Show of 02-05-2022

Tech Talk February 5, 2022

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc and Andrew. I came across a sort of curious article about a US cybersecurity researcher taking it upon himself to launch denial of service and other cyber-attacks on North Korea. Disappointed with the lack of US response to the Hermit Kingdom’s attacks against US security researchers, one hacker took matters into his own hands. What do you think, Doc? All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Just over a year ago, an independent hacker who goes by the handle P4x was hacked by North Korean spies. P4x was just one victim of a hacking campaign that targeted Western security researchers with the apparent aim of stealing their hacking tools and details about software vulnerabilities. He says he managed to prevent those hackers from swiping anything of value from him.
  • Given the lack of a US responce, P4x has taken matters into his own hands. P4x says he’s found numerous known but unpatched vulnerabilities in North Korean systems that have allowed him to singlehandedly launch “denial-of-service” attacks on the servers and routers the country’s few internet-connected networks depend on. He also alluded to finding “ancient” versions of the web server software Apache, and says he’s started to examine North Korea’s own national homebrew operating system, known as Red Star OS, which he described as an old and likely vulnerable version of Linux.
  • The attack was very successful. Key routers for the country went down at times, taking with them not only access to the country’s websites but also to its email and any other internet-based services.
  • Email from Alex in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. What are your thoughts on buying a refurbished (or renewed) computer on Amazon instead of a new one. Is it a wise move or not. Alex in Richmond, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: It depends on where you buy.
    • Is the entity selling the refurbished machine the manufacturer or a third-party company? If it is the manufacturer, you are likely to get a more modern PC, possibly even a current model. The fact is most manufacturer returns are due to customer dissatisfaction, not an actual issue with the hardware or software. In those cases the machines are usually thoroughly tested and restored to new condition, then put up for sale as refurbs and covered by the full manufacturers warranty.
    • If the seller is a third-party refurb provider, check out the customer reviews and ratings. If they sell thoroughly tested, reliable products that will probably be reflected in the reviews and ratings. If they sell mostly junk that fact will quickly become obvious due to a slew of negative reviews.
    • Does the computer come with any kind of warranty or guarantee? The longer the warranty the better, but anywhere from 90 days to 6 months is typical for refurbs.
    • Does the machine come with a current version of the operating system? Most refurbished Windows PCs nowadays come with either Windows 10 or Windows 11 installed, even if the operating system that came on it originally was an older version. Only buy a Mac with the latest OS.
  • Refurbished computers can be good deals if the savings are decent when compared to the prices of new machines. Just make sure you buy from a reputable company that offers at least a 90-day warranty or guarantee.
  • Email from Shel in Arlington: Dear Doc and Andrew. About two years ago, I bought a wireless keyboard/mouse combo to make it easier to use my laptop. I hate those trackpads and small keyboards! Yesterday the keyboard just stopped working. I figured the batteries needed to be replaced, but new ones did not fix the problem. The mouse still works fine and a wired keyboard I plugged in works too. I rebooted the laptop but that did not help. What do you think might be the problem? Shel in Arlington, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: It sounds to me like your wireless keyboard has died. The USB transmitter is obviously ok because your mouse is still working, which leaves the keyboard itself as the most likely problem.
  • But just to be sure the problem isn’t the keyboard driver, I’d give this try before doing anything else:
    • Click the Start button.
    • Type the word device and then select Device Manager from the list of search results.
    • Click on the little arrow to the left of the word “Keyboards” to expand the Keyboards section.
    • Right-click on the entry for the wireless keyboard, then click Update driver.
  • If Windows recognizes the wireless keyboard and installs a fresh driver for it, check to see if the keyboard now works. If it does not, you definitely have a bad keyboard. You can also safely assume that you have a bad keyboard if Windows fails to recognize it at all in the Device Manager.
  • Check to see if it’s still under warranty. Some wireless keyboards come with warranties that are good for up to 3 years. If so, you can request a replacement.
  • Email from Arnie in Colorado Springs: Hi Dr. Shurtz. Fakespot, known for its web browser extensions that try to weed out fake product reviews, suddenly no longer has an iPhone or iPad app — because Amazon sent Apple a takedown request, both Amazon and Fakespot confirm, and Apple decided to remove the app. Tech news never ceases & you analyze and report it. Arnie in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: Apple took the Fakespot review app off its App Store last year, after it received a complaint from Amazon that said Fakespot inaccurately detects bad sellers and fake write-ups on its store. Amazon also said it wasn’t able to verify what Fakespot is or is not doing, today or in the future, which is why this is a security risk.
  • Fakespot accused Amazon of attempting to cover up fraud occurring on its platform, which he said his app is designed to highlight.
  • I think Fakespot performs a good service for consumers. The good news is that you can still go to the Fakespot website with your computer and install an extension for your browser Link:
  • John form Chesapeake: Dear Tech Talk. I need to create a System Restore Point for last Monday. What happened was I downloaded a couple of torrent files last Tuesday and now my Windows 10 computer is all messed up. I tried doing a System Restore back to the previous Monday, but the oldest Restore Point I see is from 4 days ago. Is there a way to create one for last Monday? John in Chesapeake, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: There is no way to create a Restore Point for a time that has already passed. When you create a Restore Point you’re actually taking a “snapshot” of the way your Windows installation is configured at that specific point in time. My guess is you downloaded software that was infected with malware and that malware is now wreaking havoc with your PC’s Windows installation.
  • I recommend following the steps in this post to see if removing the malware will get your PC back to normal. If not, what you’ll need to do is either restore your computer from a backup that you created prior to the infection or reset your Windows 10 installation.
  • When downloading a torrent files, be careful. Many files available for download from torrent sites are infected with malware, especially commercial programs that are illegally made available “for free”.

Profiles in IT: Jorge Heraud

  • Jorge Heraud is a technologist and entrepreneur, best known as co-found Blue Rive Technology, which brought AI and machine learning to agriculture.
  • Jorge Heraud was born in 1968 in Peru. He father held a PhD in electronics. His grandparents were farmers and he spent a significant amount of time on the farm.
  • In 1986, he graduated from Markham College (high school).
  • In 1993, he received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú
  • While in college, two jobs. One at IBM as an Electrical Engineer providing repair and support services and a second as Lead Engineer at Digita SA.
  • After graduation, he enrolled in the graduate program at Stanford University.
  • In 1995, he received as Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. He focused on computer architecture and engineering.
  • In 1996, he received a Master’s in Engineering Management from Stanford University. He focused on marketing, finance, and entrepreneurship.
  • In July 1996, he was hired as an engineer by Trimble Navigation, in Sunnyvale, CA company. He designed and managed the development of four new products for vehicle tracking with combined revenues of $25M. Products included sensors capable of monitoring the operation of industrial vehicles via GPS.
  • In September 2002, he was promoted to Director of Engineering in the Agriculture Division of Trimble Navigation. He managed all engineering activities including electrical, software, mechanical design, controls and Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • In November 2007, he was promoted to Director of Business Development for Trimble, Inc. He identified and evaluated nine different companies as possible acquisition targets in precision agriculture, four of which were acquired by Trimble. He got to know the founders and their story.
  • In October 2008, he established a new Precision Agriculture division at Trimble, built around these four acquisitions. He grew the unit from 1 to 60 employees, achieved profitability and grew revenues by a factor of five
  • In July 2010, he enrolled in the Sloan Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business. His focus was in leadership and entrepreneurship. He graduated with an executive MBA in July 2011.
  • In May 2011, he co-founded Blue River Technology, which brought smart machines to agriculture and construction to increase productivity, profitability, and sustainability. He co-founder was a machine learning and robotics researcher. He served as CEO.
  • Jorge Heraud met his co-founder and Lee Redden (a PhD student and roboticist), met while taking a 2011 Lean Launch Pad course during which they decided to partner to make farming more sustainable through robotics, machine learning and computer vision.
  • They built and tested their idea in California’s Central Valley with support from friends and family and a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and founded Blue River Technology.
  • Blue River raised an additional $30 million from a variety of venture funds including Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs and Steve Blank, the person that taught the Lean Launch Pad course at Stanford.
  • The first project was a lettuce-thinning device, sold as a service to farmers. This was chosen because there were lettuce fields within a few miles of the labs.
  • One of its most successful machines, which used computer vision, machine learning and precise spraying to identify weeds from crops in agricultural fields and then spray only the weeds. This reduced the amount of herbicides used by a factor of 10.
  • Blue River iterates quickly. It normally takes about 10 iterations until complete.
  • In September 2017, Blue River Technology was acquired by John Deer and is now run as an independent subsidiary.
  • Equipment sales have steadily declined for Deere: $32bn in 2014, $26bn in 2015 and $23bn in 2016. This acquisition underscores the immense value placed on the new AI and vision systems companies such as Blue River.
  • Jorge Heraud now serves as VP Automation and Autonomy at John Deere.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Buying the competition — good or bad
  • Companies expand their offerings by buying the competition.
  • Facebook brought Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR
  • Google bought YouTube, Waze, Motorola Mobility, Nest, DoubleClick.
  • John Deere bought Blue Rivers to leverage technology
  • Some feel that this process limits competition and is not good for consumers.
  • Others feel that this accelerated the development of technology.
  • It is good for VC because they can exit. It is probably bad for founders because they lose control.

Machine Learning in Agriculture

  • Iowa State University scientists are working toward a future in which farmers can use unmanned aircraft to spot, and even predict, disease and stress in their crops.
  • Their vision relies on machine learning, an automated process in which technology can help farmers respond to plant stress more efficiently.
  • The technology under development would make use of cameras attached to unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to gather birds-eye images of soybean fields.
  • A computer application would automatically analyze the images and alert the farmer of trouble spots.
  • The research team has assembled an enormous dataset of soybean images, some healthy and some undergoing stress and disease, which they then labeled.
  • A computer program goes through the labeled images and assembles algorithms that can recognize stress in new images.
  • Singh said the machine-learning program could be capable of spotting a wide range of common soybean stresses, including fungal, bacterial and viral diseases, as well as nutrient deficiency and herbicide injury.
  • The use of hyperspectral imaging, or cameras that capture wavelength ranges beyond those seen by the human eye, could allow the technology to predict the presence of stresses before symptoms even appear, giving farmers additional time to manage the problem, she said.
  • The future of the technology rests on the ability of scientists and engineers to gather the right kind of dataset and then develop the ability to analyze that data.
  • The approach has the potential for application in many other crops as well, Singh said.

FAA Clears Commercial Aircraft to Fly Near 5G — Finally

  • About 90% of the U.S. commercial aircraft fleet is at least somewhat shielded from interference caused by new 5G wireless networks, according to the FAA.
  • The FAA expanded the roster of aircraft that it says can perform “most” low-visibility landings in the presence of the 5G radio waves to include several models of regional jets, according to a notice on the agency’s website.
  • The FAA approvals do not cover every plane at every airport, and are subject to revisions each month as the agency reviews the addition of new 5G cell towers.
  • They could also be limited if wireless companies increase power levels. New wireless phone service that began on Jan. 19 broadcasting on frequencies near those used by aircraft has prompted the FAA to raise concerns about radio interference.
  • The latest action by the agency combined with an agreement by wireless companies to temporarily limit power levels and the placement of cell towers near airports has meant that the most severe impacts have been avoided for now.
  • This is what the EU did month ago. FAA get with it.

Apple’s Privacy Push Cost Meta $10 Billion

  • On February 2nd Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, told investors that privacy-focused changes to iOS, including the “ask app not to track” notification, would cost the company around $10 billion in 2022.
  • That revelation, along with growing competition and sluggish growth in user numbers, helped to prompt a 23% plunge in Meta’s share price and showed Apple’s might.
  • What did Apple actually do and why was it so costly?
  • For years, Apple helped advertisers by offering an “identifier for advertisers” (IDFA), giving advertisers a way to track people’s behavior on its devices.
  • Users have long been able to disable IDFA in their phones’ settings. But last year, citing privacy concerns, Apple turned off IDFA by default and forced apps to ask people if they want to be tracked. Fifty four percent of Apple users who saw the prompt opted out.
  • The financial impact on ad-sellers like Meta has been painful. The $10 billion hit estimated by Meta amounts to over 8% of its revenue in 2021.

Apple, meanwhile, is doing well: estimates suggest its own ad business has grown significantly since it introduced the app tracking pop-up. A different pop-up, with a more persuasive sales pitch for opting-in to tracking, appears on Apple’s own apps.