Show of 05-14-2022

Tech Talk

May 14, 2022

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Tom Schum: Last week a listener emailed the question, “What’s the difference between 10,000 acres in Metaslovakia and an equivalent $$ in Bitcoin?”  Metaslovakia might be a virtual country, in the metaverse. Perhaps you misunderstood, thinking that Metaslovakia was a real place.  Maybe I misunderstood, and Metaslovakia is a fictional name for someplace in the real world.  But virtual property of all kinds in the metaverse does cost real money that real people spend in the real world. So, in the metaverse you can buy virtual land, build a virtual farm, make a success out of it, and sell it to another person in the metaverse. And, in this same metaverse, the virtual land and virtual farm can be stolen. So maybe there is less security on the virtual property in the metaverse, but there is still real money involved in both, same as Bitcoin. As for me, I’m not involved in either the metaverse or Bitcoin, and I want to keep it this way. Tom Schum
  • Tech Talk Responds: Last week Al Metzel asked,  While I just can’t wrap my head around the concept of “owning” imaginary “property”, the idea that it can be stolen really gives me a headache. However, this raises the question, what’s the difference between one Bitcoin and 12,000 acres in Metaslovakia?
  • Tom, you may be right as I read his letter again. Virtual property, like that found first in Second Life and then in Roblox, needs to be secured so it cannot be stolen. Block chain is still the best way to provide such assurance. As it turns out, Bitcoin is also secured by the block chain, so in fact they a secured in a similar way. The block chain applies equally to real land, where an immutable public ledger is more secure than a central authority with ledgers that can be changed fraudulently.
  • Email from John in Fairfax: Dear Doc and Andrew. What is the best way to fill out a PDF form online? I have so many applications these days and need to speed up the process. John in Fairfax, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: When you are dealing with contracts, business, academic documents, there is no doubt that you need a powerful PDF Form Filler & Creator. Here are five options. They have a free trail, but will ultimately require payment.
    • Adobe Acrobat — Adobe Acrobat is a common name in the best PDF Form Filler & Creator matrix. This is a premium tool trusted by lots of users all over the world. Forms can be created either by scanning a document or converting from other documents such as Word, Excel, etc. And It allows you to submit forms that are created with fillable form fields. You can save data securely in a personal autofill collection to save time. It also offers signature fields, which are one of the popular fields in a PDF file. However, this tool is not advisable to those with a limited budget. Monthly subscription required.
    • PDF Reader Pro — PDF Reader Pro, a set of robust PDF editing tools packed with lots of professional options. As a PDF Filler and Signer, PDF Reader Pro allows you to create or fill out forms easily and sign contracts with a text or image signature directly. The best fillable PDF creator helps to generate customized forms with plenty of form elements in colors. It works as expected with just several clicks. It includes merging and splitting PDFs, compressing PDFs, and protecting PDF files with passwords. Free trial version and affordable version
    • Jotform — The next one is JotForm, an online form creator and PDF convertor for those who do not want to install any software.  It comes with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop form creator. There are various  form elements to choose from. It supports customization of your form content, which makes it a reliable tool in times of need. Guest accounts are only limited to 5 forms.
  • I recommend PDF Reader Pro. It has many features and is affordable.
  • Email from Alice in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. I use Facebook to communicate with my family. I have heard that collect all sorts of information about, both from my PC and my mobile device. How can I tell what they have collected? Alice in Alexandria, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Facebook gathers all types of data and info about their users. Facebook routinely shares this data and info with a wide variety of third-parties. You can actually view much of the info Facebook has collected about you.
  • If you use Facebook in a web browser on a laptop or desktop computer:
    • Click the down arrow at the far right side of the menu bar at the top of the Facebook window.
    • Click Settings & privacy.
    • Click Settings.
    • In the left-hand pane, click Privacy.
    • Also in the left-hand pane, click Your Facebook information.
    • Click through each category on the left to see the various types of info Facebook has collected on you.
  • You can also locate your data on the mobile app using a similar process.
  • Email from Arnie: Hi Dr. Shurtz & Andrew. I haven’t been able to get a Tech Talk written summary since 5 March 2022. I listen to Tech Talk on the Federal News Network on my iPad Air. To get written summaries, I go bottom of page (Tech Talk) on the Stratford.edu site, but no summaries available later than 5 March 2022. I used to get the summaries routinely, but not for a while. Recommend a solution? Podcast are great, but getting the spelling of profiles and other subjects is difficult at times. BTW, I have sites you’ve mentioned on Tech Talk in 2007 – found in old notes. Don’t want to miss any IT news, so looking for solution. Thanks, Arnie
  • Tech Talk Responds: Arnie, we have ported the Tech Talk site to another file data center. My team is running a little behind in posting the show. We should be current within the next couple of weeks. BTW, thanks for listening.

Profiles in IT: Maksymilian Rafailovych Levchin

  • Max Levchin is a Ukrainian-American software engineer and businessman, best known as co-founder PayPal and a founding member of the PayPal Mafia.
  • Born July 11, 1975, in Kyiv, Ukraine, to a Ukrainian Jewish family. Ukraine was still part of the USSR. Max was born in a family of physicists, excluding his father.
  • As a child, Levchin had respiratory problems and doctors doubted his chance of living. With guidance from his grandmother, he took up the clarinet to expand his lung capacity.
  • When Levchin’s mom was tasked with to learning how to program, Levchin was introduced to technology and programming. He interests shifted from teaching to computer science.
  • In 1991, when he was 16 years old, he and his family fled to America to escape anti-Semitism. They settled in Chicago.
  • They arrived in the US with just $700 worth of cash, insufficient to buy Levchin a computer he was pleading to get at that time.
  • He attended Mather High School in Chicago, graduating in 1993.
  • He then enrolled in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1997.
  • Levchin and fellow University of Illinois students founded SponsorNet New Media, an advertising company, and NetMeridian Software, a developer of the early application on the Internet.
  • In 1998, Levchin and Peter Thiel founded Fieldlink, a security company that allowed users to store encrypted data on their PalmPilots and other PDA devices for handheld devices to serve as “digital wallets”. They wanted to transform banking.
  • After changing the company name to Confinity, they developed a popular payment product known as PayPal and focused on digital transfers of funds by PDA.
  • They recruited others for the venture from college. Levchin from University of Illinois and Theil from Stanford. The looked nerds with math proficiency and competitiveness. No jocks or frat boys. Not PhDs. PhD program dropouts were best.
  • The company merged with X.com in 2000 (founded by Elon Musk), and in 2001, the company adopted the name PayPal after its main product. Levchin was CTO.
  • PayPal, Inc. went public in February 2002, and in July 2002 was acquired by eBay.
  • Levchin’s 2.3% stake in PayPal was worth approximately $34 million at the time of the acquisition.
  • Levchin is known for his contributions to PayPal’s anti-fraud efforts and is the co-creator of the Gausebeck-Levchin test, one of the first commercial CAPTCHAs.
  • Levchin is one of a group of roughly twenty founders and former employees of PayPal who have become referred to as the “PayPal Mafia”, due to their success in founding and investing in tech companies after leaving PayPal.
  • Peter Theil is the Don and Max Levhin is the consigliere (trusted advisor).
  • In 2004, Levchin founded Slide, a personal media-sharing service for social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook.
  • In 2010, Slide was sold to Google for $182M and Levchin joined Google as VP of Engineering. In 2011, Google shut down Slide and Levchin left.
  • In late 2011, Levchin started a company called HVF (standing for “Hard, Valuable, and Fun”) to explore and fund projects and companies in the area of leveraging data.
  • In early 2012, the financial technology company Affirm was spun out of HVF, with the goal of building the next-generation credit network.
  • Affirm was created by Levchin, Palantir Technologies co-founder Nathan Gettings, and Jeff Kaditz of First Data. The company is based in San Francisco.
  • In 2013, HVF launched Glow, a fertility app that helps couples conceive naturally.
  • After Affirm had its IPO, Levchin’s stake was estimated at about $2.5B.
  • Levchin was a key early investor in Yelp, an online social networking started in 2004.
  • He was the company’s largest shareholder, owning more than 7M shares as of 2012.
  • Levchin served as chairman of Yelp’s board from its founding until July 2015.
  • Levchin is an investor in Evernote and served on the board from 2006, to 2016.
  • In 2012, Max joined Yahoo’s board of directors, where he served until 2015.
  • In 2015, Levchin was appointed to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) advisory board, the first executive from Silicon Valley to be.
  • In 2021, Levchin, after his experience on the advisory board at the CFPB, called for the necessity for the tech industry to engage more with regulators.
  • As of 2021 Levchin had an estimated net worth of a little over $3 billion (USD).
  • Levchin was listed as one of the contributors to FWD.us, a Silicon Valley-based lobbying group spearheaded by Mark Zuckerberg and Joe Green.
  • The group concentrates on immigration liberalization for high-skilled, improvements to education, and facilitating technological breakthroughs with broad public benefit.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Evolution of Silicon Valley from hardware to software and the rise of PayPal Mafia
  • It all started in 11939 in a garage in Palo Alto with Bill Hewlett and David Packard, founders of Hewlett Packard (HP).
  • It continued with the traitorous eight. The traitorous eight was a group of eight employees who left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957 to found Fairchild Semiconductor.
  • The eight who left Shockley were Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, and Sheldon Roberts.
  • On September 18, 1957, they formed Fairchild Semiconductor on the border of Palo Alto and Mountain View.
  • The newly founded Fairchild Semiconductor soon grew into a leader in the semiconductor industry. In 1960, it became an incubator of Silicon Valley and was directly or indirectly involved in the creation of dozens of corporations, including Intel and AMD. These many spin-off companies came to be known as “Fairchildren”.
  • The PayPal Mafia is sometimes credited with inspiring the re-emergence of consumer-focused Internet companies after the dot-com bust of 2001.
  • The PayPal Mafia phenomenon has been compared to the founding of Intel in the late 1960s by engineers who had earlier founded Fairchild Semiconductor.
  • The selection process and technical learning at PayPal played a role, but the main factor behind their future success was the confidence they gained there. Their success has been attributed to their youth; the physical, cultural, and economic infrastructure of Silicon Valley; and the diversity of their skill-sets.
  • They founded and developed additional technology companies such as Tesla, Inc., LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies, SpaceX, Affirm, Slide, Kiva, YouTube, Yelp, and Yammer. Most of the members attended Stanford University or University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign at some point in their studies.
  • PayPal’s founders encouraged tight social bonds among its employees, and many of them continued to trust and support one another after leaving PayPal.
  • In 2011, Marc Andreessen famously claimed that “software is eating the world.” His prediction was that software companies would disrupt traditional industries and since then, we have seen industries transform and companies fold in response to Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, and more.
  • Silicon had transitioned from hardware to software. Transition complete.

Russian Troops Using Cell Phones in War Zone – Deadly Idea

  • The Ukrainians claim to have killed 12 general Russian officers since late February, in part because the Russians have resorted to using cell phones when their communications systems break down.
  • When Russian troops cross into Ukraine, their cell phones emit a roaming signal that connects to Ukraine’s cellular network, allowing the Ukrainians to triangulate where the Russians are by using the closest three cell towers.
  • The Ukrainian special services automatically receive information with the ID number of the device, roaming number, and, of course, the location of the person.
  • Russians are quite naive and ignorant about using mobile devices, so they often call home, turning on their phones and connecting to the Ukrainian stations.
  • The Russians have also given away their positions by stealing Ukrainian iPhones, which can be tracked using the Find My iPhone app, even when the phones are turned off.
  • One Ukrainian man was able to use the “Find My” feature on Apple products to track the Russian troops who stole his AirPods. He posted on Instagram the path of the Russians as they retreated from Kyiv into Belarus and then repositioned in the Russian city of Belgorad, near Ukraine’s eastern border.
  • Amid numerous reports that the Ukrainians can track and target Russian troops when they use cell phones, one question remains: Why don’t the Russians destroy Ukraine’s cellular network?
  • The Russians need 3G and 4G for their comms to work. They didn’t set up the independent communications networks that the Americans or Chinese might have set up.

First Image of Black Hole at Center of Milky Way

  • Astronomers imaged Sagittarius A* using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT).
  • The false color orange-yellow in the image is the silhouette of the black hole created by matter teetering on its edge, or event horizon.
  • Light can’t escape a black hole but hot plasma swirling around it emits short radio waves that radio telescopes can pick up. In the image, the gas silhouettes the black hole itself.
  • Black holes can tear apart and devour nearby stars, generate massive bursts of gamma-ray energy that shape the galaxies around them and, recent evidence suggests, ignite the formation of new stars.
  • Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts the existence of black holes — and his century-old rule consistently passes cosmic tests near and far.
  • But scientists hope these massive, dense objects may also reveal instances where general relativity doesn’t hold. These important limits could point them to conditions that require a new physics to describe.
  • Any new physical laws, together with general relativity and Newtonian physics, could give us a more complete view of the physics of the universe.
  • The EHT is an international collaboration that uses data from ground-based telescopes in Hawai’i, the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the South Pole, the Atacama Desert in Chile and other locations.
  • Working in pairs, eight observatories formed an Earth-sized telescope capable of measuring the interference of millimeter radio waves from hot plasma near the edge of black holes.