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This Week in Tech

Medical Tech

Three specific news events make this week's blog focus on medical tech.

Item 1: Reading your mind

Perhaps the most astounding and amazing piece of news focuses on a chip implanted in the brain of a paralysed man that has allowed him to regain some control over and use of his hand. I feel this statement should not only be bolded but be in tripple bold, italic, underlined, with a marching ants border, a cycling rainbow of flashing neon colours and a siren going off to attract attention!!!!

In Summary:

  • Patient paralysed after diving into a sandbank in the sea (can move his neck, shoulders and biceps).
  • Has a chip implanted into the motor cortex of his brain (just above his left ear).
  • Chip has is the size of a pencil eraser head (on the back of a pencil) and has 96 microelectrodes to read signals from the brain.
  • Scientists plug a cable into the patient and connect it to a computer.
  • A 'sleeve' containing 130 electrodes is wrapped around the patients forearm.
  • Patient thinks about movements for his hand and the computer reads the signals from the chip.
  • Computer matches the signals to the correct electrodes to stimulate the muscles in the arm and cause the hand to move.
  • This technique only works in the lab with the patient connected to the computer.
  • After 15 months of training, research and programming the patient is able to (amongst other things):
    • open and close his hand
    • move individual fingers
    • pick up and manipulate objects
    • pick up a bottle and pour its contents into a cup
    • move and control his wrist

Read more here:

Item 2 : Reading your device

A man forgets to take his anti-seizure medication. Predictably, later that day he has a seizure at his workplace. He is taken to the emergency room where everything seems normal - except for his heart rate which is faster than it should be and irregular (does not follow the rhythm of a normal heart beat). He is given medication and after a while his heart rate is measured again. His heart rate is normal but still irregular. The doctors need to know when the irregularity started - if the arrhythmia started in the last 48 hours the doctors can try to reset the heart rate electrically (like the paddles used to shock a heart into activity after the heart stops beating). If the arrhythmia has been around for longer, resetting the heart electronically could dislodge a clot in the heart and cause a stroke.

Luckily the patient was wearing a fitbit which measured and tracked his heart rate and, by looking at the app on his phone the doctors could tell that the arrhythmia started when he had his seizure. They were able to shock his heart into a normal rhythm and send him off home a healthy happy man.

This is not the only case of a device readings preventing heart problems. A 62 year old Canadian man felt unwell - thought he was getting the flu or something. He sat down to rest and started playing with his Apple Watch. He saw that his pulse was extremely high (210) and so asked for an ambulance to be called. He was treated - and the doctor said that most people don't know their pulse, go home and rest and then suffer a second heart attack later that kills them. His watch saved his life.

Read more here:

Item 3: Robots in Durban

Not so revolutionary, but quite astonishing to see is the use of the Da Vinci Si robotic surgical tool used in Durban for the first time this week. The News 24 article contains photos and a video of the robot in action. Such tools allow for much more precise control in surgery, less trauma to the body than normal surgery / laparoscopy and therefore higher and faster recovery rates for the patient.

Also in the news:

  • Google's new bipedal robot is the best at walking so far, from Business Insider. A video worth watching.
  • Playing cellphone games can be fatal. Investigations into the Train crash in Germany that killed 11 and injured 85 people in February has found that the train controller was distracted by playing games on his phone an set the incorrect signals causing a head on collision between two trains. From: BBC News
  • Mybroadband.co.za has a chart that shows how employment in South Africa's ICT sector is distributed. This Graph definitely deserves a place on your notice board.

Until next week, happy teaching!

Big Hacks and the importance of Software Updates

Matters Arising:

Apple vs The FBI. The FBI backed down, cancelled the case and stated that a 3rd party (that they did not name) had come forward to help them crack the phone. They did not say if there was any worthwhile information on the device. They have also said that the method used would not work on a newer version of iOS.

The weeks biggest story: Tax Havens, Dirty Money - and how the world found out

“Your information has never been safer than with Mossack Fonseca’s secure Client Portal.”

Mossack Fonseca - sounds like an interesting character name in a novel. Actually it's the name of a law firm in Panama that has been very much in the news this week. Whilst the firm may be very good at the legal services it offered (it has offices in many countries and clients from around the world), it obviously needed to pay much more attention to its internal IT. The facts are:

  • Their e-mail was powered by an outdated version of Microsoft's Outlook Web Access (and not encrypted)
  • Their web site ran off an outdated (by nearly 3 years!) version of WordPress (a free, open source engine used to create web sites).
  • They used old versions of Drupal and various WordPress Themes, Scripts and Plugins.

WordPress is incredibly popular. According to Wikipedia "WordPress was used by more than 23.3% of the top 10 million websites as of January 2015". This popularity makes WordPress a great target for hackers. So any web site administrator with any common sense knows that, if you don't want to be hacked, you install any update to WordPress as soon as it is released. The concept of the importance of installing updates is even stressed in South African High School computer subject courses!

Who actually did the hack - and how they did it is unknown.

So Mossack Fonseca didn't stay up to date. And, surprise, surprise - they were hacked. The hackers stole 2.6 TERABYTES of data. 11.5 Million documents. Mossack Fonseca was oblivious to the hack which took place over the course of a whole year. The hacker(s) gave all the stolen data to the German paper Suddeutsche Zeitung who shared it with the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), other news organisations and journalists around the world.

What was stolen?

This is where it gets interesting - the hacker stole documents that prove that the firm basically helped rich people effectively rob poor people by evading tax. Their clients include politicians, professional athletes, movie stars, FIFA officials, fraudsters, drug smugglers, Mafia bosses, and so on. The full list of names and companies will be released in May.

Why the fuss - what's really going on?

Basically Mossack Fonseca helped people create 'shell companies'. A shell company is a company that does nothing - except manage money. Enquiries about the company and the money it manages stop with the company - and its management; that is, the people whose names are on the documents and letterheads of the company (usually lawyers, accountants or even office cleaners - NEVER the owner of the company). In this way the shell company hides the true identity of the person receiving / 'owning' the money. This make it possible for the person involved to hide their wealth from their government and avoid paying tax on their millions. It also enables criminals to hide and 'launder' (pretend that their money comes from legal activities rather than crime) their money. If you really want to hide money you buy a shell company, use that company to buy another shell company, which in turn buys another shell company - and so on until it becomes virtually impossible to trace who really owns the money (except, of course, if you are hacked).

It is also important to realise that Mossack Fonseca is only one of many, many companies offering this kind of service to people wishing to hide their wealth.

Read More about this:

For the classroom:

This is a golden opportunity to stress the importance of updates and the consequences of failing to do so. It is also a good opportunity to deal with ethics. The hacker(s) who stole this data did something criminal - they stole data from a company. That data revealed illegal and corrupt activity - crimes - committed by others. Is what the hacker did right or wrong? The whole concept of 'Whistleblowing' is relevant here. Do the rich have a right to hide their wealth and not be taxed? If you are a soccer player being paid $5 million for the right to use your name and image, do you have the right to be upset that $2 million should go to tax? Is it OK for you to arrange that the payment goes to an offshore shell corporation instead of to you - and so no tax is paid? That shell corporation then buys you a house and pays your kids school fees, etc... Is what you are doing something that deserves to be kept 'private'?

Other noteworthy news:

  • If you have an iOS device and are blind then Facebook has a way to help you 'see' your friends photos. Using technology similar to the AI that beat the world 'Go' champion, your device can describe the contents of the photo to you! Check it out and see the video at Endgadget.
  • 3D Print a working ovary. Scientists have implanted 3D printed ovaries into infertile mice - which have given birth! Read it at Popular Science.
  • Newest e-mail Scam : Speeding tickets: You have to read this one - and then be careful which apps you install on your device and allow to access data such as GPS! The Verge

'Till next week, happy teaching.


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