Show of 05-28-2022

Tech Talk

May 28, 2022

Email and Forum Questions

  • Email from Doug in Richmond: Dear Tech Talk. I have an Acer desktop computer with Windows 10 Home edition on it. Everything was working fine this morning but when I came back from lunch my web browser was in full-screen mode (maximized). I thought that was odd because everything was normal when I left for lunch. I tried to click the little square icon in the top-right corner to take the browser out of full-screen mode but I couldn’t click it. None of my open apps were showing up on the taskbar. Do you have any idea what’s going on, and what I need to do to fix it? My boss and I are at a loss. Doug in Richmond, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: The symptoms you described are exactly what I would expect to see on a screen when Windows 10’s Tablet mode is enabled. If that is the case you should be able to easily switch your machine back to Desktop mode. Just follow the steps below:
    • Right-click on the Start button, then select Settings from the menu.
    • Click System.
    • In the left-hand pane, click Tablet.
    • Click the Change additional tablet settings link.
    • Toggle the “Tablet mode” setting to Off.
  • That is all there is to it. If your PC was in Tablet mode it should now be back into normal Desktop mode.
  • Email from Lauren in Manhattan: Dear Doc and Andrew. I am in the process of shopping for a new laptop because my old one was stolen. Every time I type the word “laptop” into Amazon’s search box there are usually a few Chromebooks included in the search results. I remember seeing commercials on TV where they said Chromebooks aren’t laptops. If that is true why do they come up in a search for the word laptop? Just something I’m curious about. Lauren in Manhattan, KS
  • Tech Talk Responds: Chromebooks are included in the search results when you search for the term “laptop” because that is literally what they are! The commercials you saw were produced by Microsoft with the intention of persuading you to choose a Windows laptop instead of a Chromebook.
  • The gist of the message was true in that a Chromebook can’t do everything that a Windows laptop can do, and that’s true. However, by definition Chromebooks are indeed laptops.
  • A Chromebook is simply a laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS instead of Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS, Linux or some other operating system. It is designed to use cloud applications rather than local applications.
    • If you’re looking for a laptop that will be strictly for Internet use and is relatively inexpensive, yet extremely responsive when you’re viewing web pages in the Chrome browser, a Chromebook just might be a great choice for you.
    • If you do not need to run any programs or apps on your local machine (i.e. virtually everything you do is Internet-based), then I recommend that you consider getting a Chromebook for your next laptop.
    • If you need a laptop that’s capable of running full-blown programs or app locally, you’ll definitely need to take a pass on a Chromebook and get yourself either a Windows laptop or MacBook instead.
  • Email from Barbie in Manhattan: Dear Doc and Andrew. Can you explain what it means to “jailbreak” an iPhone? I read something about that the other day and it went right over my head. Thanks, Barbie in Manhattan, KS
  • Tech Talk Responds: Apple limits the types of apps that can be installed on an iPhone or iPad in order to prevent potentially malicious apps from being installed on your device. They also locked down some settings and blocked user access to some features of the underlying operating system in order to prevent them from being changed in ways that could render the device vulnerable to hackers.
  • Those limitations make Apple devices relatively secure against most common types of threats, but they also limit the types of things you can do with the devices and which apps you can run on them. People generally liken the limitations that Apple has placed on their devices to “placing the devices in jail”.
  • There are methods you can use to remove the limitations Apple has placed on their devices, thereby “removing them from jail”. Therefore, the process of removing Apple’s limitations from a device has come to be known as “jailbreaking” the device.
  • You are now free to install any app they wish to install on the jailbroken device with no real limitations, and they can dig deep into the device’s operating system and make any changes they are savvy enough to make. Installing unauthorized apps and making changes that were previously impossible to make can allow a device to do things and perform in ways that were not possible before the jailbreak, some of which are fantastic and some are dangerous.
  • However, once all of Apple’s limitations have been removed from a device the owner can install malicious apps and make changes that leave the device vulnerable to hackers. Many folks who jailbreak their devices eventually end up regretting it. I always recommend that folks resist the urge to jailbreak their devices, regardless of how strong that urge might be. In many cases, it just does not end well.
  • By the way, Android users can remove the limitations Google has placed on their devices as well. In the Android world this process is referred to as “rooting” instead of “jailbreaking”, but the concept, the results and the dangers are pretty much the same.
  • Email from Jessica in Alexandria: Dear Tech Talk. I have a question about charging my phone. I lead walking tours through the streets of my historic home town and I only have a few minutes here and there when I can plug my iPhone in for a quick charge. Someone told me my phone will charge faster if I turn it off before I plug it in. Is that true? Jessica in Alexandria, VA
  • Tech Talk Responds: Your iPhone consist of some pretty sophisticated electronic devices, including a CPU, some memory chips and multiple send/receive radios. All of those devices consume power, and when they are powered up they compete with your phone’s battery for the electric current that’s being delivered to the phone by the charger. Turning off your phone won’t make your iPhone’s battery charge at lightning speed, but if you only have a few minutes of charging time a few times each day it can make a difference.
  • I do have another solution for you to consider, however. You can always get yourself an inexpensive portable external battery bank/charger and carry it around in your purse, bag, or pocket.
  • I have been using the Lanluk Portable Charger Power Bank with 25800mAh capacity. It weighs 12 oz. and has two USB charging ports. It is currently $19.95 on Amazon. You can leave your iPhone plugged into the portable charger throughout the day, then recharge the battery via the wall charger at night. It is sized to be allowed on airlines, either packed or carry on. I use it when I watch movies in the air and don’t have a charging port.
  • Email from Tom in White Stone: Dear Doc and Andrew. The big box stores are constantly trying to sell me gold-plated connectors for my systems. They are expensive and a doubt their value. Do gold-plated connectors on stereo jacks, HDMI cables, and Ethernet connectors serve any purpose? Or can you save some money on your next cable purchase? Tom in White Stone, Virginia
  • Tech Talk Responds: The reason gold is used to plate connectors is due to its slow rate of corrosion. Copper is the “gold standard” in terms of conductivity, but copper tarnishes quickly when exposed to the elements. For this reason, bare copper connectors would be impractical. Gold tarnishes at a much slower pace, even though it is less conductive than copper. Gold-plated copper is the best compromise.
  • One of the main products to adopt gold connectors over the past decade or so is HDMI cables, which transmit a digital signal. The main benefit here is the same as any other cable type: gold is less likely to corrode. This was important when signals were analog, but not so critical for digital transmissions.
  • You are better off spending your money on a modestly-priced cable that meets the HDMI 2.1 specifications, which supports higher bandwidths of up to 48Gb/sec. These cables will allow you to transmit HDR 4K video at up to 120 frames per second, maxing out the capabilities of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
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Profiles in IT: Alexey Shevchenko and Maxim Litvin

  • Alexey Shevchenko and Maxim Litvin are Ukrainian entrepreneurs best known as founders of Grammarly, the first Ukrainian unicorn.
  • The entrepreneurs met at the International Christian University in Ukraine in the late 1990s.
  • It was one of the first Ukrainian institutions where students studied entirely in English.
  • In 2004, Alexey Shevchenko went to study in Toronto for a master’s program. He created a service called My Dropbox with Maxim Litvin.
  • The company expanded in Ukraine (10-15 people were working on the project) with 5-6 remaining in Toronto. By 2007, 800 universities and about 2 million students used the product.
  • In 2007, the founders decided to sell the project to Blackboard, which at that time was the world leader among educational platforms.
  • One of the conditions for Blackboard when buying a program was that Maxim Litvin would work in the company for two years and that they would not start a competitive product.
  • In 2009, Maxim returned to Toronto, and within a few days, they founded a new company. The service was initially named Sentenceworks but was quickly renamed Grammarly.
  • They used the profits from My Dropbox to fund their next venture, which took advantage of the fact that they had established a connection with many Universities.
  • They focused on the same target audience but changed the functionality of a new product to help teach English to students.
  • They recruited programmer Dmytro Lider to help develop an automated writing assistant.
  • In 2009, Grammarly was a simple spell-checker that was supposed to serve educational institutions.
  • They focused on building a space where Grammarly could find paying customers and improving the product based on user feedback.
  • Grammarly became profitable in 2011 because of its early-stage success in the edu market.
  • In 2013, Grammarly introduced its Microsoft Office add-in feature.
  • In 2014, they started to expand beyond students, to journalists, salespeople, consultants, government, and technical/medical writers.
  • Grammarly evolved into a cloud-based typing assistant that reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and delivery mistakes.
  • It used artificial intelligence to identify and search for an appropriate replacement for the error. Users can customize their style, tone, and context-specific language.
  • In 2015, they introduced browser extensions and the Freemium model. Daily active users had grown to over 1,000,000.
  • The Freemium model included a 7-day free trial with an $11.99/ month subscription.
  • Instead of targeting potential customers, Grammarly switched its attention towards freemium users. The data about the free plan usage was analyzed to drive more conversions.
  • A free Google Chrome extension and transition to a freemium business model in 2015 made Grammarly a leader in the market.
  • In early 2018, a researcher at Google discovered a “high severity” vulnerability in the extension that Grammarly had developed for a couple of major web browsers.
  • A few hours after being notified of the vulnerability, Grammarly released an update to fix the issue, which Google described as an impressive response time.
  • Grammarly reached 20 million active users in 2019 and 30 million in 2020.
  • Grammarly has raised a total of $400M in funding over three rounds, starting in 2017.
  • Their latest funding was raised on Nov 17, 2021, with a post-money valuation in the range of $10B+.
  • Alexey Shevchenko and Maxim Litvin each have a 35% stake, giving them a net worth of $3.5B. Programmer Dmitry Lider has a 1% stake worth $100M.
  • In 2022, Grammarly employs around 240 people. More than half of its employees work from the Kyiv office; the rest are in San Francisco, Vancouver, and New York.
  • In 2022, Grammarly said it would donate all the profits it had made since 2014 in Russia and Belarus to Ukraine because of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Observations from the Faculty Lounge

  • Once upon a time, Unicorn startups – those valued at $1B or higher – were a rare breed.
  • What is the formula for creating a Unicorn? According to Emily Bauer, who has interviewed many entrepreneurs, there are six key ingredients.
  • 1. There is no definitive recipe for success, but there are key ingredients that stack the odds in your favor.
    • A simple solution to an existing problem.
    • A strong (and highly marketable) value proposition.
    • A clear vision for the future of the company and product (and a plan for how to get there).
    • Distinct positioning, even if they’re not first-to-market.
    • A pipeline full of new leads, including potential beta testers and customers.
    • An easy-to-use UX that allows users to quickly adopt and “get” the product.
  • 2. Investors (usually) do not fund ideas; they fund promising products and teams.
  • Great ideas don’t have value until you do something with them. What separates unicorns from the rest of the pack is that they have the right people, skills, tools, and data to make the magic happen
  • 3. Your timeline is less important than your ability to iterate quickly.
  • Unicorns are often thought of as companies that come out of nowhere and grow fast. But that doesn’t mean the founders achieved success overnight. They have likely been working towards this milestone, in some form or another, for a very long time.
  • 4. True product-market fit (PMF) captures power users and casual customers.
  • Early PMF, which provides proof-of-concept and connects you with your ideal customers or users; and
  • Growth-focused PMF, which appeals to a wider customer base and allows your business to scale.
  • 5. The strongest startups are built to maximize growth, not profit.
  • The key is to find the right balance between incoming cash flow and what you reinvest in your business. That is, work towards building sustainable growth rather than opting for a quick, short-sighted bump in profits.
  • 6. Dream big! Because while growth itself is optional, preparing for it is not.
  • The message here is simple but powerful: if you want to be a unicorn, you need to act like one from the start. Yes, it is safe to assume that you will learn some hard lessons and fail along the way, but you should always operate as if you’re guaranteed success.

When AI Invents, Who Gets the Patent?

  • It is not surprising to see new inventions that either incorporate or have benefitted from artificial intelligence (AI) in some way.
  • What about inventions dreamt up entirely by AI? Do we award a patent to a machine?
  • Intellectual Property (IP) law specialist Associate Professor Alexandra George and AI expert, Laureate Fellow and Scientia Professor Toby Walsh argue that patent law as it stands is inadequate to deal with such cases and requires legislators to amend laws around IP and patents.
  • The case in question revolves around a machine called DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience) created by Dr. Stephen Thaler, who is president and chief executive of US-based AI firm Imagination Engines.
  • Dr. Thaler has named DABUS as the inventor of two products—a food container with a fractal surface that helps with insulation and stacking, and a flashing light for attracting attention in emergencies.
  • For a short time in Australia, DABUS looked like it might be recognized as the inventor because, in late July 2021, a trial judge accepted Dr. Thaler’s appeal against IP Australia’s rejection of the patent application five months earlier.
  • But after the Commissioner of Patents appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia, the five-judge panel upheld the appeal, agreeing with the Commissioner that an AI system couldn’t be named the inventor.
  • Ownership is crucial to IP law. Without it there would be little incentive for others to invest in the new inventions to make them a reality.
  • In the area of drug development, a new antibiotic was created in 2019, Halicin, that used deep learning to find a chemical compound that was effective against drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
  • Halicin was originally meant to treat diabetes, but its effectiveness as an antibiotic was only discovered by AI which was directed to examine a vast catalog of drugs that could be repurposed as antibiotics. So there’s a mixture of human and machine coming into this discovery.”
  • Governing bodies around the world will need to modernize the legal structures that determine whether or not AI systems can be awarded IP protection.
  • They recommend the introduction of a new “sui generis” (constituting a class alone: unique, peculiar) form of IP law, which they have dubbed “AI-IP”, that would be specifically tailored to the circumstances of AI-generated inventiveness.