August 2, 2020 - Episode 568 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, TikTok is starting to sink, Xbox Live is going free, and Patreon is paying for its policies.

The Future of Silicon in 2020 - Episode 233 (Piltch Point)

Right now, a lot of tech-based industries are seeing massive shake-ups, but none are quite as prominent as what is happening within the processor and circuitry industry. The most visible has been the rise of AMD. While some of this market share increase has been because of quality design from AMD itself, another cause has been the slip of Intel in its competition. The two companies have spent decades on par with one another, but lately, Intel has been falling behind.

Last week, the company announced major delays to its 7nm chip timeline. As a result, they will continue to fall behind AMD, which is working on its timeline to swap to 5nm from the current 7nm architecture, which is already aging. In response, Intel saw a leadership change, likely in an attempt to gain back some traction on Wall Street, which is no longer looking at Intel favorably.

On the other hand, is Nvidia - a company known for its videocards, but has been branching out in recent years. As video processors tend to be excellent for AI processing, Nvidia has gone heavy into AI-based hardware. In May, Avram showed off the Jetson Xavier NX hardware, which provides a lot of interesting possibilities. Now, Nvidia is looking at another market: system processors. While they have long made the Tegra processors, based on ARM, now they are looking to be in charge.

This will come care of a purchase of the ARM-managing corporation. This would be a big shift for the industry, as everyone from Qualcomm to Apple would be licensing the ARM processor design from Nvidia. This purchase, which is likely the only way forward for ARM, is going to face fierce opposition by regulators, especially in the EU. The deal wouldn't be as far along as it is without having considered this, but it could still be a problem in the process.

In just one week, TikTok's future has changed to nearly impossible

In just one week, TikTok's future has changed incredibly challenging to nearly impossible. Last week, the company was struggling to regain trust. This week, they are simply trying to survive through the weekend. This change for the company comes as the White House has taken direct aim at TikTok and parent company ByteDance. On Friday, President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that they were drafting an Executive Order to ban TikTok within the US.

The move comes at the same time that ByteDance was looking to unload the brand onto an American company. The idea being that, if TikTok were owned by an American tech company and the daily management and operations were managed within the borders of the US, it would change the perception of the brand within the government. This concept comes during a week where the US government has taken 4 of the biggest tech companies, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, to task for their own behavior. So, clearly being owned by a US company does not mean the US government will leave them alone.

The top contender for the purchase has been Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft wasn't part of the Congressional inquery this week could have made the sale a more calm possibility. The White House seems to have an affinity for Microsoft, with some encouragement being made for Microsoft to win the JEDI contract. But, the sale to Microsoft was also mentioned during the Friday conversation with reporters. President Trump said that he was not a fan of the idea of a sale of TikTok to Microsoft and would oppose it if it were to become a reality.

As a result on this comment, reports suggest that Microsoft and ByteDance have suspended their conversations about the sale. This doesn't mean that the deal is dead, but both companies involved are looking to the White House to seek additional information about what a sale could look like in regards to interaction with regulators.

So, this brings us back to the potential outright ban on the platform within the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today that the ban is coming in the next few days. This would be a massive move, and potentially the biggest presidential move for Trump. However, there is some fight back against the potential of a ban. But, the concern doesn't come from where you might think, but instead from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They claim that banning the app is an affront to free speech. Of course, if that were the case, it would mean that TikTok is the only way for people to commuinicate. The case is, it is far from the only way that people can communicate with one another. In fact, it is far from the only short form video platform.

As this upcoming week progresses, this scenario will continue to change. In the end, there is no telling what the future of TikTok will be, but chances are that it will not be the same on Friday as it is on Monday.

July 26, 2020 - Episode 567 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, AT&T's asking for more sales, Xbox is giving more value, and TikTok really wants more trust.

Back to School Tech (2020 Virtual Learning) - Episode 232 (Piltch Point)

The world may have some new rules this year, but it doesn't change the fact that school is going to be starting soon. This might involve being in person or, more likely, distance learning, especially in the first few weeks or months. That means that your needs may be different for the 2020 school year from years past. So, what are the best options to improve learning in 2020?

As always, anything that improves the speed of your computer is going to be a benefit. Taking the opportunity to add extra RAM to your system will allow for better group videos (like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Zoom). You'll likely see fewer freezes and hiccups, though it won't eliminate network issues. Also, adding an SSD as your system drive will make starting up your computer and launching applications quicker.

Another way to enhance your experience is through peripherals. The most direct upgrade is with your monitor. An extra screen will allow you to do more. With a single screen, you're limited to the group chat or your productivity software. With two screens, you can have your teacher on one and Word or PowerPoint on another. It also makes displaying your screen during a presentation easier, as you're not switching between apps while sharing your screen.

Enhancing the group chat experience can also be accomplished through peripherals. An upgraded webcam will make you look more together. The webcam built into most laptops is poor, and an external webcam is easy to add. While many webcams are unavailable, Tom's Hardware currently recommends the AUSDOM AF640, which can be found for around $90. Another great place to upgrade is your headset - something that will make your experience and your class's experience better.

Of course, a full system might also be an important upgrade. There are a lot of factors to consider when purchasing a new system, including what you'll use it for outside of class. Check out Tom's Hardware's recommendations depending on your needs.

AT&T and T-Mobile are taking a different approach to network upgrades

This week, AT&T created concern with its customer base when an email was sent out informing users that their phone would not work following an upcoming network upgrade. The solution to their problem was simply to purchase a new phone. Easy, right? Obviously not. The price of a phone can be incredibly high, especially if you're purchasing more feature-rich devices. Plus, the process of changing devices can be a challenge, either because of the transition of data or because of our general comfort level with what we already know.

However, there's a bigger problem here. While AT&T says that users should purchase a new phone soon to avoid service interruption, the network upgrade will not be happening until 2022. That means that the phone replacements, according to the company's own email, should not be required until that time. Yet, the email that was sent out doesn't reveal that information directly. Instead, you needed to click a link and read further before this important information was revealed. AT&T claims that this was an accidental omission from the email, but how many people had to vet that email before it was released? And, through that process, no one noticed that they forgot to give a time table?

On the other side of the coin is T-Mobile. Both companies are planning on shutting down their 3G networks, requiring some users to replace phones. However, T-Mobile has been very open with its information. The company's network transition will take place in January 2021, and will require users without Voice Over LTE capability to replace their devices. The company has already discontinued all incompatible devices, and will not allow customers to activate existing incompatible devices after August 4.

But, let's take a look at the major device families and where their cutoff lines are. For Apple, iPhone 6 and newer are all compatible (that's 7 generations of iPhone). For Samsung, the Galaxy S7 and newer are all compatible (5 generations), and the Galaxy Note 3 and newer are compatible. So, as you can see, it requires a very old device to be in trouble - at least in regards to the flagships. If your device is incompatible, you'll soon be receiving a text message informing you of the issue.

July 19, 2020 - Episode 566 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, The FCC's got your back, Twitter's giving away access, and Peacock's got some confusing problems.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) - Episode 231 (Piltch Point)

For years, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has been one of the best-rated laptops by Tom's Hardware and Laptop Magazine. This is because of the first-class keyboard, high-quality screen, and a price that makes it all worth considering. The newest version of the laptop, the 8th Generation, is out and it maintains the best parts of its predecessors.

While this is the 8th generation of the laptop, it doesn't use an 8th generation processor. Instead, it uses an Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake processor. The laptop has also upgraded its Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi 6, allowing for super-fast wireless connectivity when paired with a Wi-Fi 6 router or access point. The keyboard has also added a pair of VoIP function keys. Otherwise, the laptop is essentially identical to the previous 7th Generation model.

While the changes are small in quantity, they are large in importance, especially for a productivity laptop in our work at home environment. Faster connectivity and VoIP keys make our nearly daily Microsoft Teams calls clearer and easier to manage, while a newer and faster processor means that multitasking (likely on multiple screens) won't bog down the system. Plus, the newer processor makes for better battery life, which will be important once we're allowed to leave the house again.

The most exciting part of the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon is its build quality. During his demonstration, Avram comfortably held the laptop by the corner and spun it around without any fear for the computer. That's an important aspect of a laptop, as many of us hold them by the corner without realizing it, and it can cause damage to the computer. But, this one doesn't make any noises or creaks and doesn't feel like it is going to bend.

Tom's Hardware was impressed enough with the laptop that they gave it an Editor's Choice award. Check out the full review at Tom's Hardware.

FCC and mobile carriers are taking on scourge of scam phone calls

While everyone agrees on how annoying robocalls, especially scam calls, really are, it has long seemed that there was nothing that could be done about it. However, over the last couple of years, the FCC has figured out that this scourge is within their purview and decided to try to alleviate it. The problem has been that enforcing these new rules has been difficult. The biggest fine ever levied against a medical scam ring is likely to never be collected. So, the FCC is giving more control to the carriers.

The biggest move has been the implementation of a safe harbor within the Telephone

Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act enforcement. This will allow telecom companies to block all calls "from bad-actor upstream voice service providers that pass illegal or unwanted calls along to other providers, when those upstream providers have been notified but fail to take action to stop these calls."

The safe harbor aspect refers to protection for the companies from unintended consequences from the decision. In the past, a lack of such safe harbor protection has prevented many carriers from implementing a robust approach to protecting their subscribers from illegal calls. By extending these protections, the FCC hopes that telecoms will begin to implement more stringent policies against these "bad actors" which have been identified and contacted by the FCC.

But, not all illegal calls come from these "bad actor" services. In an attempt to deal with those calls that come through larger services, such as through automated calls on standard SIM cards or VoIP services, the combined T-Mobile and Sprint have begun to roll out protections for their subscribers. T-Mobile subscribers will not get free access to the Scam Shield service, which was previously a subscription service.

The service offers some common features available through other services, such as identifying and blocking spam and scam calls and getting full caller ID information. In addition, the service gives you a proxy number. This works similarly to Google Voice, in that you get an additional phone number that you can give out that will also ring to your device. You can then dump that number if it becomes a problem. These features will go live starting on July 24, 2020. Unfortunately, Sprint customers will not get access to all of the T-Mobile capabilities just yet, but can still access the Sprint equivalent.

TikTok and other apps are accessing your mobile clipboard. Why?

One of the new features of iOS 14 is a more honed control over the live permissions that apps receive. Among the new notifications is an alert when an app accesses your clipboard data. This has created an uproar in the Apple user community as more and more apps are discovered to be accessing the clipboard, seemingly without need. Some apps have a legitimate use for accessing the clipboard, some do it for convenience purposes, and others do it for no real reason at all. So far, 54 high profile apps are in question.

For some apps, clipboard data makes sense. An app like TrueCaller accessing the clipboard to see if you have a phone number stored can make it easier for you to check the history of that phone number. But, it could be just as easy to paste the phone number into a textbox and TrueCaller can continue to just be what it is. Other apps, like New York Times and Wall Street Journal have no reason to access the clipboard except to snoop on that content.

The original concern, and possibly the most glaring, is the controversial app TikTok. There are a number of reasons why there is great concern over the app's behavior. It is a Chinese app with strong ties to the Chinese government. It has been actively used to censor content and regularly discriminates against people the Chinese government disagrees with, such as the LGBT community. Giving the Chinese government access to additional content on your device could create a privacy issue unlike any other.

The company has said that they have already removed the clipboard access, but users are reporting that the app is still throwing notifications about clipboard access. For a platform that is so well-known for privacy violations, this is not surprising.

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