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This Week in Tech

Yet another catchup edition...

Apologies for the hiatus - been away and been busy.... This catchup contains a few items that I think are important - so will lust first. After that there’s the usual list of links by category.

Important:

Some small signs of what might possibly be big things to come:

  • Internet of things. Sony has built a chip with a communications range of 60 miles. The chip uses low power radio and is meant for scenarios with small amounts of data - but can make it really easy to track and receive status reports from almost anything you can think of.
  • WiFi 6 - it’s coming and it’s FAST (speed test at end of video)!

Social

Network and Cellular

3D Printing

Hardware

Entertainment

Data Processing

  • What is big data?

Hacking and Malware

Comments

AWS - Powerhouse of the cloud

So we talk about the 'cloud' a lot and explain it to our learners as using someone else's computer somewhere on the internet. We also talk about cloud services. But our real experience is often limited to consumer side use. We listen to music streamed from Spotify or Apple Music. We use Dropbox or OneDrive or iCloud of Google Drive to store files / share files or make backups. And so on, and so on. But do we really have an idea of what is involved in cloud computing, the type of services that are offered and who uses them on a B2B (business to business) level?

Whilst we may not have to teach this stuff (yet), it is probably a good idea to have a better than vague understanding of cloud computing than our learners do - and so we take a look at the example of AWS.

This week the news popped out an article talking about how Apple spends $30 Million a month on AWS (Amazon Web Services) to help power their iCloud offerings. They are not the only cloud services by using AWS.

AWS earned Amazon nearly $26 Billion in income last year.

What does AWS offer?

What other Cloud services rely on AWS?

Pinterest. Wix. Uber. Lyft. Netflix. Adobe. Ubisoft. Coursera. Smugmug. Even McDonalds (and many, many more!).

The long and the short of it is that a significant part of 'the cloud' uses and relies upon Amazon's hardware and services.

This issue's links:

  • Robots are already running your life

That's it for now. Have a good week!

Comments

Ownership and the digital age

DRM. Digital Rights Management. The mortal enemy of the honest, paying consumer.

Bill Gates: “DRM .... causes too much pain for legitmate buyers”

I have long been a fan of digital media. The idea of being able to access any one of the thousands of songs in my large music library made me an early adopter of the mp3 format - even if it meant ripping hundreds of CDs and naming thousands of tracks. When ebooks made their first appearance I invested heavily. When movies and TV shows became available digitally I quickly transitioned from my large DVD library to the more convenient digital file format. It still bows my mind that wherever I go I can have my entire music library and book library and audiobook library with me - along with any films or TV episodes that I am currently watching (or want to watch in the near future).

What I am saying is that I have embraced digital media since the 1990’s and have seen various digital media platforms come and go. I have always tried to purchase my digital media from legitimate sources. I have often suffered for doing this instead of simply pirating the content.

Because of, you guessed it, DRM.

DRM is a serious topic this week because Microsoft has just closed its online bookstore. And it will be removing access to all the books that customers have bought over the years.

Microsoft announces it will shut down ebook program and confiscate its customers' libraries

At least this time they are giving their customers refunds. A long time ago Microsoft was at the forefront of the whole move to ebooks with a PC based app called ‘Microsoft Reader’. It had a book store and its own, proprietary DRM file format with the .lit extension. I bought many books there. Eventually Microsoft shut down the store and cancelled the app. I was left with a library of books that I had bought and could (and still can) no longer officially read (there are ways around this - thanks Calibre!).

This moves us on to the real topic - in this age of digital media, what do you really own?

Here are some perspectives worth reading...

Black Hole Photo

You have probably seen the image of a black hole captured this week - the first one ever! How about talking about IT’s role in capturing the image?

  • First it was only possible to create the image by linking radio telescopes across the globe in a network to create one massive telescope with a ‘lens / dish’ that is The size of the earth. The telescopes were synchronized using atomic clocks. The telescopes captured the data in April 2017. Yet we are only seeing the image now - because of the time taken to process the data, wreck it and write papers about it.
  • Next is the matter of data - there were over 5 petabytes of it. It took 3 days to capture the radio data - with each telescope capturing around 350 terabytes of data per day. There is no way that this data could be transferred using a network - so it was stored on physical hard drives and flown to a central point for processing. Physically speaking, tons of hard drives were used!!!
  • Finally there is the processing. This is a good case for showing what supercomputers can do (and are used for). As powerful as these machines are, it took two of them to process the data - and that process (including refining the software) took a year to complete!
  • XKCD puts the size of the black hole in perspective


Links for the week:

That’s it for this week

Comments

Smartphones in schools

Last year France did exactly this. The UK is thinking of doing the same. There are schools in South Africa where this is policy. It's a global topic of debate and contention.

Here's what a whole lot of other people have to say on the matter.

Links for this week...

That's it for this week...

Comments

Smooth Skullcaps Exhales - pure genius!

GPS. It lets us know where we are on the surface of our huge and amazing planet. Software allows us to combine our position with digitised maps and routing algorithms to find how to get to a specified destination. Our location can even be used to draw up lists of shops / attractions / faculties nearby to us, so that even if we are new to an area we can easily know what destinations are around us.

But, it is never quite so easy to let people know where we are. Sure we can share a location - if we are online and using the same app. Reading out lattitude and longitude co-ordinates to tell someone where we are is tedious - and often inaccurate. What is needed is an easy-to-communicate global standard method for communicating a location on the planet.

Enter "What Three Words". This amazing startup has divided the entire globe into a grid of 3m x 3m squares. Each grid has been given a name made up of three words. 26 Languages are supported (including isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans). These words are easy to remember, easy to communicate and can be typed directly into a mobile app or online browser map to find the location they represent.

It's a unique idea, well worth pushing as a global standard. It has tremendous potential for businesses and customers to quickly and accurately communicate location. In the UK emergency services are adopting it as a standard and it is rapidly garnering support in many other places (including here in SA).

The app (Android and iOS) is free - and so is access to the online map in a browser.

What if the company fails? What happens to your ability to convert locations into words and vice-versa? To quote from the site:


If we, what3words ltd, are ever unable to maintain the what3words technology or make arrangements for it to be maintained by a third-party (with that third-party being willing to make this same commitment), then we will release our source code into the public domain. We will do this in such a way and with suitable licences and documentation to ensure that any and all users of what3words, whether they are individuals, businesses, charitable organisations, aid agencies, governments or anyone else can continue to rely on the what3words system.

Reassuring.

I'd really recommend installing the app, using it and telling as many other people about it as possible.

And the article's headline? That's one of my favourite places to camp.

Digital Trends article.




GauGAN - the AI Artist

A short while ago I wrote about 'This Person Is Not Real' - an AI project that created realistic human faces from scratch. nVidia is experimenting with an app that can turn MS Paint style sketches into realistic looking photographic images. The app is not generally available, relies on computers with AI CPUs (Tensor chips) and so is not something that you can rush out and try.

Some of the resulting images can look like bad uses of the cut, paste and clone stamp tools in Photoshop, but that even this much is possible is pretty amazing.

But the video is cool in a kinda awesome, breathtaking way. Well worth showing your learners.


Google- The serial App, product and Services killer.

I am a voracious reader of news. That's why I write this blog. I manage this by using RSS - and for a long time I relied on Google Reader as my go-to RSS reading tool. Seven years after creating it Google summarily cancelled Reader.

I also enjoy taking (and editing) photos. One of the best plugins tool suites for image editing is called the NIK Suite, of which Viveza is my favourite tool. Google bought the tool in 2012. It dropped prices drastically (from $500 to $130) and then, in 2016, started to give the suite away for free. In 2017 they decided to kill the NIK product line. Luckily Dx0 (a photography software company) bought the brand from them and has continued development.

The list of Apps and Services that have died at the hands of Google is long - and does not include examples such as the NIK photographic plugins (because they were bought out and so did not die). Many of these were not created by Google. They were bought; they had loyal, enthusiastic users who watched their favourite tools languish and die at the hands of a mindless behemoth that consumed them, used them up and excreted them on the dungheap of history.

How long is this list, you ask? Just take a look at KilledByGoogle.

Does that seem like the behaviour of a responsible digital citizen to you?

Talking of irresponsible: Facebook strikes again.

It might be a really good idea to change your Facebook or Instagram password. And anyother password that is the same as your Facebook password (you naughty user you!).

Why? Because it turns out that Facebook kept hundreds of millions of user's data stored on locally accessible computers in plain text (i.e. unencrypted format). That means any Facebook employee (or person with access to the data) could look up the password of almost any Facebook user.

Since 2012.

Liklihood that someone actually looked up your password: Low. Change it anyway, to be safe. And think about just how irresponsible Facebook is when it comes to valuing / protecting your data and your privacy.

Malvertising vs Adware

CSO Online explains (includes a brief explanation of the use of steganography).

Fabian Fights Back - against Ransomware

Great read from the BBC.

Pay by Face

Not sure I'm ready for this. Apparently the Chinese are.

Follow up on Boeing 737 Max 8

Popular Science on software as part of aircraft design.ExtremeTech on how safety features that could have prevented the crashes were 'optional' (expensive) extras. CNN on how pilots with experience on other 737 models were 'trained' on the 737 Max 8 (with no reference to the new MCAS system in the course materials).

Profits over lives. Not looking good for Boeing.

Flat Earth?

I've known about people choosing to believe that the earth is flat for a while. What I have not known is the craziness of the world that these people inhabit. Ars Technica has an article that sums up the content of 'Behind the Curve' - a documentary screening on Netflix, Amazon and Google Play. Not really tech or IT related, but the article is worth reading and the documentary worth watching.

Other Links:


That's it for this week.

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