum developed a new CMOS active pixel sensor (APS) with intra-pixel charge transfer camera-on-a-chip technology, now called CMOS Image Sensor.
  • Fossum led the CMOS APS development and transfer to US industry, including Eastman Kodak, AT&T Bell Labs, National Semiconductor and others.
  • Despite initial skepticism by entrenched CCD manufacturers, the CMOS image sensor technology is now used in almost all cell-phone cameras and DSLRs.
  • Over 3 billion cameras are manufactured each year using CMOS technology.
  • In 1995, frustrated by the slow pace of the technology’s adoption, he co-founded Photobit Corporation to commercialize the technology.
  • He joined as Chairman of the Board and Chief Scientist in 1996 and became CEO of Photobit Technology Corporation in 2000. In 2001, Micron Technology acquired Photobit and Fossum was named a Senior Micron Fellow.
  • In 2005, he joined SiWave Inc., a developer of MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) technology for mobile phone handsets, as CEO.
  • SiWave was renamed Siimpel. Siimpel was later acquired by Tessera.
  • In 2010, he joined the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth where he teaches, performs research on the Quanta Image Sensor with his graduate students.
  • When ask what surprised him about uses of his CMOS imagers, he answered selfies.
  • He co-founded International Image Sensor Society (IISS).
  • Eric R. Fossum has published over 260 technical papers, and holds more than 150 U.S. patents.He is a Fellow member of the IEEE.
  • He has received several prizes and honors including: the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1996; the IEEE Andrew S. Grove Award in 2009; Induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2011.

CMOS vs CCD Sensors Explained

  • CCD (charge coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) image sensors are two different technologies for capturing images.
  • Each has unique strengths and weaknesses for different applications.
  • Both imagers convert light into electric charge and process it into electronic signals.
  • In a CCD sensor, every pixel’s charge is transferred through a very limited number of output nodes (often just one) to be converted to voltage, buffered, and sent off-chip as an analog signal.
  • All of the pixel can be devoted to light capture, and the output’s uniformity (a key factor in image quality) is high.
  • In a CMOS sensor, each pixel has its own charge-to-voltage conversion, and the sensor often also includes amplifiers, noise-correction, and digitization circuits.
  • This increases the design complexity and reduce the area available for light capture.
  • With each pixel doing its own conversion, uniformity is lower, but it is also massively parallel, allowing high total bandwidth for high speed.
  • CCDs and CMOS imagers were both invented in the late 1960s and 1970s.
  • CCD became dominant, primarily because they gave far superior images with the fabrication technology available.
  • CMOS image sensors required more uniformity and smaller features than silicon wafer foundries could deliver at the time.
  • Not until the 1990s did lithography develop to the point that designers could begin making a case for CMOS imagers again.
  • Renewed interest in CMOS was based on expectations of lowered power consumption, camera-on-a-chip integration, and lowered fabrication costs from the reuse of mainstream logic and memory device fabrication.
  • Achieving these benefits in practice while simultaneously delivering high image quality has taken far more time, money, and process adaptation than expected.
  • Micro lens arrays have been used to address the pixel real estate lost to electronics.
  • Now CMOS imagers have joined CCDs as mainstream, mature technology.

Should You Buy or Upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 4?

  • The Series 4 marks the biggest update the Watch line since it was initially introduced back in 2015.
  • It features a bigger design with a larger screen, more biometric sensors than ever, and some serious health benefits.
  • Like previous models, the Series 4 comes in two sizes: 40mm and 44mm. This is slightly larger than the 38mm and 42mm sizes of the previous gen Watches.
  • It also features an improved heart rate sensor that is capable of generating an electrocardiogram. The improved heart rate sensor can also detect irregular heart rhythms and abnormally high or low heart rates.
  • It also features fall detection with emergency notifications, and will even automatically generate a notification should it detect non-movement for a minute following a detected fall.
  • The GPS-only model is $399 (up from $329 of past models) with the LTE-connected model coming in at $499 (up from $399) for the 40mm model. Add $30 for the 44mm version.
  • The Series 3 is a fantastic watch. If you already have one, then you indeed have a great smartwatch. The biggest benefits of moving to the Series 4 is the improved heart rate tracking. Upgrading is not worth the money.
  • The Series 3 is now cheaper, down to $279 for the GPS-only model and $379 for the LTE model.
  • If your current Watch is a couple of years old or older, an upgrade makes sense.
  • If you don’t already have a smartwatch but want one, you could get either the Series 3 or Series 4 depending on your price point.

Word of the Week: Doxing

  • Doxing (from dox, abbreviation of documents]) or doxing is the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifiable information (especially personally identifiable information) about an individual or organization.
  • The methods employed to acquire this information include searching publicly available databases and social media websites (like Facebook), hacking, and social engineering. It is closely related to Internet vigilantism and hacktivism.
  • Doxing may be carried out for various reasons, including to aid law enforcement, business analysis, risk analytics, extortion, coercion, inflict harm, harassment, online shaming, and vigilante justice.

Idea of the Week: Teach Coding Like a Foreign Language

  • Mike Kanaan had a great idea: to treat computer coding skills like the service does any other mission-critical foreign language.
  • The Air Force prides itself on its global reach, and so the service fosters and rewards foreign language skills.
  • The Air Force measures linguistic aptitude with tests to determine an airmen’s existing fluency, or his or her capacity to learn another language.
  • Those who pass are open to duty assignments that require another language.
  • The languages of computers themselves are as critically significant to the needs to the DoD as much as any of these traditionally viewed, non-native languages.
  • Python, Java C++ all have their unique vocabulary, and sets of grammatical and construct rules, just like any other language.
  • Kanaan says these computer language skills are vital for weathering the current sea change in battlefield analytics, big data, and artificial intelligence.

Cheap iPhone Battery Replacement Ends in Three Months

  • Apple started offering cheap battery replacements after it was revealed that the company had been slowing down phones with aging batteries.
  • Due to a quirk with how batteries work, as your battery gets worn down with repeated charge cycles, phones that run at their normal speed have a higher risk of shutting down unexpectedly.
  • Apple’s solution was to slow phones down a bit as they get older to prevent shutdowns.
  • This led to some people thinking their phones just necessarily get slow when they’re old, so they replace the whole phone. In reality, you could just replace the battery to get a phone that works almost like new.
  • To compensate for the miscommunication, Apple started offering $29 battery replacements, even if your phone or its battery weren’t faulty.
  • If you have an older phone, this is just a good idea all around. You get a fresh battery that will last a little longer and your phone will get a new lease on life.
  • After December 31st, the price for these battery replacements will go back up to the normal price of $79.

Facebook Security Breach Revealed to be Worse than Thought

  • The New York Times reported that last week 90 million Facebook subscribers were forced to log out of their accounts due to an unprecedented security breach.
  • Facebook announced on Sept. 28 that hackers had accessed and exposed personal information of 50 million users, its largest security breach ever reported.
  • Hackers gained access “as if they were … the account holder themselves,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said in a conference call related to the announcement.
  • The attackers accessed Facebook accounts through a bug in one of Facebook’s video-uploading programs that had been introduced in June 2017, allowing them to create “access tokens,” or digital keys that allow access to a user’s account without the necessity of entering their name and password at each login.
  • The Sun revealed the hackers also gained access to third-party services such as Instagram, Messenger, Tinder, Spotify and other apps that allow subscribers to use their personal Facebook credentials to access their sites, causing a potential for a chain reaction breach of personal information affecting hundreds of millions of accounts.
  • Facebook reportedly knew of a potential problem 10 days prior to its announcement of the breach. On Sept. 18, Facebook discovered what it considered unusual activity that appeared in the form of a large spike in users and launched its own investigation, but it was not until Sept. 25 that Facebook actually discovered the source of the attack and the resulting vulnerability.
  • The following day, Facebook notified law enforcement, but it did not complete an actual fix of the problem until Sept. 27. Facebook finally disclosed and notified its users of the attack on Sept. 28, a full 10 days after its initial discovery of the suspicious activity.
  • The big fear is that hackers will have used automatic tools to harvest information from all 50 million accounts that were compromised.