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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...

Comments

Europe trying to break the internet with copyright law

If you thought that Europe's GDPR which came into effect in May had an impact on the digital world, well, you ain't seen nothing yet! Article 11 and Article 13. Both are part of a set of copyright reforms that the European Union plans to pass this year. These two articles have the potential to seriously break the internet / WWW. They passed their first hurdle on the process of becoming law by ONE vote this week.

Article 11 requires that if you even link to a news story you need both permission from the publisher and you need to pay a license fee. That means that this blog, for example, would have to pay for every link included in a post (if the link were to a European publisher / web site).

Article 13 requires that anything posted by anyone in Europe be run through a copyright screening process before it could appear on the web. If it contains any part that appears to contain anything from a copyrighted work the post will be blocked.

I'm not going to go into it in detail, but these regulations create great potential for abuse, censorship and misuse - and could effectively transform the internet from a uniquely free medium accessible to all for purposes of publishing back into the bad old days where only those with deep pockets can afford to publish (putting control of news and media back into the hands of the elite few).

Read about it:

What is interesting is that big media in the states (New York Times, Washington post, etc.) is not giving this much coverage.

Social Implications

Hardware

Malware, Hacks, Privacy, etc

Data comms

Robots and robotics

Social Media

That's it for this week. Good luck with marking and reports...

Comments

The shamefaced catchup edition

AWOL. Sorry. Been busy wrestling with a project that I will be very pleased to reveal later in the year. Time and other tasks blurred into the background. That's no excuse for the blog to suffer - after all, the news keeps coming... I come back today shamefaced and contrite and will attempt not to do it again. As the title says, this edition will be largely a catchup - lots of bullets and links for you to explore on your own; little or no commentary from yours truly (you probably prefer it this way). Anyway, enjoy.

Robots and robotics:

Software Design

E-Waste

Social Implications

Privacy

Cybercrime - hacks, cracks, scams, etc.

Network & Internet

Hardware

AI

  • Want to experiment with Deep Learning? Lobe is a tool that makes it easy. Daring Fireball has more
  • Google Duplex - Amazing demo but is it for real?
    • Axios explains why it could all be fake
    • BGR takes it further

Software Bugs

Human error

Medicine

Humour

  • What is Amazon existed in the 80's? Someone created a mockup of a BBS style version of the site.

  • Try to imagine WhatsApp without smartphones....
  • And how about Siri?

Resources

Comments

KRACKs, Microwaves and leaks

Two HUGE hacks dominate the news this week.

KRACK - patch your WiFi fast!

KRACK affects WiFi at its lowest level - the WPA2 password security that encrypts and protects communication on the network. The bad news is that this security has been cracked, making all communication on the affected network vulnerable. The good news is that most new OS's have patches out there or patches will be coming in the near future. Fixes for routers may take time, but as long as your OS is fixed you should be safe, so make sure you install those updates as soon as they become available! Ars Technica explains how the KRACK exploit works.

SA Database leak - 60 Million affected - and that includes YOU!

This one is a bit more tricky. A database of more than 60 Million South Africans' information has been leaked online - the source of the leak is yet to be determined (read it at My Broadband). The bad news: The leak contains Names, full ID numbers, email addresses, contact details, age, marital status and income estimates. It is a perfect source for identity thieves. The database contains records of almost anyone involved in economic activity between 1990 and 2015. This includes people who have passed away in that time - hence the fact that the leak is larger than our current population!

The good news: There is none. The information is out there and you can't get it back. Watch out for any signs of Identity Theft... You can check if your data is in the leak - go to Have I Been Pwned, enter your email and hold your breath...

What can you do? Not much. Check your credit status now and regularly to see if someone has stolen your identity and obtained credit in your name. Then try to get the credit cancelled / revoked.

Backup and data recovery

The Hacker News has an interesting article on how a ransomware attack took down an American city for four days. Their point is to show the cost of the breach - I think it is a good illustration of the importance of doing backup right...

Microwaves make 40tb hard drive possible

Western Digital has announced that a new microwave technology will enable 40tb hard drives by 2025. Engadget has the details.

LED foils copyright breaking photography

This is an interesting story of how pulsing LED lights can ruin the photos taken by digital cameras and prevent them being used to take copyright breaking images in museums, etc. Digital Trends has the story.

"Hey Siri"

Ever wondered how your smart device (or home speaker, or smart TV) is able to tell when you want to give it a command by using its own special trigger phrase? Apple has published a full explanation of how its "Hey Siri" feature works. As complex as the process is, the astonishing thing is that it takes place all the time without having a noticeable effect on battery life. NB: The same explanation cannot be applied to other devices (all companies use their own technology).

The Uncanny Valley

What is it? This video explains perfectly!

The same people have a well reasoned explanation of why to be sceptical (as I am) of the VR hype...

That's it for this week....

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