Show of 04-09-2022

Tech Talk

April 9, 2022

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Don in Paramus: Dear Tech Talk. I am going on a road trip and would like to my laptop while my spouse is driving the car. Unfortunately, my laptop only has an AC charging system. How can I charge my laptop from the car’s 12V system? Don in Paramus, NJ
  • Tech Talk Responds: Luckily, there is a very simple solution. Get yourself an inexpensive 12VDC to 120VAC power inverter and you will be able to charge virtually any laptop while driving down the road in your vehicle. Just plug the inverter into your vehicle’s 12V “Accessories” socket (what was once referred to as the “cigarette lighter socket”) and then plug the laptop’s AC power brick into the inverter.
  • The GELOO 300W Power Inverter with Dual USB Ports is only $29 on Amazon. This inverter can also power most any small AC appliance that doesn’t draw more wattage than the inverter can safely supply. It isn’t strictly for use with laptops.
  • Email from Ngoc in Cleveland: Dear Doc and Andrew. I downloaded Autoruns after reading about it here and it keeps showing something called Synaptics. Is Synaptics a virus? If it is, how do I get rid of it? I scanned my laptop with AVG and Malwarebytes and they didn’t remove it. Thanks. Ngoc in Cleveland, OH
  • Tech Talk Responds: The Synaptics software you see running on your laptop isn’t malware. It is actually the software that controls your laptop’s touch-pad. Synaptics is completely safe and it’s essential to the proper operation the laptop. That’s why AVG and Malwarebytes failed to detect it during their scans. It’s a good thing that you didn’t use Autoruns to disable the Synaptics entries because you wouldn’t be able to control your mouse cursor or “click” on anything without it (unless you connected a stand-alone pointing device). Some people do in fact disable the touch-pads on their laptops if they plan to use them in a set location (i.e. use the laptop as a desktop computer replacement). In those cases, they use a standard wired or wireless mouse and disable the touch-pad to prevent accidental clicks and “mouse” movements while they are typing. I have disable the touch pad on my laptop.
  • 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. ZIPing 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” does not 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 have 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.
  • Email from Duane in New York: Dear Doc and Jim. I am thinking of getting a 3D printer. What do I need and how does it work? Are they very expensive? Love the show. Duane in New York.
  • Tech Talk Responds: Picture a robot-controlled hot glue gun that uses plastic instead of glue, and you have the basics of a 3D printer. Strands of plastic are fed into a print head, which is heated up to melt the material. The print head moves around very precisely in three dimensions and drops lines of plastic onto the print bed. The printer does this over and over, building up layers of plastic until it forms a 3D part.
  • Every object printed on a 3D printer starts with a 3D model. These are usually made in a CAD program designed for working on real-world 3D models, like TinkerCAD, Fusion360, or Sketchup.
  • Since a printer doesn’t understand how to take a complex 3D mesh and turn it into a printed model, the 3D model must be decoded into information that the printer can understand. This process is called slicing since it takes scans of each layer of the model and tells the printer how it should move the print head to create each layer in turn. It is done with the aid of a slicer, a program that handles all of this for you, like CraftWare or Astroprint.
  • The main problem with 3D printing is speed. Most 3D prints will take several hours, if not days, to finish printing. The printers most consumers will buy usually print in plastic, though there are exotic (and expensive) printers used in the industry that can print pretty much anything.
  • Email from Ovette in Woodbridge: Dear Tech Talk. I have a question about pop-ups asking if I want to save the password when I log in to a website. I never say Yes and want to disable those pop-ups. How do I disable them? I use Chrome as my browser. Ovette in Woodbridge, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: If others was using your computer, I don’t blame you for turning down your browsers’ offers to save your passwords. You can easily disable those pop-ups offering to save your passwords. Just follow the instructions below for Google Chrome below.
    • Click on your Google profile picture icon in the top-right corner of the Chrome window.
    • Click the Passwords icon (it looks like a key).
    • Toggle the “Offer to save passwords” setting to Off.
  • Your browsers should no longer ask to store the passwords for the websites you visit.

Profiles in IT: Mark E. Dean

  • Mark E. Dean is an African-American computer engineer, best known as co-creator of the IBM PC, the ISA bus, and the one-gigahertz computer processor chip.
  • Dean was born on March 2, 1957, in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Dean is credited with helping to launch the personal computer age with work that made the machines more accessible and powerful.
  • From an early age, Dean showed a love for building things. As a young boy, Dean constructed a tractor from scratch with the help of his father, a supervisor at the Tennessee Valley Authority.
  • In elementary school, he took advanced level math courses and, in high school, Dean even built his own computer, radio, and amplifier.
  • Dean also excelled in many different areas, standing out as a gifted athlete and an extremely smart student who graduated with straight A’s from Jefferson City High School.
  • In 1979, he graduated at the top of his class at the University of Tennessee, where he studied engineering.
  • In 1980, Dean was hired by IBM as an engineer. He served as a member of the team that created original IBM PC.
  • Working closely with a colleague, Dennis Moeller, Dean developed the new Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus, a new system that allowed peripheral devices like disk drives, printers and monitors to be plugged directly into computers.
  • IBM released the open architecture PC on August 12, 1981, using an operating system developed by Microsoft.
  • In 1999, Dean led a team of engineers at IBM’s Austin, Texas, lab to create the first gigahertz chip.
  • In all, Dean holds three of the company’s original nine PC patents and, in total, has more forty patents associated with his name.
  • As VP of Research for IBM’s Systems business, he managed the team that built the IBM latest supercomputer, Blue Gene.
  • The team chose to distribute the computing load over many smaller processors working in parallel. Ultimately, IBM would spend $100 million over five years to develop Blue Gene, whose 134,000 processors could do 280 trillion operations per second.
  • He earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida Atlantic University in 1982.
  • In 1992, he completed his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University.
  • He served as CTO for IBM Middle East and Africa in Dubai. He focused on bringing new IBM technology solutions to bear in Africa and helping to develop the continent’s IT skills and computer science workforce.
  • In addition, he served as IBM Vice President overseeing the company’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA.
  • In 1996, he was named an IBM fellow, the first African American ever to receive the honor.
  • In 1997, he was honored with the Black Engineer of the Year President’s Award and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • In 2001, he was selected to be a member of the National Academy of Engineers.
  • Dean was the interim dean of the UT’s Tickle College of Engineering from August 2018 to July 2019 and is the John Fisher Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee.
  • As of April 26, 2019, April 25 is now officially Mark Dean Day in Knox County, Tennessee.
  • In August 2011, writing in his blog, Dean stated that he now uses a tablet computer instead of a PC.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Open vs Close Computer Architecture
  • The IBM PC has an open architecture and the Macintosh had a closed architecture.
  • Open architecture leads to broad adoption and development of peripherals that can easily fit into the architecture. This ultimately leads to a price reduction because of competition.
  • An open architecture made software development more complex because of so many peripherals made by many companies.
  • A closed architecture makes software upgrades easier because the company controls all proprietary hardware and keeps prices high because of the lack of competition.
  • Just as in the software arena (with open source software, like Linux or TCP/IP), an open architecture will ultimately dominate the marketplace.

Windows 3.1 Is Officially 30 Years Old

  • It has been 30 years, since Windows 3.1 was launched on April 6, 1992.
  • Windows 3.1 introduced several key components, many of which have digital descendants on Windows 11 and imitators on other operating systems.
  • Windows 3.1 brought PCs the CTRL+C and CTRL+V shortcuts for copy and paste.
  • It added TrueType fonts and came with screensavers and a media player as well.
  • Gamers had two options for games that preinstalled games: Solitaire and Minesweeper.
  • Selling over 3 million copies in the first three months it was on the market, Windows 3.1 was considered a success.
  • It was more user-friendly than Windows 3.0 and introduced many people to the idea of a personal computer at home. Windows 3.1 reached its end of support in 2001.

Mushrooms Communicate With Each Other

  • Buried in forest litter or sprouting from trees, fungi might give the impression of being silent and relatively self-contained organisms, but a new study suggests they may be communicating.
  • Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech.
  • Previous research has suggested that fungi conduct electrical impulses through long, underground filamentous structures called hyphae — similar to how nerve cells transmit information in humans.
  • It has even shown that the firing rate of these impulses increases when the hyphae of wood-digesting fungi come into contact with wooden blocks, raising the possibility that fungi use this electrical “language” to share information about food or injury with distant parts of themselves.
  • Prof Andrew Adamatzky at the University of the West of England’s unconventional computing laboratory in Bristol analyzed the patterns of electrical spikes generated by four species of fungi.
  • He inserted tiny microelectrodes into substrates colonized by a patchwork of hyphae threads.
  • The research found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words.
  • The distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.
  • Whatever these “spiking events” represent, they do not appear to be random.
  • This reminds of the movie, Avatar, where the trees communicated and held the knowledge of ancestors.