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This Week in Tech

MACHINE LEARNING made easy for your classroom + WiFi X-Ray vision + Cellular data @ R50 / Gb

Rain is out of beta and offering flat rate cellular data @ R50 / Gb (no contract, no bundles, only pay for what you use at the end of the month)

Machine learning is a complex topic - difficult to illustrate and explain. What if there was an easy way for your learners to do some machine learning programming for themselves? In Scratch? Using the power of IBM's Watson supercomputer? All online without having to install software? Check out the AI section below for a really exciting and amazing tool....

Light. Radio. X-Rays. Gamma Rays. Infra-red. Ultra-violet. Microwaves. These are all essentially part of the same range of physical phenomena - the Electromagnetic Spectrum. If our eyes had evolved differently we might be able to see radio waves. Maybe there are aliens out there who can actually do this. Thinking outside the box, MIT researchers have tried using radio waves like a less lethal for of X-Rays. They can use the fact that your body interferes with the radio waves sent out by your WiFi router and use that to track your movements - even through walls.

Motherboard has the details.

Fake News

AI

Hacks, Cracks, Malware, Etc...

Social Media

Social implications


Hardware (and Supercomputing)

Software

History...

Comments

28, 32 and Undersea....

This week Intel announced a new CPU with 28 cores that runs at 5 Ghz. A day later AMD announced a CPU with 32 cores (no speed specified). Both announcements are a clear indication of the direction CPU development is taking for the future. Though no prices were announced these top of the range CPUs are likely to cost around R20 000 or R30 000 (just for the CPU). Maybe one day when I'm all grown up I'll get me one of those....

Microsoft moves under the sea

If you ever need proof that servers are designed not to be accessed directly by humans (but rather only through the network) then look no further than Microsoft's new data centre. It contains only 864 servers but, to save on energy costs it is submerged beneath the ocean off the Scottish shore. The sea keeps it cool without power hungry air conditioning - and it completely powered by renewable energy. Motherboard has the details.

Buyer beware

Just because you see a 'deal' online don't believe that it's all that it's cracked up to be. MyBroadband investigates 'deals' on Takealot and finds that they come up seriously short... Remember always do some research and price comparisons before you click that 'buy' button.

Apple vs the plunderers of privacy

At its WWDC conference keynote held on Monday, Apple announce that its OS and browser (Safari) will take some serious measures to counter the way that you (the user) are tracked online by data vendors such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. There are TWO main prongs to this defence:

  • any site containing Facebook 'like' buttons (or the equivalent from other services) will prompt you to agree to being tracked by these services
  • your digital fingerprint will be minimised so that all people browsing with Safari will look identical

On top of that, law enforcement (and therefore anyone else who can lay their hands on the technology) has been able to 'crack' and log into phones by using a box that connects to the phone by USB cable and brute forces its way through the password. No more. The new version of iOS will allow you to disable USB access if the phone has been inactive for an hour.

Here are some relevant links:

Apple and your digital health

Apple didn't stop with privacy. People have also been complaining that our devices are too addictive and demanding that manufacturers do something about it. Well Apple took these complaints to heart. The new iOS has a feature called Screentime which will allow you to track how much you use your device - in detail. You will be able to see how often you look at your phone or tablet, which apps take up most of your time (precisely measured). More than that, you will be able to set time limits for usage - and even specify these limits by app. So, for example, you can allocate yourself 15 minutes a day for Facebook. The OS will track the time you use (on your phone and tablet together), show you how much tome you have used, how much is left and in the end cut you off (obviously they do allow you to override the cutoff and continue). This could be a shocking eye opener for some of us...

Hacks, cracks and malware

Social media

Hardware

Robots, Drones, etc.

  • See how the drone Time cover was created

Social implications

That's it for this week....

Comments

Optane: RAM Revolutionised!

Every now and then a new development in IT turns what we know and expect on its head. This week such a development was announced. Intel plans to release Optane RAM. Optane is a super fast SSD type of memory chip. Using it in RAM means that two things we take for granted about RAM are no longer valid. RAM will no longer be volatile. It will act just like an SSD type of storage. RAM will also no longer be small in size. It is quite conceivable that you could affordably put hundreds of gigabytes (or even terabytes) or RAM into your computer. Available next year. Welcome to the future of computing...

Ars Technica has the details.

ALSO: Time to rethink your old password rules!

AI

Privacy & GDPR

Bugs and outages

3D Printing / Medicine

Social implications

Hacking and Scams

Resources

That's it for this week. Good luck with exams!

Comments

The shamefaced catchup edition

AWOL. Sorry. Been busy wrestling with a project that I will be very pleased to reveal later in the year. Time and other tasks blurred into the background. That's no excuse for the blog to suffer - after all, the news keeps coming... I come back today shamefaced and contrite and will attempt not to do it again. As the title says, this edition will be largely a catchup - lots of bullets and links for you to explore on your own; little or no commentary from yours truly (you probably prefer it this way). Anyway, enjoy.

Robots and robotics:

Software Design

E-Waste

Social Implications

Privacy

Cybercrime - hacks, cracks, scams, etc.

Network & Internet

Hardware

AI

  • Want to experiment with Deep Learning? Lobe is a tool that makes it easy. Daring Fireball has more
  • Google Duplex - Amazing demo but is it for real?
    • Axios explains why it could all be fake
    • BGR takes it further

Software Bugs

Human error

Medicine

Humour

  • What is Amazon existed in the 80's? Someone created a mockup of a BBS style version of the site.

  • Try to imagine WhatsApp without smartphones....
  • And how about Siri?

Resources

Comments

The blockchain edition

Blockchain. It's the new buzzword in tech. Everybody is talking about it. Everybody wants to use it. In some ways it feels like a solution in need of a problem. But boy, when that problem is identified... we might see block chain add some order and accountability to the otherwise unruly wild-wild west of cyberspace.

What is blockchain?

When you hear the word blockchain you probably immediately think about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum. Whilst blockchain is part of the technology that makes these currencies possible - it is not a currency itself. It is easier to understand what blockchain is if you get the idea of cryptocurrencies out of your head when trying to understand it.

Blockchain is a public distributed way of tracking transactions secured by cryptography. Let's break this down:

  • Public means that everything is out in the open and everyone has access to the records.
  • Distributed means that the records are kept in multiple places - and have to match in order for a transaction to be valid. This stops a single person or institution from controlling the transactions or changing the records after a transaction has taken place. It also means that validating a transaction is not the instantaneous transaction we are used to (e.g. an EFT payment through your bank). The transaction is only valid when multiple record keepers have indicated that they have added the record to their database. This also means that no single computer can cause a failure or data loss by being hacked or crashing or for any other reason.
  • Tracking means recording and writing down. Before computers people recorded transactions by writing them down in books. 'Ivan deposited 10 000 Rubles into the bank on 10 March 1914'. 'Ivan transferred 2 789 Rubles to Dmitris account on 16 May 1914'.... etc. These books were called ledgers. Ledgers needed to be controlled by trusted third parties - which is part of the function of a bank. Only the third party could update the ledger - they could demand a fee for doing so (which is why you pay your bank fees) and opens up the possibility for fraud, breaches of trust, etc. It is hard to share a physical book based ledger. ICT makes it possible for multiple computers to share the same electronic ledger and communications means that they can keep those ledgers synchronised and up to date in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Transactions means that blockchain can be used to track anything transferred between locations, people, institutions, businesses or countries. Shipping goods around the world? Blockchain can be used to verify that the goods were sent and received.

Other resources and explanations:

  • Digital Trends explanation
  • Lifehacker explanation
  • Blockgeeks explanation (very detailed - includes multiple descriptions of possible uses for blockchain)
  • Video explaining how blockchain works (excellent)

  • World Economic Forum's video explanation (more like an ad describing what it can do in the future)

  • IBM explains (actually tries to sell) their implementation of blockchain as a way of tracking transactions in the diamond industry (excellent)

The blockchain stuff in the news this week:

In 2014, Maersk followed a refrigerated container filled with roses and avocados from Kenya to the Netherlands. The company found that almost 30 people and organisations were involved in processing the box on its journey to Europe. The shipment took about 34 days to get from the farm to the retailers, including 10 days waiting for documents to be processed. One of the critical documents went missing, only to be found later amid a pile of paper.

A dose of reality amidst the hype:

Blockchain is designed to record transactions. That is all.

More data added to each transaction (e.g. note, images, other fields in the record) makes the calculation of the secure hash far more complicated and requires additional computing resources. Also, each transaction is only valid when 'accepted' by more than 50% of the network, which can make validating a transaction much slower. As the list of transactions or 'blocks' grows, so does the computing power needed to manage the blockchain. It also makes each transaction slower to process. What incentive is there for people to keep on running their part of the distributed network with no reward but considerable cost?

"...last year it was claimed that the computing power required to keep the [Bitcoin} network running consumes as much energy as was used by 159 of the world’s nations"

Here are some people raining on the parade...

  • Hackernoon - The missing blockchain user guide (read past the beginning to the AirBnB comparison, which is a concrete example)
  • Digital Trends: Blockchain has real problems to solve.
“Right now, Ethereum can process 17 transactions per second. Facebook can handle 175,000 requests per second. Visa, 44,000 transactions per second. So, if we really want to use cryptocurrencies as currencies, it would not be possible as of this moment.”
Justas Pikelis, co-founder of blockchain Ecommerce platform, Monetha
As of late 2016, it [Bitcoin] can only process about seven transactions per second, and each transaction costs about $0.20 and can only store 80 bytes of data.

Hacks and Cracks

Robots and Robotics

Social media & social implications

AI

Hardware

Miscellaneous

That's it for this week. Hope you have a much better understanding of blockchain and are no longer stymied when the learners ask tricky questions about it!

Comments

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