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This Week in Tech

Gif Attack!

Deadly pictures. Farmers becoming hackers. SSDs that can double as RAM. Lasers protecting Salmon. A physical key for safety in the digital world.... This week's news is a mixed batch - most of which sounds and feels a little incredible and sci-fi. Enough credible news outlets have reported on the topics to be reasonably sure that none of it is 'fake news' ;-) [and now I have just used an emoji in a blog post, something I never thought I'd ever do!]. Anyhow, there's a lot in this post that will make you shake your head in disbelief and which you can use to amaze and astound your learners.

Gif Attack.

Gif. The image format that allows for animated images to be shared on the web and through social media. The image format that has been intentionally used to physically attack a human being. You see, people who suffer from Epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights (that's why there are epilepsy warnings for some video games, movies,etc.). So a Trump supporter (who else would be that dumb and malicious) designed a Gif that would trigger a seizure and then sent it to a reporter that they felt was criticising the president too much. He also made his intentions clear by putting “You deserve a seizure for your post” below the image. A Texas jury has just ruled that a Gif image can be considered a deadly weapon. Read the fascinating story at here and here Digital Trends. The person responsible tried to hide his tracks by creating and using a fake twitter account but has been traced and identified.

American farmers pwn their farming equipment.

No, pwn (pronounced 'pone') is not a typo. Well, it actually was originally one when some unknown hacker typed 'pwn' instead of 'own' when describing taking over someone's computer. This 'leetspeak' (language used by the 'elite', the hacking community) term is what American farmers are having to do to their Tractors, Combine Harvesters, and other computerised farming equipment, especially those made by John Deere. A fascinating article on Motherboard describes why and how they are doing this.

"What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market"

Save the Salmon - with lasers

Sea Lice. Parasites that flourish in the nutrient rich environment of a densely packed fish farm. A real problem for fish farmers. Enter.... an underwater drone armed with lasers that shoots to kill! Check out the article on Digital Trends. Or just watch the video below.


Storage or Memory? Both!

The line between storage and memory is being blurred by a new Intel product - the Octane SSD. Ars Technica has a technical but interesting article that is worth a read, more for you to be informed so that you can say to your learners that maybe in the future Ram and Storage will be the same thing. Basically a normal SSD is 10 000 times slower to respond to a read or write request than RAM is. The new Octane SSD is only 10 times slower than RAM! This means that you can choose to use it either as RAM or storage, depending on the needs of the moment. NB: A very exciting and interesting technology that could have a huge impact on hardware of the future! Of course, like most new technology, it is insanely expensive now - expect to pay around R20 000 for less as 375 Gb unit.

The poisoned wine problem

Brian Brushwood presents this video (from his 'Scam School' Youtube Channel) which you can use to have some fun with your learners when doing binary numbers.


A battery that powers chips whilst cooling them

This is a loooooong way off, but holds some very exciting potential. I'm not going to repeat the article so just head over to Engadget and read it there.

Fido. The physical key to your digital security.

This one is also a long way off, but is a potential solution to the 'hackers keep stealing usernames and passwords' problem. Read it at My Broadband. In the meanwhile make sure your learners understand the need for (and use) two factor authentication on any of the sites and services they use that offer it.

Which is the Safest browser?

Google's Chrome remains uncracked at 2017 hacking contest.

PC Building Simulator Game

Your learners might have fun with this. And they can learn something without destroying expensive hardware. Download the software (still in beta) here and check out the video below.


Fake news corner:

  • Social media wrongly identifies the London attacker
  • The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) - the organisation that ranks countries student in academic ability (if you see headlines telling you that, for example, 'Singapore students best at math in the world' then the research and testing has been done by PISA) - currently tests and ranks students in maths, science and language. They are planning to add a test for students ability to identify fake news. Read about it from the BBC.

Other News for the week

That's it for this week. Hope you find it all as amazing, astonishing and interesting as I do. Happy teaching.

A robotics edition

Strangely enough, the news this week has been full of stuff about robots. So, we'll run with it and let the blog focus on robotic topics.

UBI (Universal Basic Income)

Let's start off by talking about a concept that features in Science Fiction and has been in the news lately relating to Bill Gates' call for a tax on robots and Elon Musk's statements in support of the concept. A UBI is when the state pays every citizen, no matter what other income they may earn, a set amount each month (Wikipedia's explanation here, Wharton School of Business discussion here, Brookings arguments in favour of). Part of the motivation for calls for a UBI is the increasing loss of jobs due to automation (robots). Some places (Finland, Ontario) are actually trialling the concept.

The topic of a UBI is a great one for class discussion and a topic for 'Social Impact of ICT' that your learners can really get their teeth into. How about a debate? Why not make up a 'parliament' where speakers get to argue for and against a UBI and then the class has to vote? This is a topic that can fire up your learners, get them involved, make them talk after class to friends and family and make your class even more relevant!

Bionic Ants

A lot of robotic research is modelled on the insect world. Check out the teamwork of these bionic ants (via Hackaday) created by Festo (direct link to company video is bionicants-en-SD.mp4)


How big are robots, economically speaking?

According to an article by Fast Company, researchers put the economic value of all robots in America at $732 Billion - bigger than the economy of Switzerland!

Robotic ear surgeon.

Cochlear implants. Devices that help deaf people to hear. Wired has an article about a robot that can perform the operation to give someone a cochlear implant - by itself.

Robot Porter


CNet has an article detailing a journalist trying out a robot porter that followed her around New York for a day. The robot follows you around and can be used for things like carrying your groceries. Great for city life where you don't use a car.

Drone Pilots outnumber real pilots.

OK, so drones are not real robots. The combination of mechanised constructions under remote human control (with the distinct possibility of self control in the future) is enough of a grey area to qualify for inclusion in this blog. Digital Trends has an article detailing how the US air force now employs more drone pilots than pilots for real planes.

Robots and specialised AI chips

The world of the microprocessor is also being affected by the increased demand for more intelligent robots. AI performs better when running on hardware specially developed to support it. Google set the trend by developing the TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) last year and many other companies are working in this hot new area of tech research and development. Mobileye is just such a company, making chips and cameras for self driving cars. Intel just bought them for $15.3 Billion.

UWVs? Seafaring Drones? Whatever you call them, they are real and being tested in Norway.


Engadget has the details.

General News

PRINT THIS OUT AND STICK IT UP IN YOUR CLASSROOM - and email it to everyone you know!!!

Cartoon courtesy of XKCD.

  • Hard drives can be wiped of data using a powerful magnet (degaussing). Or you can physically destroy them using a drill and a hammer. But how do you destroy the data on a SSD? Magnets don't work. Physical destruction needs much more precision - you have to destroy every chip. Lifehacker has the solution - and it's not what you expect.

Fake news

EWN republishes and article from the World Economic Forum studying how to control fake news.

That's it from a full and busy blog for this week.

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Unintended Consequences

Tech is always pushing the boundaries. A continual fountain of new ideas, new gadgets and new ways of doing business bubbles up, with entrepreneurs and investors (and consumers) eagerly jumping aboard the latest bandwagon. The 'next big thing' arrives and is proclaimed by its inventors / creators / designers; we all reach, starry eyed and full of hope, for the magic that will miraculously improve our lives and ease our blighted souls.

The problem is: new tech is untried, untested and - even it performs flawlessly and does what it is meant to do in an exemplary fashion - people are wily and conniving and deceitful and will find a way to pervert the purpose of even the best technology.

This brings me to the cause of this negative and cynical rant: Poachers are trying to hack the tracking technology designed to protect and preserve their prey (Full scientific article available at Wiley Online Library). Cyber poaching. A new term to learn and loathe.


“Animal tracking can reveal animal locations (sometimes in nearly real-time), and these data
can help people locate, disturb, capture, harm, or kill tagged animals,”

Another job bites the dust

Used to be that people thought that jobs flipping burgers at fast food joints would be the last refuge for humanity whilst robots took over the world. Flappy, the burger flipping robot might hake something to say about that. Read it at Engadget and check out the video below.


Wikileaks and the CIA

The big news this week, splashed all over the news and just about every publication you care to read, is the Wikileaks publication of CIA hacking tools. The New York Times has an article detailing how to protect yourself if you are worried (summary: update, update, update!), Popular Science retcons it is all over-hyped and Digital Trends has a summary of the leak.

General news:

  • How big of a problem is spam? A single spammers list of email addresses has been found - an incredible 1.3 Billion adresses. From one spam operator. Just think how much faster and more responsive the internet would be if it were not clogged by the foul morass of spam mails.
  • It is early days yet but Google has started applying image recognition tech to videos - trying to identify objects in the video. Why it matters: You could search a video library for a specific item or scene quickly rather than suffering through endless fast forwarding. It also opens the path to all sorts of as yet unimagined analysis of video archives - as well as self-alerting surveillance systems.
  • Microsoft has announced it is creating a version of Windows Server that will run on the same type of smaller, lower powered, cheaper processors (ARM processors) that power your smartphone and tablet. Read it at Digital trends. Why it matters: This move would make servers (and data centres) cheaper and more energy efficient.
  • Android is about to overtake Windows as the most used OS globally. Why it matters: More proof that most people's first (and perhaps only) computing device will be a mobile one.
  • Prototype Red Cross Land Rover launches and lands drones from its roof - while on the go! Why it matters: Besides being sooooo cool? Improved response time and efficiency.
  • Is Facebook doing something about its Fake News problem at last? Possibly. Here's a link to a page on Facebook that allows you to declare a news item as possibly fake. Problem is, that they haven't made it generally available as yet. Why it matters: We've been talking about Fake News a lot and how it influences real life. This can help people become more aware that what they are reading is not necessarily true.
  • David Mahlobo (our very own Minister of State security) wants to monitor and restrict social media in South Africa. Why it matters: If you think that even a hint that government wants to control social media (for whatever reason) is not disturbing and dangerous then I am not sure how any amount of words can explain why this is important. Zapiro has a perfect cartoon to explain the futility of the idea and the repressive, dictatorial company that our Minister wants to join.
  • CNN announces availability of some news in 360 degree VR.
  • 3D Print has a great, but technical, article on printing baby skeletons and organs to improve neonatal care.
  • CPU Developments. AMD announces server CPU with 64 cores. Why it matters: It is always good to know the trends in CPU development (not that it is likely a consumer will have a machine with such a chip $3000 - $4000 (over R40 000 just for the CPU) . Obviously, this increases server, data centre power at the same high end price point.
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Robots, 3D Printing and DNA

DNA storage, anyone?

The quest for smaller, larger capacity, low power storage is pretty much never ending. This week news emerged of people finally being able to store data on DNA with 100% accuracy (Motherboard, Engadget). A great long term future trend to mention to the class, though it will probably take 10 - 20 years before this becomes a commercial product. Although capacity is huge (you can fit over 2 TB of data on 1 gram of DNA!) it can take forever to do so - the researchers took 7 hours to write 2 MB of data. Then another 7 hours to read the data.

3D Printing in the spotlight

More for your current and future trends session. 3D printing is continually advancing. Almost every week there is an article on how surgeons succeed with particularly difficult operations because they first use a MRI / CAT scan to generate a 3D image of the persons body and then 3D print the part they will work on - so that they can practice the operation before surgery starts.

South Africa is not being left behind in the 3D printing revolution. The CSIR is about to go operational with the worlds largest 3D printer - capable of printing metal parts 200m long, 6m wide and 6m high. Read about the Aeroswift printer here at 3DPrint.com.

The world has its first printed on site house (Digital Trends) - and it only took 24 hours to print the house. Watch the video (a bit of a sales pitch for Apis Corp, the makers of the printer, but still an interesting watch). Another great current and future trends topic for your classes. 3D printing houses - reduced costs for making the house, huge loss of jobs for construction workers. Which is more important?

The robot revolution

From house printing robots to small, furry pollinators. Check out how a Japanese scientist is trying out a concept of using micro drones to do a bees work (because, scarily enough, bee populations are dying out around the world).

Advances in robotics continue apace, and as always, Boston Robotics is at the forefront. This week they unveiled a new machine called Handle - check out the video below to see what it can do.

For more insight into robots, their place in the workplace and people's relationships with robots there is a long but very interesting read at The New York Times. Good material for you to gain insight into robotics in the real world.

General news:

  • Gmail to allow users to receive 50MB attachments.
  • Get started with your own Ransomware kit - seriously, a maker of ransomware has a 5 minute ad for people wanting to start a life of cyber crime! Watch it at Boing Boing.
  • Body cams are cameras worn on the body of police - a rising trend in the USA. The idea is that the body cam protects both the police and the public by recording interactions - so that the police are less likely to use excessive force and so that the police can justify their actions when they do have to use force. Problem is, due to limits in battery and storage these cameras are not always on.Read about new holster technology that will activate all body cameras in the area when someone removes a gun from the holster.
  • Someone has created a braille smartwatch for the blind. Check it out here.
  • Be careful what you type - computers always take you literally. This week many internet services went offline - because they used Amazon web service and someone typed the wrong instructions into a maintenance command. Read it at Engadget.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

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