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This Week in Tech

The Alternative Facts version...

Welcome back to a world where, if you don't like the way reality is working, you simply replace it with an 'Alternative Version' that suits what you want to believe. The incredible stance taken by US President <shudder> Donald Trump's spokespeople has far reaching implications for the world your learners are going to inhabit (this could go on <shudder> for EIGHT years!). Basically the message is that it's OK to lie publicly - spread falsehoods - and then defend those falsehoods as 'Alternative Facts'. An alternative fact is a lie. Period.

Fake News

This week's blog has a lot of coverage about Fake News - simply because that has made it into the news a lot after the whole Trump fiasco. Here's a quick list

  • Comic: Dilbert's PHB (point haired boss) tweets fake news.
  • Mental Floss reports on a study about 'with training we can learn to spot fake news'.
  • Wired has a thoughtful article about how fake news is just propaganda in newer clothes - and that a lot of seems legitimate because it is generated by 'think tanks' and researchers that are themselves fake. Language teachers might find this article useful as they do have to cover propaganda in their syllabi.
  • The Citizen reports on fake news in SA with articles on how Three SA media organisations have been targeted by fake Twitter accounts
  • MyBroadband then posts on how the Huffington Post SA plans to fight back.
  • Fake news is dangerous and offensive. MyBroadband has a run down of various SA companies' actions when employees post offensive material to FaceBook. This is a great real life illustration of acceptable use / social media policy in real companies.
  • Google has banned (stopped showing adverts on - i.e. denied income to) over 200 'Fake News' publishers - ReCode via BoingBoing.
  • Even legitimate news organisations easily get caught out by suppliers of fake news. The pressure to publish quickly means that journalists don't always check facts as thoroughly as they should. A short while ago The Guardian ran an article on a possible backdoor in the WhatsApp messaging app. This article turns out to be spreading (and legitimising) fake news. More from TechCentral.

Beware the Alternative Online Sweetheart

He (or she) is better known as a scammer, fraud or con artist. And don't think that you can spot these heartless criminals easily. When you are looking for love you are vulnerable - you want to trust... The BBC has a short video clip about a University Professor who fell for a fake online charmer and lost about 140 000 pounds (nearly 2 000 000 rand) to him.

The development of the Barcode

The first item ever sold using a barcode was a pack of chewing gum. I never knew that. I found out by reading fantastic BBC article about the development of the barcode, its differing standards and how it is essential for making modern retail work. If you don't follow any other links from this weeks blog, follow this one.

Facial Recognition vs Passports

Here's an interesting concept - should we do away with passports and simply allow computers to identify us using facial recognition? Australia seems to think this is a good idea and has launched a project to implement facial recognition immigration control by 2020! Motherboard has the details. Besides the novelty of the concept, this is a great discussion topic for your classes. To make this work Australian authorities will need to access (and create) databases of facial identity profiles from around the world. The implications regarding tracking, privacy, etc. on a global scale are well worth stopping and thinking about.

Fighting the good fight

How many times have you seen adverts on web sites that you just know are fake - and possibly dangerous? Well try to imagine how bad it could be if all the publishers of this type of advert were not being actively defended against. htxt.co.za has an article on how Google has blocked 1.7 billion bad ads in 2016 alone.

Other links:

  • PC Gaming is big business

htxt.co.za has an article about how PC gaming made over $30 billion last year

  • HP recalls laptop batteries

HP has had to recall 100 000 laptop batteries as being dangerous. Lifehacker helps you find out if your battery is at risk.

  • Facebook publishes privacy basics - a guide

Facebook is trying to simplify the way users control who get to see their data / posts. May be a good idea to actually run through this with your class, looking at each setting and discussing its implications.

  • Finally a good use for CDs & DVDs!

Just look at this - makes you want to smile! All made from shards of broken optical disks...


Of Hackers, Squirrels, Cybercrime and making money in the 'sharing economy'

This week's highlights: South Africa's new Cybercrimes Bill published, the dangers of squirrels and what an Uber driver can expect to earn.

Cybercrimes Bill

The final draft of the new Cybercrimes Bill has been published online. The bill has still to be debated in parliament and passed into law. It might be a good idea to download the pdf and discuss it with your more senior students.

Uber Income

My Broadband has a great article on what Uber drivers can expect to earn in South Africa. The article includes an image (shown below) from an Uber spreadsheet showing the average earnings for drivers broken down by hour and day of week.

Uber is, of course, part of the 'sharing economy' along with other services such as AirBnB. The idea is that you rent out things that you have to others whilst you are not using them - and so make extra income. They also save consumers money - an Uber ride is cheaper than a normal taxi. An Airbnb stay is a lot cheaper than a normal hotel (think: 5 nights in Paris for 2 at only R7 500!).

Dark web Marketplaces

CSOOnline has a fascinating read on dark web marketplaces, how they operate, what they sell. You need to register (free) to read the whole article. Worth it.

Which is worse - a squirrel or a hacker?

The answer, it seems, is that almost any animal is more dangerous than a hacker - to power grids around the world that is.

Much has been made of the potential dangers of hackers and cyber warriors infiltrating power grids and disabling them, causing chaos and harm to the civilian community at large. Chris Thomas created a project called Cyber Squirrel to track the harm animals do to power grids as opposed to known cyber attacks. The project tracks and classifies power grid disruptions by automating web searches for articles on power outages. The cause is noted and the outage classified. Boing Boing has a nice summary. Of course, the cynics (and conspiracy theorists) will say that this study is obviously false because hack attacks will be hushed up and reported as something else...

E-waste piles up in Asia

Engadget has an article detailing how e-waste in Asia has dramatically increased over the years, reaching 12.3 million tons in 2015.

How Hackers Really Crack Your Passwords

DNews put up this video on youtube. Worth a watch - along with others on their channel. A good resource for interesting snippets.

Point out to the learners that hackers using this technique have managed to hack a site and download the user database. The database contains the user names (usually in plain text) and passwords (usually encrypted and stored as a 'hash'). because they have the data available locally the hacker is able to use powerful tools to try to crack the passwords by working directly on the local data.

Beware the Google Phish

Boing Boing has an article on a clever new phishing malware. It checks through the gmail contacts of an infected account looking for mails with attachments. It then 'replies' to these mails - except it changes the attachment into a fake Google account logon page that looks exactly like the real thing. Unsuspecting victims 'logon' to 'Google' and they are then immediately infected.

Cyber Safety videos

Planet Nutshell makes videos. They made a cartoon series called Net Safe targeted at Grades 3 - 12 in the USA that introduces concepts such as Personal Information, Privacy and basic cyber security.

They even cover sexting, wi-fi security, mobile location security, distracted driving, cyber bullying and the dos and font's of posting pictures online.

Although these videos may seem simplistic, they do ensure a good basic grasp of the concepts.

A resource worth having / looking at!

We warned you about plagiarism...

CNN has an article on how plagiarism has forced a person Donald Trump picked for a national security post to decline the job. We know the temptation is great, that you are under pressure for time / lazy or just don't know what to do... but the message is clear: whatever you do, don't plagiarise!

Fake news corner

We're not the only ones concerned about fake news. Just after last week's blog went live, The Citizen published their round up of fake South African news for the week. Take a look...

Farming Robots and Horrid Hackers

Don't you just wish that someone would tell the AI developers and robotocists to stop messing with playing poker and farming: what is really needed is a robot that can mark / grade exam papers!

Poker Face

Needless to say, that may not happen in our lifetime but in the past week DeepStack has been revealed as the first robot / AI that can beat professional poker players. Why is this significant? Well, AI's that can beat people in games like Chess and Go and Checkers, etc. are all working in a situation where they know what the human players know (i.e. they can 'see' the position of all the pieces on the board). In poker, the human players get cards that the computer never gets to see. There is also the not so small matter of bluffing. So, to win at poker an AI has to deal with incomplete information and interpret a player's behaviour to decide if they are bluffing or not. The AI has to analyse the game, factor in the probabilities of the unknown data (which cards are in the pack, which cards does the opponent hold) and recall / analyse the opponent's behaviour to decide whether they are bluffing or not. This is some feat of computing. Original article in MyBroadband.co.za and full academic paper here.

Farming Robot


We (the over 7 Billion people on earth) are able to access food thanks to the astonishing developments in farming technology. BUT, the human population is growing at an alarming pace and farming will have to work to keep up with it. When it comes to feeding the animals that feed us, we need to find a way to efficiently generate the fodder that creates the meat that most people crave as part of their diet.

Most farmers end up resorting to dried foods (because they can be stored for longer) - what else can you do if you have thousands of cattle and not enough grass? BUT eating fresh green is far healthier for the animals and produces better quality meat. Growing sprouts is a solution, but it has not been put into practise because it is very labour intensive and therefore very expensive.

Enter the Fodderworks Automated Fodder System - a robot that grows cattle food indoors in trays, under lights using hydroponic technologies. The food produced is seed sprouts - typically barley, grown and harvested by a robot and capable of producing tons of fodder per day. According to the company the robot can produce a ton of fodder a day (the first batch takes six days but then the principles of the production line kick in and you get a ton a day) at the low cost of around 12 US cents perk Kg! The original article is here on Motherboard and for more in depth information on the company check out the Fodderworks site.

This is a great example of social implications of ICT in the agricultural sector - the good = feeding cattle and producing food. The bad = fewer jobs.

Horrid Hackers

Having real life examples of hacking and malware to talk about with your learners is the main reason why we keep on including hacking news in this blog. Here are some short tidbits from news revealed during the course of this week:

  • France announced that it blocked over 24 000 cyber attacks against its military last year (BBC).
  • FNB (yes, the South African bank) tells of its battle with hackers threatening DDoS attacks unless ransoms were paid (CSO Online).
  • Justice? Israeli firm Cellibrite (which provides tools for hacking mobile devices) itself got hacked with 900 Gb of data stolen (The Hacker News).
  • An indian call centre swindled 15 000 Americans - The New York Times has the story.

Hard drive costs in SA

MyBroadband did a little research on hard drive costs in SA. Good to keep yourself and your learners up-to-date.

Fake News Corner

In case you have a problem explaining the problems with and consequences of Fake News, The Daily Maverick has an article worth reading on the matter.

That's it for this week. Happy teaching!

Welcome to 2017

Welcome back. We hope you have had a good and welcome rest and are now gearing up to face a new year full of challenges and fulfilment.

Before we get onto other tech news, a quick reminder that we have a NEW version of the CAT Grade 10 book out - full of lots of updated, relevant information to keep your learners on track and well informed in their studies. If you haven't already done so, check out our catalogue, download our order form and get the new book - you'll be very glad you did!

Time to get skeptical

If 2016 taught us anything it is that people are terribly trusting an ill informed about the internet as a reliable source of news. The impact of fake news on the outcome of the American elections is just one example. It is our job as teachers to try to prevent out learners growing up to be gullible guppies who simply believe anything they see online and regard Facebook as their best (and only) source of news. We need to make them aware of the problem of fake news and teach them to be critical and skeptical of what they read online. Perhaps we need to get a weekly controversial news article and discuss whether it is real or fake - and how to tell the difference!

Motherboard has an article on the need to teach kids how to be skeptical of the internet.

The Joy of Tech has got a great cartoon (worth printing out and putting on your notice board) about the sad, sorry state of the internet with all its scams and abuse.

Levels of computer skills - in the first world





This chart comes from a study by the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development group. The OECD conducted a study of 215,942 people across 33 countries from 2011-2015. The study tested the skills of people aged 16-65 to measure their literacy in job-related tech skills. Tests ranged from simple tasks like deleting an email (considered “below level 1”), up to figuring out things like “what percentage of the emails sent by John Smith last month were about sustainability?” (considered level 3).

See the whole report here.

The work we do is important - even more so than perhaps you realise. All you need to do is look at the graph above, shudder, and know just what a difference you can (and are) making!

Computer security in 2017

What to expect? Keep it short an simple: Hacks, lots of them!

Try to remember how vulnerable computers are. Robert Morris, a founding developer of computer cryptography, had this to say about computer security:

The three golden rules to ensure computer security are:

do not own a computer;

do not power it on; and

do not use it.

Just a reminder of how bad things got in 2016: CSOOnline has an article detailing how Ransomware earned hackers $1 BILLION last year.

Also check out clickclickclick.click for a demonstration of how a website can monitor what you are doing on it. Turn on your sound for this!

New Hardware dept:

Two new drool worthy laptops have been announced at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas every year at this time). They are the Razer Valerie with THREE screen built into it. This one is so new that pricing, tech specs and availability is not being supplied. In the meanwhile Acer has launched a gaming laptop with a 21" curved screen, 64Gb RAM, 2TB RAID SSD AND 1 TB HDD, with TWO Nvidia GTX 1080 Graphics cards. This beast of a machine costs R 144 000 and will be available from February on (so you better start saving now).

True or False?

This article on Boing Boing about a water cooler hanging because its updating Windows could be fake news - or not. Either way its pretty funny!

That's it for this week. May your preparations for the year ahead be going well.

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