Show of 11-10-2018

Tech Talk

November 10, 2018

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I have been listening to your cut the cord shows and recently purchased a Tablo, so I could stream over-the-air TV on my Wi-Fi network. It has a remote feature that allows me to access TV even remotely. When I set up the port forwards on my Verizon FiOS router, remote access works for a while and then it stops. I cannot keep it active for more than a day. Is there a solution to this problem? Enjoy the show live. Jim in Bowie
  • I have solved the mystery with the Tablo Remote Access. The FiOS Router has a function called Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). It can be found in the Advanced section after you log onto your router. There are two options: UPnP Enabled, and Cleanup Enabled. The problem is with the cleanup. It deletes port forwards that have not been used, even if they are still wanted. UPnP automatically creates your port forwards upon request by an UPnP application. Tablo is an UPnP application, so port forwards do not have to be created manually.
  • First I unchecked the Remote Access in the Tablo app. I fixed my router by first deleting all Tablo port forwards, checking UPnP enabled, and unchecking Cleanup Enabled. Then I rebooted the router. After the router came up, I checked the Remote Access on the Tablo app. This creates two port forwards using UPnP, each time this is done on the Tablo app. No port forwards are deleted, even if there are more than two, because cleanup is disabled. Extra port forwards do not cause a problems. Your Tablo Remote Access will now be stable. This fixes the problem.
  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz, Could you tell us what’s going in with Google’s quantum computer? What is a Qubit? And if it’s a fast computer, how will it affect everyday computers & traffic on the NET? Is AI involved? Love the show – so informative. Thanks. Arnie in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: This week Google unveiled Bristlecone, a new quantum computing chip with 72 quantum bits, or qubits—the fundamental units of computation in a quantum machine. The previous record holder was IBM with a 50-qubit processor.
  • Quantum computers are supposed to help us discover new pharmaceuticals and create new materials, as well as turning cryptography on its head (M=p*q).
  • The magic of quantum computers lies in those qubits. Unlike the bits in classical computers, which store information as either 1 or 0, qubits caqn exist in multiple states of 1 and 0 at the same time—a phenomenon known as superposition. They can also influence one another even when they are not physically connected, via a process known as entanglement.
  • What this boils down to is that even though a few extra bits make only a modest difference to a classical computer’s power, adding extra qubits to a quantum machine can increase its computational power exponentially. Number of states in a fully entangled system is 2^N, where N is the number of qubit. Note that 2^300 is larger than the number of atoms in the Universe.
  • Creating qubits, however, requires prodigious feats of engineering, such as building superconducting circuits kept at temperatures colder than outer. Changes in temperature or the slightest vibrations—phenomena known as “noise”—can cause qubits to “decohere,” or lose their fragile quantum state. As that happens, errors quickly creep into calculations.
  • Using Bristlecone, Martinis and his colleagues plan to run a test that seeks to demonstrate quantum supremacy. The strict definition of the benchmark is that the task should be impossible for a conventional computer to perform. But this raises a thorny issue: how do you really know if a quantum computer has produced a correct answer if you can’t check it with one that uses silicon bits?
  • Even if Google reaches the magic benchmark, though, the complexity and cost of managing quantum machines will limit how useful they can be.
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Rick and Jim, I have a Daniel Dakota grandfather clock that is controlled via the WWVB time signal. I’ve had this clock for some twenty plus years. Whenever the time change occurs to or from Daylight Saving(s) Time. I move it to a west-facing window to pick up WWVB. This has worked until this year. For some reason, the clock does not pick up the WWVB time signal and will not reset. I have pulled out the battery for 30 seconds to force it to look for the WWVB time signal. It just stays in search mode and doesn’t reset.
  • I heard a rumor that the Federal Government was considering discontinuing the WWVB time service. Is this the problem? Is WWVB now off the air? If the WWVB time service is discontinued, what can I do to set the time on my clock? A loyal listener, Jim in Bowie, MD
  • Tech Talk Responds: The good news is that WWVB is still operating. Their website indicates that they has three outages in 2018 (19 and 20 September, 28 October). The Trump administration has proposed to cut their funding in the next fiscal year and NIST is fighting that request because of the hundreds of millions of clocks like yours. If WWVB is shut down, you will have to set your clock manually. The next generation of atomic clock would be Wi-Fi enabled and connect to the time standard via Internet.
  • WWVB continuously broadcasts digital time codes on a 60 kHz (5,000 meter) carrier. The time codes are broadcast continuously in two different formats at a rate of 1 bit per second using pulse width modulation (PWM) as well as phase modulation (PM). Phase modulation was added in 2012 and provides the most reliable service. If you want to check if the station is operating, the audio time signals can be heard by calling (303) 499-7111).
  • The reception of the signal is best at night when the radio waves bounce off of the ionosphere. Signal strength is affected by rainy weather. Best practice is to put your clock in a window facing west (toward Fort Collins). Remove and replace the battery to force the clock to search for the signal. Leave it overnight and hope for clear weather. Low battery and poor positioning are the main reason for failure. Keep the clock away from noise sources (computer monitors, televisions, appliances with electric motors, neon or fluorescent lights).
  • Download a NIST booklet containing best practices for radio controlled clocks, plus tips for consumers. Link:
  • My clocks reset without a problem. They were manufactured after 2012 and use the more sensitive phase modulation. Your clock is over 20 years old and uses pulse modulation which is more susceptible to noise. Good luck.
  • David in Boulder: Dear Tech Talk. I have been hearing about Dark Web scans to see if my private information has been stolen and is available. What do these services do and are they worth it? Enjoy the show. David in Bolder, Colorado.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Experian and many other companies are pushing “dark web scans.” They promise to search the dark web for your personal information to see if criminals are selling it. Do not waste your money.
  • The “dark web” consists of hidden websites that you can’t access without special software. For example, the Tor software can be used for anonymous browsing of the normal web, but it also hides special sites known as “.onion sites” or “Tor hidden services.” There are legitimate uses for Tor hidden services. It allows people in oppressive countries to access banned websites. The dark web is also used for criminal activities. Even if these services were scanning the entirety of the public dark web, they wouldn’t be able to see the exclusive information that is traded privately. These companies are simply gathering data dumps made public on the dark web.
  • Have I Been Pwned will tell you whether your email address or password appears in one of 322 public data dumps on the dark web. You can also have it notify you when your email address appears in a new data dump. Link:
  • Email from Brian in Kansas: Dear Doc, Can I ZIP my pictures or MP3 files to save space? Love the podcast. Thanks, Brian.
  • Tech Talk Responds: ZIP is a very popular compression algorithm created by Phillip Katz. It is supported by many popular programs such as WinZip, 7-Zip, and recent versions of Microsoft Windows. ZIPping a file or set of files can often reduce their size significantly at the cost of needing to be unzipped before they can be used. Unfortunately, “often” doesn’t mean “always.”
  • The concepts of compression are actually fairly simple. The idea is that information stored on disk is often stored in a way that is less than optimal for storage. It may be optimal for other purposes, but as a side effect, there may be redundant information in the data that could be represented differently.
  • A simple compression algorithm is “run length encoding.” Consider the following text: This is a row of 10 asterisks: ********** followed by text. That’s 59 characters long. If we define the character “+” to not be a plus character, but rather an indicator that the next two characters are a count, and the third character the character that should be repeated that many times, we get this: This is a row of 10 asterisks: +10* followed by text. We’ve shortened or “compressed” the text to only 53 characters, but it still means exactly the same thing.
  • One of the most common ways that compressed data can end up larger than the original is if the original is itself already compressed. ZIPping photographs, music, and videos will typically not make them significantly smaller and can even make them slightly larger.

Profiles in IT: Alex Hills

  • Alex Hills is Distinguished Service Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, where he and his team built the world’s first big Wi-Fi network at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Alex Hills was born in 1943 in Caldwell, New Jersey.
  • Alex got his Novice Class ham radio license at 14, and his General Class a year later. He built his first transmitter and receiver from a kit. Radio became his passion.
  • Alex Hills received his BS from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1964.
  • He then moved around the US teaching engineering at various institutions.
  • In 1969, he received his MS from Arizona State University.
  • After graduation, looking for some excitement, he joined the military. He served as a U.S. Army Signal Corps officer and company commander in Korea.
  • In 1971, RCA hired him to install VHS communication systems to 142 remote Alaskan villages. This is where he learned about the five bad boys of radio: shadowing, reflection, refraction, scattering, and diffraction.
  • On Little Diomede, a small island in the Bering Strait, he bounced the signal off the cliffs of Big Diomede, an island controlled by Russia, to reach receivers in Alaska.
  • VHS was designed to replace short wave radio, which was severely disrupted by the aurora borealis. However, it could not cover Alaska without mountaintop repeaters.
  • He soon realized that satellites were a better solution, but RCA was not interested.
  • In 1973, he quit in frustration and was hired by public radio station KOTZ in Kotzebue, as an engineer and GM. He tended the transmitters, ran the station, and had his own show. KOTZ was the only station in Northwest Alaska.
  • Working with state and local politicians, Alex finally got the small satellite earth stations in the remote villages ($5M from Alaska bought the equipment; RCA installed and maintained the links). However, each village still had only one phone.
  • Hills then started the region’s OTZ Telephone Cooperative and brought telephone exchanges to many rural villages, linking the exchanges to satellite dishes. Other cooperatives finally brought phones to all remote villages. Mission accomplished.
  • In 1977, he enrolled in a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University, completing in 1979. After graduation, he was hired by CMU to teach.
  • In 1993, Alex was the founding Director of CMU’s Information Networking Institute.
  • Alex Hills and his team built the world’s first big Wi-Fi network. It was an unheard of idea when Hills started the project in 1993. The new network, which came to be called “Wireless Andrew,” was the prototype used by many others.
  • Working with colleagues, Professor Hills also developed a methodology for designing Wi-Fi networks. He invented a semi-automated design tool called “Rollabout” to dramatically improve and speed up the Wi-Fi network design process.
  • Hills works with CMU students on many projects in developing nations.
  • He holds 18 patents. Alex retired in 2010 from CMU and now lives in Palmer, AK.

Novel App Developer Tilted the Elections

  • In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, app developer Leo Sussan was unhappy and looking for a way to become more politically active. So he volunteered for a long-shot congressional candidate, 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in NYC.
  • Sussan offered his programming skills to the campaign during his off-hours. The app he and his business partner Jake Degroot created, Reach, reimagined the way volunteers found other sympathetic voters.
  • Historically, political campaigns have reached voters through a process called “canvassing,” or making direct contact with people door-to-door.
  • But Sussan’s app was different. It made it easier for volunteers to find brand-new voters, regardless of whether they had voted in a previous election or registered as a Democrat in the past.
  • It was a technological solution to one of the campaign’s key principles: Ocasio-Cortez wanted to expand the electorate, and help more people take part in the political process. Sussan did too, so he built the app with this as a core principle.
  • Now, using Reach, volunteers were able to easily target new voters on the street, at the mall, or basically anywhere they could think of, and log their interactions.
  • Canvassers were no longer confined to a list of people who’d voted for a Democrat in the past or registered with the Democratic Party.
  • They could add new names and contact information to the list on the spot. Reach worked on all the major platforms including iOS, Android, and web browsers, making it easier to get into the hands of the right people.
  • When Ocasio-Cortez faced off against 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primaries in June, the app played a pivotal role in her upset victory.
  • Reach let them canvass and record responses at community events, on the streets, on subways, in taxis, and even online.
  • Volunteers set up tables on the street and would talk to folks on their way to work, in Ubers and on the subway. All of these interactions were now being fed into the get-out-the-vote system.
  • Reach accounted for about 10 percent of our total positive IDs, or in other words, pledged voters. It was only deployed in the last three weeks before the primary. The difference in the number of votes between Crowley and Ocasio was only 15 percent.
  • About 20 campaigns ended up using it. We had a waiting list of something like 35 campaigns. They are only interested in the most progressive races and making a difference in them regardless of their chance of victory.

Google to Digitize 5 Million New York Times Historical Photos

  • The New York Times doesn’t keep bodies in its “morgue” — it keeps pictures.
  • In a basement under its Times Square office, stuffed into cabinets and drawers, the Times stores between 5 million and 7 million images, along with information about when they were published and why. Now the paper is working with Google to digitize its huge collection.
  • The morgue (as the basement storage area is known) contains pictures going back to the 19th century, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. It is a chronicle of more than a century of global events that have shaped our modern world.”
  • Google will use AI to scan the hand- and type-written notes attached to each image and to categorize the semantic information they contain (linking data like locations and dates).
  • Google says the Times will also be able to use its object recognition tools to extract even more information from the photos, making them easier to catalog and resurface for future use.
  • The pictures won’t even be accessible to the public, as they were when Google worked on Time magazine’s archive. Hopefully, that will be next.

App of the Week: Apple VoiceOver

  • In 1993, Scott Leason was a U.S. Navy veteran who had seven years of service as a visual communications expert. Unfortunately, that was also the year that he lost his vision in both eyes when he was shot at during a robbery attempt.
  • Twenty-five years later, Leason has his iPhone XR and iOS’ VoiceOver feature to help him out in his everyday life, which includes regular surfing sessions in the San Diego area.
  • VoiceOver is a gesture-based screen reader that lets you enjoy using iPhone even if you don’t see the screen. With VoiceOver enabled, just triple-click the Home button to access it wherever you are in iOS. Hear a description of everything happening on your screen, from battery level to who’s calling to which app your finger is on. You can also adjust the speaking rate and pitch to suit you.
  • Because VoiceOver is integrated in iOS, it works with all the built-in iPhone apps. You can create custom labels for buttons in any app — including third-party apps. And Apple works with the iOS developer community to make even more apps compatible with VoiceOver.
  • With the help of his new iPhone XR, Leason is now able to get ready for a day of surfing by checking the latest reports on the Surfline app. He also uses an Apple Watch Series 4 to monitor the progress of his surfing workouts and to find out how many calories he has burned.
  • According to Paul Lang, instructional coordinator at San Diego’s Mission Bay Aquatic Center, Leason’s ability to use the iPhone and VoiceOver to assist him in his daily tasks has been quite impressive.