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This Week in Tech

The USB confusion continues - and other stories...

The USB standard is a bit of an unholy mess. USB 3 is called USB 3.1 Gen 1. The actual, faster USB 3.1 is called USB 3.1 Gen 2. USB C is actually a cable connector and port and has nothing to do with the actual data speed and capabilities of the port which can range from USB 2 through both USB 3.1 Generations 1 & 2 to the super fast Thunderbolt 3 standard. Consumers are faced with the tedious task of figuring out just what type of connections and data speeds their computer's ports and cables support (if you would like more information and examples of the USB standards and cables, you can find it in the Hardware, Connections section of my online Grd 10 IT theory textbook at Learning Opportunities).

Someone needs to do something sensible to clear this up - just like the WiFi people did with WiFi by changing the names to WiFi 1 - 5 (the current WiFi AC standard). The next WiFi standard will be called WiFi 6. No more strange names to remember. The fastest WiFi will have the highest version number. Compatibility will be easy to check.

Well done those guys. Give yourselves a Bells...

The USB lot on the other hand should be ashamed of themselves.

There's a new, faster USB standard coming out this year. It will be called USB 3.2. All good and well.

BUT

The silly &*##$@^ have decided that USB 3.1 will no longer exist - everything moves up to become USB 3.2. The fastest USB will therefore be USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 - and will be capable of 20 Gbps. USB 3.1 Gen 1 becomes USB 3.2 Gen 1 - and so on.

In 2020 / 2021 USB 4 will make it onto the scene and will finally bring USB up to the speed and capabilities of Thunderbolt 3.

Undersea cables - just how miraculous are they?

OK. Most of us know that the international internet depends on undersea fibre optic cables that connect the continents. There are thousands of miles of physical cable - and nearly 400 individual cables lying in the ocean depths of our globe.

But if you are anything like me it is hard to conceive of just how a whole country's internet traffic can be squeezed into travelling over a single cable. I mean, just put too many people on your LAN or WiFi network or into the same cellular tower footprint (like at a sports stadium) and watch your data speed drop to a speed that a drunken, cripple snail could outrun on a bad day.

So how do they do it? Well, by tweaking the way that light is used to encode data. Popular Science has an article that explains, in depth, just how this is done in a new cable laid between Spain and the USA.

This cable contains 8 pairs of fibre optic cables. Fibre optic cables come in pairs because data can only travel one way in a single fibre optic strand - so you need one to send and one to receive.

If you are the TLDR; kind of person (Too Long, Didn't Read), the takeaway from the article is that the new technology means that 1 fibre optic strand in this new cable is capable of transmitting data at a rate of 4.6 Million HD movies a second (25.2 terabits a second).

That's how they do it! That's how miraculous these cables are!

Facebook moderator - a job straight from the lowest, deepest, darkest, hottest pit of hell.

People are weird. They have strange ideas of what is wrong and right. They also have a tendency to try to share disturbing, inappropriate, hateful things on social media sites.

Social media companies tend to have an over-arching view that they are 'platforms' not 'publishers'. The difference between the two is that if they are a 'platform' they can not be hold legally accountable for what their users post on the site. Despite this, the social media companies are also under a tremendous amount of social pressure to make sure that the content on display does not offend the majority of their users (after all they do not want users to leave the site).

So, content that is reported as being offensive or detected as being problematic in other ways has to be run through human screeners who have to check the content against multi-page lists of what the site regards as acceptable or not. They then have to either reject the content or allow it to remain on the site.

You need to read this article from The Verge.

It is astonishing how little they pay these guys, considering how awful the job is....

Pencils Vs Keyboards

Daniel Lemire has written an interesting piece about how education stubbornly sticks to pen / pencil and paper as opposed to embracing the keyboard. An interesting and thought provoking piece.

The Piracy Problem

Poor quality. Bad sound. Over compression. Incomplete files. Mislabelled files. Incomplete downloadsWrong language. Subtitles. People moving around in front of the camera filming the screen. And so much more...

Generally speaking, Piracy is a sub-par media experience which usually is the culmination of a frustrating, time consuming process of scouring torrent and other sites to find and download the media you are looking for.

So why does it persist?

Enforced, unnatural scarcity and excessively high prices.

I have been a pirate. The reason in the past was that there was simply no legitimate means to get the media I wished to consume. I was willing to pay, but no one would take my money. I firmly believed (and still do) that the piracy problem which media companies wail and moan and gnash their teeth about is a direct consequence of their own policies and behaviours.

Most people prefer to pay a reasonable fee and have reliable, hassle free access to a quality media experience if at all possible.

Over the years, research has proven two things: piracy increases sales of (some) media and piracy is on the decrease thanks to services such as the iTunes store, Netflix, Amazon, etc - where those services are available that is.

HBO's Game of Thrones is the most pirated media in the world - but it is also hard to obtain. HBO is only available in limited regions. DVDs are only available on delayed release long after the broadcast schedule - and not everywhere around the world (I lived in Kenya for 4 years, there was NO legitimate source of DVDs anywhere). iTunes may be available in SA but does not offer the option to purchase TV series.

Blockbuster movies actually do suffer as a result of piracy. We live in a connected world. A buzz worthy movie released on a staggered global schedule must expect that people won't wait - they want to join the conversation, and if piracy is the only way to do so.... That's why the biggest blockbusters have a same day global release. But not all places have cinemas and cinema prices are exorbitant (especially in countries with low per capita income levels). Other avenues (DVD / TV broadcast) are delayed 6 - 9 months. If other, legitimate, non time-delayed avenues were available I'm sure that the piracy problem would decrease even more!

One for the IT teachers - we are all teaching programming wrong!

Bret Victor's interactive article on the topic. A must read. I wish the tool in his article existed! A very thought provoking and interesting read with a lot of ideas worth considering.

This person does not exist

In case you missed it, AI software can now generate portrait images of people that look completely realistic - except that the people in the image never ever existed.

Take a look at thispersondoesnotexist.com. The site does tell you not to panic... The creator explains why he did it... Less successful is the AI trying to create cats (refresh to get a new image).

Girls get Tech

The question of girls and tech and increasing their involvement is a perennial one. Something I as sure we all have wrestled with. There are no easy solutions. The Girl Scouts of America have some interesting research on the topic - well worth a read.

Our bright tech education future - according to SONA

Tablets. Ebooks. 6 Years.

So many questions....

Can I use that picture?

Maybe the infographic on this page can help answer the question. Buy it, print it and put it up in your classroom!

That's it for this week...

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