Show of 04-02-2022

Tech Talk

April 2, 2022

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from June in Burke: I have a three-year-old Toshiba laptop that is currently running Windows 10. I recently began playing a game with my brother and we love it so much that we spend hours at a time playing it. The problem is the laptop gets very hot and shuts down in the middle of a game. I have blown the dust out of this machine but it still overheats. How can I make it run cooler while playing my game? June in Burke, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Blowing the dust out of your laptop’s internals is always a great place to start when troubleshooting an over-heating computer. Now, I would follow up with these seven steps if I were you:
    • Check to make sure your laptop’s fan is working properly. If it isn’t, you need to get it fixed ASAP.
    • Make sure your system is free of malware. Viruses, trojans, spyware, adware can make even the fastest computer run sluggish and overheat.
    • Make sure that all other programs such as web browsers, email clients, office suites, etc. are shut down when you’re playing a game.
    • Use Microsoft Autoruns to reduce the number of programs that start up along with Windows to the absolute minimum.
    • Buy a high quality laptop cooling pad and keep it underneath your laptop while you’re playing games on it.
    • If your laptop isn’t already maxed out on RAM, add more. When Windows is starved for RAM it has to swap data between the hard drive and RAM.
    • Replace your laptop’s hard drive with a super-fast solid state Drive (SSD). An SSD will draw less power and run cooler than a hard drive.
  • Email from Emma in Hershey: Dear Tech Talk. I use a Windows 10 computer at work and a Mac at home. I’ve tried using the same USB flash drive on both computers by I always get an error. I really need to be able to use certain files on both computers and transfer them back and forth. My question: Is there any way to use the same USB drive on a Mac and a Windows PC? Emma in Hershey, PA
  • Tech Talk Responds: You can use the same USB flash drive, but that will require the drive to be formatted in a special way. By default, Macs and Windows PCs use different files systems on their drives, and unfortunately those two file systems are incompatible with one another. The good news is you can easily reformat your USB drive to use a file system called exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table) that both Macs and PCs can recognize and use. The exFAT file system was introduced in 2006. exFAT is optimized for flash drives
  • You can use either type of computer to reformat the drive, but I recommend that you do it using a Windows machine because that process is easier. Before you begin the procedure detailed below, make sure you copy any files that are already on the flash drive onto another drive because the formatting process will erase the drive and any files that are currently stored on it.
    • Plug the USB flash drive that you want to use with both the Mac and the PC into an open USB port on the Windows PC.
    • Press the Windows+E key combination to open a “File Explorer” window.
    • Right-click on the USB flash drive and select Format from the pop-up menu. Make certain you have the correct drive, since all data will be lost.
    • Click on the down arrow in the “File system” field and change that setting to exFAT.
    • Click the Start button and wait for the formatting process to complete.
  • Your USB flash drive should now be formatted with the exFAT file system and you should now be able to save files from the Windows PC to the drive and read them with the Mac (and vice versa).
  • Email from Jim in Bowie: Dear Tech Talk. I install lots of free software and I always create a new System Restore Point before installing a program just in case something goes wrong. I think Windows is great, but as you know, things do go wrong sometimes. My boss told me that relying on System Restore for my backups is not good enough. He said I need to create System Image backups too, but I think that is overkill. What is your opinion on this? Jim in Bowie, Maryland
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your boss is right. I definitely agree that System Restore is awesome – when it works. The problem is, it does not always work, for a multitude of reasons. That is why I strongly recommend that you also create regular System Image backups to augment your frequent use of the System Restore tool.
  • Here are a few things to consider:
    • System Restore only backs up critical system files, not your user data such as photos, music, Office files and such.
    • As mentioned above, System Restore can and does fail sometimes.
    • If something goes wrong and you are unable to recover from a good Restore Point, you are toast if you do not have an alternate form of backup available.
    • If the hard drive containing your Windows installation goes bad, you will lose your System Restore Points too since they’re stored on that same drive.
    • The System Image backup tool backs up everything on the drive, not just the critical system files and settings. It basically makes an exact copy of the drive’s current state which makes it very easy to recover in case of a hard drive failure or a corrupted Windows installation.
    • Since System Image backups are typically stored on an external drive you won’t have to worry about losing your backup to the same drive failure that wipes out your PC’s boot drive.
  • You can usually rely on System Restore to recover your system from issues that might arise day to day, but creating regular System Image backups will ensure that you will also be able to recover from a catastrophic Windows corruption or hard drive failure.
  • Email from Lilly in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Andrew. I have a Smart TV and my mom told me she heard on the news that viruses can infect smart TVs and we need to run virus scans on them. I didn’t even know a TV could catch a virus. Is that true? And how do I run a virus scan if it is? Lilly in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Smart TVs can indeed catch viruses, and it’s already happened in a very few isolated cases. I have seen no reports of a wide-spread viral outbreak with Smart TVs made by Samsung (or any other TV manufacturer for that matter). While any Smart TV is indeed capable of catching a virus (it’s basically a computer at its core), I really don’t recommend that you run a scan on yours because I’ve seen several reports of virus scans actually bricking the TVs.
  • At some point in the future the threat of viruses attacking Smart TVs might well increase to the point where it’s worth the risk and trouble to run periodic scans, but I don’t believe we’re at that point right now. If you really want to run a virus scan on your Smart TV your TV’s user manual will have instructions for doing so.
  • Email from Lynn in Cleveland: Dear Tech Talk. I need to buy a USB WiFi adapter for my computer and I would really like to use one of the small “nano” adapters like this one. I really like those because they do not stick out from the computer very much. I have heard that the small size might keep it from working as well as a full size adapter that has a long antenna. The WiFi signal in my basement office isn’t strong, but it’s usable. Lynn in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Nano devices don’t work as well as their larger counterparts, primarily because the internal antenna is so small. Nano size USB adapters work well in areas where there’s a strong WiFi signal, but I’m just not sure you’d be happy with one under the conditions you have described. I believe you’d be better off getting a larger one with an external antenna for use in your basement. Just be careful not to lose it or damage it in some way. You can buy an Wi-Fi USB adaptor on Amazon for around $20. Check the reviews and remember, a bigger antenna is better signal-to-noise because the beam is more focused.
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Profiles in IT: Donald Ervin Knuth

  • Donald Ervin Knuth is a computer scientist and the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming.  Knuth has been called the “father” of the analysis of algorithms. Knuth is the creator of the TeX computer typesetting system.
  • The word algorithm is derived from the name of the 9th-century Persian mathematician Mu?ammad ibn M?s? al-Khw?rizm?, whose name was Latinized as Algoritmi. The concept of algorithms has existed since antiquity.
  • Knuth was born on January 10, 1938 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where his father owned a small printing business and taught bookkeeping.
  • In the eighth grade, he entered a contest to find the number of words that the letters in “Ziegler’s Giant Bar” could be rearranged to create; the judges had identified 2,500 such words. Knuth used an unabridged dictionary and a computer algorithm, he identified over 4,500 words, winning the contest.
  • Knuth chose physics over music as his major at Case Institute of Technology.
  • While studying physics at the Case, Knuth was introduced to the IBM 650.
  • After reading the computer’s manual, Knuth decided to rewrite the assembly and compiler code for the machine, because he believed he could do it better.
  • In 1958, Knuth constructed a program based on the value of each player that could help his school basketball team win the league. It was published by Newsweek and also covered by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
  • Knuth was one of the founding editors of the Engineering and Science Review.
  • He then switched from physics to mathematics, and in 1960, he received his BS and MS degrees simultaneously. In 1963, he earned a PhD in mathematics from Caltech.
  • He began working at Caltech as an Associate Professor and began work on The Art of Computer Programming.  This work was originally planned to be a single book, and then planned as a six- and then seven-volume series.
  • Computer science was new and many papers were simply wrong. One of his motivations for writing the Art of Computer Programming to tell the story well.
  • In 1968, just before he published the first volume, Knuth accepted a job working on problems for the National Security Agency (NSA). Knuth soon left that position and joined the faculty of Stanford University. Disagreement over the war was a factor.
  • After producing the third volume of his series in 1976, he took time out to work on typesetting and created the TeX and METAFONT tools.
  • He retired early because he realized that he would need about 20 years of full-time work to complete The Art of Computer Programming,
  • He spends two hours per day in the library, about a half hour in swimming pool, and the rest of the time at home reading and writing, He likes to play piano and organ in the music room of his house.
  • By 2011, the first three volumes and part one of volume four of his series had been published. In April 2020, Knuth said he is hard at work on part B of volume 4, and he anticipates that the book will have at least parts A through F.
  • Knuth gives informal lectures a few times a year at Stanford University, which he called Computer Musings. He was also a visiting professor at the Oxford University.
  • He used to pay a finder’s fee of $2.56 for any typographical errors or mistakes discovered in his books, because 256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar.
  • Knuth is an organist and a composer. In 2016 he completed a musical piece for organ titled Fantasia Apocalyptica, which he describes as “translation of the Greek text of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine into music”. It was premièred in Sweden on January 10, 2018.
  • In 1971, Knuth was the recipient of the first ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award. He has received various other awards including the Turing Award, the National Medal of Science, the John von Neumann Medal, and the Kyoto Prize.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Balkanization of the Internet – Good or Bad.
  • The Internet has become a tool for global communication.
  • The Internet makes information manipulation by despots difficult.
  • The Internet has become a tool for cyberwarfare and theft of intellectual property.
  • China created a separate Internet operating behind the Great Chines Firewall.
  • Russia is trying to create their own walled garden to hide the truth about Ukraine.
  • What are the long-term effects of this fragmentation of the Internet?

Malware Caused Viasat Satellite Broadband Outage In Europe

  • Tens of thousands of Viasat satellite broadband modems that were disabled in a cyber-attack, wiped by malware with possible links to Russia’s destructive VPNFilter.
  • On February 24, as Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Viasat terminals in Europe and Ukraine were suddenly and unexpectedly knocked offline and rendered inoperable.
  • This caused, among other things, thousands of wind turbines in Germany to lose satellite internet connectivity needed for remote monitoring and control.
  • Viasat blamed a poorly configured VPN appliance, which allowed an intruder access a trusted management segment of Viasat’s KA-SAT satellite network.
  • The broadband provider said this intruder then explored its internal network until they were able to instruct subscribers’ modems to overwrite their flash storage, requiring a factory reset to restore the equipment.
  • These destructive commands overwrote key data in flash memory on the modems, rendering the modems unable to access the network, but not permanently unusable.
  • It may also have been wiper malware deployed to the devices as a malicious firmware update from Viasat’s compromised backend.

Russian Tech Brain Drain Caused by Ukraine Invasion

  • Russia’s tech workers are looking for safer and more secure professional pastures.
  • By one estimate, up to 70,000 computer specialists, worried about the business and political climate, have left the country since Russia invaded Ukraine five weeks ago.
  • For some countries, Russia’s loss is being seen as their potential gain and an opportunity to bring fresh expertise to their own high-tech industries.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has noticed the brain drain. Putin reacted to the exodus of tech professionals by approving legislation to eliminate income taxes between now and 2024 for individuals who work for information technology companies.
  • Many have relocated to Poland or the Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania, and are in no rush to return home. A larger contingent has fallen back on countries where Russians do not need visas: Armenia, Georgia and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
  • In normal times, millions of less-skilled laborers emigrate from those economically shaky countries to comparatively more prosperous Russia.

How AI Translation could Unseat English as the Lingua Franca

  • Lingua Franca is a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different.
  • Technology can help us overcome language inequities around the globe by helping everyone access information in their native language.
  • Anyone who has traveled to a country where the language spoken is not their native one knows that not conversing fluently (or at all) can turn even a VIP into a second-class citizen.
  • No one deserves to feel like a second-class citizen, and English as the common lingua franca just doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Luckily, advances in AI-powered translation can help us overcome language inequities around the globe by helping everyone access information in their native language. It is not just good for people. It is good for business.
  • Using AI, an English-speaking customer service agent can reply to an email or chat to a Portuguese customer, in Portuguese.
  • Education, tourism, and coding are other areas that suffer from language inequality.
  • At a time when global cooperation is crucial to our very survival, most large, free online courses (or MOOCs) offered by prominent universities are taught in English, and the “thought leaders” teaching them are primarily from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, or the Netherlands.
  • Software is another great example of how the English-language monopoly hurts innovation, particularly in technology. StackOverflow is hands-down the biggest resource in the world for software developers. The vast majority of these developers participate in the English-language version of the site. That leaves a lot of cross-cultural collaboration off the table.
  • How can we get to a point where we are language independent, and the tools we build are language agnostic? Even the brightest minds can rarely achieve a high level of fluency in more than two or three languages.
  • While technology (namely the internet) has exacerbated language inequality, it can also hold the key, through rapid translation assisted by artificial intelligence.
  • The last year alone saw major breakthroughs in AI-centered language models, from Facebook’s M2M-100 translation model to Google’s MT5 and OpenAI’s GPT-3.
  • Eventually, we will see a common multilingual machine translation model. It is time to start putting its intelligence to use.