Show of 03-26-2022

Tech Talk

March 26, 2022

Best of Tech Talk Edition

  • Segments taken from the January 8, 2021 show.

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Judy in Naples: Dear Tech Talk. I just bought my son a new laptop for his birthday. As I was paying for it the cashier told me I need to let the battery charge to 100% before I let my son start using it. In the past I have always just unboxed my new laptops and plugged them in and started using them immediately, and as far as I know there was never any problem. Do you think I really need to charge the battery before I give it to him? Judy in Naples, Florida
  • Tech Talk Responds: There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your son unpack his new laptop himself and start using it right away. Just make sure he plugs it in and lets the battery charge up while he is using it. While it’s quite likely that the battery will arrive with only a partial charge, the AC adapter/battery charger will supply plenty of current for operating the laptop and charging the battery at the same time. In fact, it was designed to do just that.
  • You just need to make sure your son lets the battery charge all the way up to 100% before unplugging the charger and letting the laptop run on battery power for the first time.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland: Dear Doc and Andrew. I came across this article that claims Ethereum’s days are numbered, even if it gets reformed, because the fees are too high: Is Ethereum Is Finished?  Is this true Doc? I thought that Vitalik Buterin was not the kind of guy who would create a product with such excessive fees. What do you think? All the best, your faithful listener, Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Blockchain technology is evolving and standards are being created. Bitcoin was first generation (all it could do was bitcoin). Ethereum was second generation. It added smart contracts and distributed finance (DeFi), but is not scalable because of the underlying validation process which is time consuming and expensive. Cardano (with Ada as the crypto currency) is third generation. It uses proof of stake and also supports smart contracts and DeFi. In addition, is using a process to develop standards similar to that used for the Internet. Vitalik Buterin has a lock on Ethereum and has created a bottleneck. The founder of Cardano, Charles Hoskinson,  was a co-founder of Ethereum, but had a falling out with Vitalik over approach and the use of venture capital. Ethereum is evolving and has the first mover advantage (nearly all of the NFTs are hosted on Ethereum). To offset the high fees, many side blockchain has been created to process transactions with periodic synchronization with Ethereum. That kluge is not sustainable.
  • Cardano (ADA) creator Charles Hoskinson discussed where decentralized applications (DApps) and their development are headed in 2022 as they work to create a decentralized financial (DeFi) suitable environment for Cardano.
  • On January 2, 2022, speaking during a YouTube live session, Hoskinson stated that his team would be working together to build up this DeFi ecosystem in the next six to nine months, finding that sweet spot of expressiveness as a community. Hoskinson eluded to the fact that ADA was the most-developed cryptocurrency on Github in 2021. This is a leading indicator of future acceptance within the community. The jury is out, but this development competition is worth watching.
  • The Internet protocol TCP/IP was created in the summer of 1973, but the Internet did not go mainstream until 1994, after the Browser was created. Expect the same 20 year cycle for Block chain. Bitcoin was created in 2008 and Ethereum in 2015. The twenty year anniversary will be 2028 for mainstream deployment.
  • Email from Bob in Maryland (continued): Dear Doc and Andrew. Of course, most people know that El Salvador boldly stepped into the crypto currency world, while other countries like the US and China were proceeding more cautiously. However, I notice that there are news reports of some problems with the system. For example: Some Salvadorans claim funds are missing from their Chivo wallets. Hundreds of Salvadorans claim money is vanishing from bitcoin accounts. Doc, can you get a handle on what is going on here? All the best, your faithful listener. Bob in Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Crypto wallets have become a target. Stolen funds are not easily traced. This trend is exacerbated by the lack of regulatory oversight. No regulatory standards or requirements exist. No one is accountable for checking the viability of the code or the consequences of a hack. This too will come as Blockchain matures. The SEC was created to regulate stocks. The Federal Reserve System was created to regulate banks. We have no crypto regulators, so you must choose your wallet carefully and be very mindful of identity theft to steal your credentials. This is a problem that must be addressed.
  • Email from June in Burke: Dear Tech Talk. I heard your discussion about Inkjet vs Laser printers. It is true that cartridge inkjet printers are initially low cost, but are very expensive when you factor in ink cost. However, you failed to consider tanked inkjet printers. What is opinion about tanked inkjet printers. June in Burke, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: That is a very good question. Tanked inkjet printers have operational costs as low as 2 cents per page, rather than 15 to 20 cents per page.
  • Ever since their introduction a decade ago, tank printers (aka reservoir-style printers) have presented a bit of a conundrum for consumers: Should they spend lots of money up front for a machine that’s really cheap to maintain with ink, or spend relatively little on a printer, then drop big bucks on replacement cartridges?
  • Unlike traditional inkjet printers, which can be found for less than $100, tank printers generally cost a few hundred dollars, though a couple of models are available for less.
  • That’s because traditional color inkjets use multiple ink cartridges that tend to run out fairly quickly and cost a lot—often $30 a pop or more. That cost can really add up over time, easily topping $100 a year. In Consumer Reports’ surveys on printers, the frequency of ink replacement is among the most frequently cited problems.
  • Instead of small, individually purchased cartridges, tank printers have big reservoirs of ink that you fill up from bottles that generally cost between $13 and $20, depending on the model of printer. Consumer Reports calculates that for a typical tank printer, ink replacements should cost only about $5 a year. Also, the performance of new tank printers has improved significantly. Early on, the tank printers we tested fell short of many inkjets when it came to producing sharp text and images, but that’s no longer true. Finally, today’s tanks are much easier to refill than in the past.
  • Currently, the only tank printers recommended by Consumer Reports are Epson EcoTank models. They earned a Good rating for reliability, based on a survey of 138,600 CR members reporting on their experiences with 171,441 printers bought new between 2013 and 2020. My next printer will be a tank printer. They have finally reached the required performance, reliability, and cost trifecta.
  • Email from Jason in Colorado Springs: Dear Tech Talk. I own a small business that employs three people, which means there are 4 of us working in our office on a daily basis. Due to the nature of our business, the four of us find ourselves updating a common set of files while we’re working. I’m wondering if you have a recommendation for the best way for us to store and share those commonly accessed files? Right now these files are stored in a shared folder on my Desktop PC, which mean I have to have my computer up and running 24/7. I don’t really like doing that, for several reasons. Jason from Colorado Springs, CO
  • Tech Talk Responds: A compact NAS hard drive system would be ideal for your situation. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage and it allows everyone on a network to access the files stored on the drive(s) contained within the NAS enclosure.
  • These devices are basically mini file servers that resemble common external hard drive enclosures (actually, that’s what they are). You simply connect the NAS device to your network, configure a few settings, and then get down to work.
  • You can buy NAS devices that will hold multiple hard drives, and given the size of your office staff and the small number of shared files, a NAS cabinet containing two 8TB NAS hard drives should provide plenty of storage for your needs. Total cost would be about $1,000.
  • That would provide you with one drive for everyone to use to access the shared files and a second drive dedicated solely to storing backups of those files.
  • Since all of your important files will be on the NAS drive, it’s imperative that you have an effective backup plan in place at all times.
  • A great solution would be making local backups with the NAS drive as mentioned above and then augmenting those local backups with an off-site cloud-based backup service such a Carbonite for redundancy.

Profiles in IT: Robert Nimrod Miner

  • Robert Nimrod “Bob” Miner is best known as co-founder of Oracle Corporation and the producer of Oracle’s relational database management system.
  • Bob Miner was born on Dec 23, 1941 in Cicero, Illinois to an Iranian family, who migrated to the US in the 1920s..
  • Bob Miner graduated in 1963 with a MS Math from the University of Illinois.
  • In 1977 Bob Miner met Larry Ellison at Ampex, where he was Larry’s supervisor.
  • Bob Miner left Ampex soon to found a company called Software Development Laboratories (SDL) with Ed Oates and Bruce Scott. Larry Ellison joined later.
  • Ellison and Miner had come up with RDBMS idea after reading a paper by E. F. Codd about it in the IBM Journal of Research and Development.
  • The key insight Ellison and Minor had was that IBM was interested in RDBMS, which many believed would allow computer users to quickly retrieve corporate data.
  • This came from an IBM innovation called the Structured Query Language (SQL), a computer language that could extract from a relational database.
  • Ellison and Miner had a hunch that IBM would incorporate the new relational database and SQL into future mainframes, but not in smaller computers.
  • They set out to provide a similar program for digital minicomputers and other types of machines, when conventional wisdom was that it would not be practical.
  • To start the company, Ellison and Miner pooled $1,500 in savings to rent office space in Belmont, California. Ellison became President and CEO and took charge of sales and marketing, while Miner supervised software development.
  • As head of engineering Bob Miner’s management style was in stark contrast to Larry Ellison, who cultivated Oracle’s hard-driving sales culture.
  • Although he expected his engineers to produce, he did not agree with the demands laid upon them by Ellison. He thought it was wrong for people to work extremely late hours.
  • Miner and Ellison persuaded the CIA to let them work on a $50,000 contract to build a relational database program. They completed their first product based, Oracle Version 1, in less than one year.
  • Version 2 came out in 1979, two years before the IBM version. It was the first commercial SQL relational database management system (RDBMS), on a PDP-11.
  • Bob Miner programmed the majority of Oracle Version 3 by himself.
  • The founders changed the company name to Relational Software, Inc (RSI) in 1979, then again to Oracle Systems Corporation in 1982. It main product was Oracle.
  • From 1977 until 1992, Bob Miner led product design and development for the Oracle relational database management system.
  • In December, 1992, he left that role and spun off a small, advanced technology group within Oracle.
  • If Ellison was considered the hard-driving “brains” of the company, Miner was considered its heart. He wanted his employees to see their families.
  • Bob Miner was diagnosed in 1993 with a rare form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. He died on Friday, 11 November 1994, with a net worth of $600M.
  • Miner also owned the Oakville Ranch Vineyard and served on the board of the San Francisco French-American School.
  • He is survived by his wife Mary and three children, Nicola, Justine and Luke.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Composition of a tech startup – Showman and a Nerd
    • Larry Ellison and Robert Miner at Oracle
    • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple
    • Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft
    • Larry Page/Sergy Brin had vision; Urs Hözle then Jeff Dean wrote code.
  • As a team, they provide vision and execution during the formative years.
  • The four stages of enterprise growth, according to Derek Lidow, are:
    • Customer validation (getting the real customer),
    • Operational validation (functioning enterprise: delivering the product),
    • Functional validation (satisfying customers, withstanding competition, varying the product mix)
    • Self-sustainability (innovating again while also being efficient).
  • It is at the third stage that many startups fail, because here the organization should be able to function with less contribution from the founders, like a well-oiled machine.
  • Failure after the fourth stage occurs when a company is reduced to a one-trick pony and cannot reinvent itself or cannibalize older products (innovator’s dilemma).

The Man Who Lost $273M in Bitcoin — Next Steps

  • IT worker James Howells got rid of the drive, which held a digital store of 7500 bitcoins, between June and August in 2013. He had originally mined the virtual currency four years earlier when it was of little value. They are now valued at $273M.
  • Howells has approached Newport City Council in Wales to ask for permission to dig a specific section of the landfill site where he believes the hard drive ended up.
  • In return, he has offered to pay the council a quarter of the current value of the hoard, which he says could be distributed to local residents.
  • Howells first discovered that the hard drive was missing when his bitcoin was worth around $9 million. Based on the current rates, he estimates it would be worth around $273 million.
  • Unfortunately they refused the offer and won’t even have a face to face discussion with me on the matter.”
  • The plan would be to dig a specific area of the landfill based on a grid reference system and recover the hard drive whilst adhering to all safety and environmental standards. The drive would then be presented to data recovery specialists who can rebuild the drive from scratch with new parts and attempt to recover the tiny piece of data that I need in order to access the bitcoins.
  • The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions — without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order.

How NSO Group’s iPhone-Hacking Exploit Works

  • For years, the Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group has sparked fear and fascination throughout the international community via its hacking tools.
  • Researchers with Google’s Project Zero published a detailed break-down that shows how an NSO exploit, dubbed “FORCEDENTRY,” can take over a phone.
  • The exploit, which was designed to target Apple iPhones, is thought to have led to the hacking of devices in multiple countries—including those of several U.S. State Department officials working in Uganda.
  • The use of FORCEDENTRY only required the phone number or the AppleID username.
  • The attack process was simple: What appeared to be a GIF was texted to the victim’s phone via iMessage.
  • However, the image in question was not actually a GIF; instead, it was a malicious PDF that had been dressed up with a .gif extension.
  • Within the file was a highly sophisticated malicious payload that could hijack a vulnerability in Apple’s image processing software and use it to quickly take over valuable resources within the targeted device.
  • The recipient didn’t even need to click on the image to activate its noxious functions.
  • Technically speaking, what FORCEDENTRY did was exploit a zero-day vulnerability within Apple’s image rendering library, CoreGraphics—the software that iOS uses to process on-device imagery and media.
  • That vulnerability, officially tracked as CVE-2021-30860, is associated with an old piece of free, open-source code that iOS was apparently leveraging to encode and decode PDF files—the Xpdf implementation of JBIG2.
  • From there, the program “builds a computer on top of these basic mathematical operations, which it uses to run code that can now access other memory of the attacked iPhone.
  • After the mini-computer is up and running within the targeted phone, NSO uses it to “run their own code (instead of Apple’s) and use that to bootstrap the malware” from inside the actual device.
  • The vulnerability related to this exploit was fixed in Apple’s iOS 14.8 update (issued in September).