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This Week in Tech

The after holiday catchup edition...

Welcome back.. Lots of news to catch up on...

AI

  • Fascinating (but long) interview with China's No 1 ranked technologist about AI and the future of technology. Worth a read.
  • New documentary on AI. Do you trust this computer. $3.99 to rent and stream. Elon Musk sponsored free streaming for the world last weekend - sorry you missed out :(.

Hardware

Social media and Privacy

  • In May the GDPR comes into effect. This new European law on privacy can impact all online businesses. Digital Trends explains it.

Hacks and scams

Drones

Resources

Wow. That's a lot to catch up on!

Welcome back & happy teaching....

Comments

Teaching without a computer & the problem of women in Tech

This week:

In case you missed the viral post: Richard Appiah Acute (a Ghanaian teacher) does it on the blackboard. The learners must pass a tech exam and he has no computers. You think you have it rough....


Since the post on Facebook Mr Akoto has received many offers of help, computers, software and projectors.

Wired has an interesting article that shows how even at the recruiting level the prevailing atmosphere and attitudes discourage women from entering tech.

DigitalTrends has a short but useful article describing sound cards. And another describing Thunderbolt connectivity.

MyBroadband details how SA retailers are dealing with the shortage of GPUs - because cryptocurrency miners bought more than 3 million GPUs globally last year!

Htxt.co.za has a link to a game that can teach your kids how fake news is created and spread.

Top 500 Supercomputers details how AI beats lawyers at contract reviewing.

Using Black Panther as a springboard Engadget looks at how the proliferation of CG is resulting in overwork, lower salaries and poor quality scenes.

Finally, the NASA video below shows how the older, thicker artic ice has been vanishing over the years...

That's it for this week. Ciao.

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The importance of being Uncertain and other fun facts...

Welcome to our 50th blog post. We hope that the blog has at least made one useful contribution to your teaching, classroom and / or learners. This week's news tends towards the lighter side and there are a couple of fun things you can show your learners to put smiles on their faces.

Uncertainty rules!

The first item on the agenda is MIT engineers proving that you don't need GPS and precise knowledge of location to improve an autonomous drone's ability to avoid obstacles. Instead they allow the drone to keep what they call a 'nano map' in memory which the drone continually refers to. By comparing past images with the current image the drone can position itself relative to obstacles and take the appropriate evasive action.This is much closer to how we humans do things and reduces crash rates from 28% to 2%!

Weird Hardware Hack

Q: What do you get if you combine parts from a flatbed scanner, dot matrix printer and a hard drive, with some mechanical parts and a pencil?

A: The weird 'printer' below that uses a pencil to 'tap' out an image.

Useful? NO. Fascinating? Yes!


Robots continue their advance...

Wired has a story on how Boston Dynamic's Spot robot dog can now open doors (video below). Makes me think of the 'Metalhead' episode from Black Mirror season 4.

Or maybe not so much... The Winter Olympics provided the ideal opportunity for various robotics teams to show just how far robots have to go. The narrative is not English but the visuals are universally understandable.

5G and Wild Boars

More from the Winter Olympics. 5G is a specification that is only due to hit mainstream in 2020. South Korea has been using the technology (capable go 10 Gigabits data transmission speed) in various demonstrations throughout the Olympics. One of the uses is for automated defences against Wild Boars to keep them from invading competition tracks. TechCentral has the details.

Recycling old computers into art

Zayd Menck has built a model of Midtown Manhattan (New York) from old computer parts...


In other news:

    • The BBC reports that Bitcoin mining in Iceland is about to use more electricity than all the households in the country.
    • Meanwhile the SA Reserve bank wants to regulate Bitcoin in SA (MyBroadband).
    • Facebook lost 2.8 Million US users under 28 years old last year (Recode).
    • Facebook (again) is getting more intrusive by asking you to add lists to your wall... (Engadget).
    • Want to take better photographs? This AI will shock you into getting it right! (Hackaday)

And that's it for this week. Enjoy!

Comments

RFID makes way for cameras & AI

This week has a lot of news, in many mixed areas of interest. No space for an into - just jump in and enjoy!

Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience'

I'm not sure how it slipped past, but the last post was meant to include the new Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience' shop that has just opened in Seattle.

Unfortunately there's a queue to get in...

Seriously though...

RFID was always touted as the way that shoppers would be able to pile goods in their shopping cart and then simply walk out the shop and have the sensors automatically read the price of their goods and bill them without having to stand in a queue. That dream has not (yet) materialised - and is vulnerable to people doing things like removing the RFID tag from goods, swapping tags on expensive goods for cheaper ones, etc.

Amazon thinks they have a solution. A shop where you can only enter by having your smartphone scanned, and then being watched by many, many, many cameras that track what you put into your basket so the system bills your credit card when you walk out. Several news outlets have tried shoplifting (and failed - here's Ars Technica's report on their attempt) but some youtubers have claimed success.

There are some obvious cheats - shelves are designed to try to ensure that you can't put items back in the wrong place (to make it easier for the computers to identify them)

Here's Amazon's info page.

Think of the thousands of cashier jobs that will be lost if this technology proves a success (Forbes has).

UK Airport Security takes romance into consideration.

Digital Trends has the scoop - an amusing read.

Contactless (NFC) cards and security in SA

MyBroadband has an article where banks tout the safety of the system. No research, just spokespeople...

The value of Data

MyBroadband has an article on how Vodacom makes R2 BILLION per month on data alone.

Keeping fit... leaks info on military bases

Making data sharing an opt-out feature is always a bad idea. Sure, it lets companies be confident that they will be able to slurp up data from users who don't think about the fact that they are being tracked - or are too lazy (or ignorant) to turn off data sharing for the app. But even 'anonymised' data has its risks. This week it emerged that Strava, a fitness tracking service, has inadvertently spilled the beans on military and other secret installations around the world.

Users of products such as fitbit go out for a run. Their route is tracked. The data is 'cleaned' and anonymised and uploaded. Strava thought it was a great idea to aggregate the data and display it on a global map so that fitness buffs could find popular places to run and exercise. Problem is, some of those routes are run by military personnel inside military bases... Read it at Hackaday and Nine.Com.au (some good graphics and explanations of consequences here).

More Privacy - G.D.P.R. and how tech companies are scrambling to prepare for it

This one is important. Europe has a new set of rules to protect privacy (General Data Protection Regulation) which come into effect on 25 May 2018. If your internet service breaches these rules then your company can be fined up to 4% of your yearly income. As you can imagine, big companies are working hard to make sure that they comply.

Often they take the easy way out - excluding privacy busting features of their products from the European market.

An interesting read.

More Amazon - patent granted for wristband to track workers

Gizmodo has an article on a patent that has just been granted to Amazon. The patent is for a bracelet that workers will wear - and which will allow their hand movements to be tracked. This will allow the system to see if you are slacking off - or making mistakes. As the article points out, this is only a patent (at the moment) and probably serves as a way to treat human workers more like robots until robotics advances enough to replace them.

Cartoonist predicted the problem of intrusive cell phones - more than 100 years ago!


Boing Boing has more info on the cartoon and cartoonist.

Bitcoin miner uses oil to cool his rig

Submerging your computer in oil is an effective (if messy) way to keep it cool (oil does not conduct electricity but is good at dispersing heat). The really interesting thing about the article from Motherboard is some of the statistics it reveals about the cost of mining bitcoin. If you have been carried away by the soaring price of Bitcoin in the last short while, these stats will be of particular interest to you. Summarised, they are:

    • The rig cost $ 120 000.
    • It uses 50 Kw of electricity a month (about the same as 25 households).
    • It mines 1.5 bitcoins a month.

Bitcoin and TAX

If you have made some money from Bitcoin (or know someone who has) then read this. Hope you put aside the tax man's share...

MinION - Palm sized DNA Sequencer

It took a group of scientists 13 years of work and cost $3 Billion to map the human genome. Supercomputers and distributed computing techniques were needed to do the work. Now the MinION, the pocket sized device in the video below connects to your laptop or desktop using USB 3 (and is powered by UB) and can map a genome for as little as $1 000.

AR lets doctors see through your skin

Augmented Reality is so much more useful than Pokemon Go would make you think... Digital Trends has the low down on how researchers are displaying your insides on your outside to help doctors...

How much money (profit) do big companies make - per second?

Check out this interactive graphic to find out. Spoiler alert: Disney only makes $297 per second. Facebook makes $323 per second. Apple makes $1 445 per second!

What's so special about this movie?

The entire, feature length movie was shot on iPhone. No more excuses - you have the same camera tech in your pocket. Now go out and make a movie! More info available here at htxt.africa.

Paying for popularity

The New York Times has a great article on a company called Devumi that sells followers, tweets, retweets, etc for people who need to boost their metrics to prove their popularity. Some of the followers they sell are automated bots based on real people - the product of identity theft.

Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. ...

Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.

If you are still using Flash, it's time to stop!

Flash is hacked again with another zero day vulnerability out in the wild. The Hacker News has the details.

That's it for this week....

Manslaughter - by text and a phone call

Seems like that old nursery chant: 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me' is no longer quite as true as we'd like to believe. Last week a judge in Massachusetts found a 17 year old young woman guilty of manslaughter for using text messages and a phone call to encourage and convince her 18 year old boyfriend to commit suicide.

“This is saying that what she did is killing him, that her words literally killed him, that the murder weapon here was her words,”
- Matthew Segal, lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

Our learners live in a world where constant communication and the pressures of social media are pervasive. They often post private messages to each other and public messages on social media without giving a moments thought to the impact, implication, consequences or possible collateral damage these messages might cause. As educators, we need to take the time and effort to repeatedly draw to their attention cases that vividly illustrate this - cases that redefine the law and our society. This is one such case. The New York Times has a good article on the topic, but if you have already used up your free access for the month, here's a link at CNN. If nothing else, this could open the door to Manslaughter / Murder becoming, of all things, a cybercrime.

Human error - again

Computers are stupid. they only do what you tell them to do, so you better make sure that you tell them to do the right thing. One young person, first day on the job, just out of University, unguided and working according to a document telling him how to set up his own test development database did what many of our learners do: he copied the code in the document and executed it unmodified. The result: the entire companies database deleted. Gone. Unrecoverable. The CTO promptly fired him and he posted about his experience on Reddit. Many readers have come out in support of him and believe that the CTO should have been the one to lose his job.

A complete nightmare situation. A business almost down the tubes because of human error. I say almost, because surely there were backups and recovery, though tedious and inconvenient, would be possible? Wrong! Seems like there was a problem with the databases and backups were not being restored. A company that provides a document containing a potentially destructive code snippet to a complete noob for unsupervised use is not likely to make sure they follow the best backup procedure in the world. More human error, compounding the original human error...

Quartz Media has a nice article based on the incident.

Robot, Robots, Robots

Harvard students seem to want to prove that robots can be made from anything - they are developing a spider like robot made from drinking straws and powered by air.

And now, a robot that crawls up your butt - to make an unpleasant medical procedure weirder but less unpleasant. Curious? Check it out at Boing Boing.

This robot uses AI to figure out how to pick up almost anything.

In Shanghai, an automatic, self-driving supermarket cruises the streets....

Finally, the BBC has a short segment from Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, chief engineer at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on 5 robots set to change the world.

Click Fraud

Motherboard has an article on a click fraud farm busted in Thailand. Fascinating visuals and a glimpse into the world where fake likes, ratings, etc are manufactured on demand.

In Russia though, this type of click fraud is out in the open. Here's an article about a vending machine that sells Instagram likes and followers!

Lying AI

Whilst Google seems intent on creating AI's that defeat humans at complex games demanding strategy and insight, Facebook has built itself an AI that has learnt to lie to get what it wants. Appropriate for a system where most people create fake representations of a perfect life? A fascinating read.

AI, self driving cars and Insurance

Some interesting questions raised in this article from Readwrite.com.

Scary new malware infection technique

Digital trends has an article on how hovering your mouse over a link in a PowerPoint slide can automatically download and install malware (no clicking required).

Ransomware Ponzi scheme

A Ponzi scheme is a pyramid scheme. Popcorn Time is a new type of malware tries to maximise its profits by using the strategy behind a pyramid scheme - when you get infected and your data is encrypted and held ransom, you are given a choice: either pay up or deliberately infect at least 2 others to 'free' your data. What would you do? The New York Times has the details, also at Fortune.com.

That's it for this week - good luck with the last of exams and the reports....

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