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This Week in Tech

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....

Cryptojacking Malverts plague Google

What a mouthful! The premonition that 2018 would be the year of the rise of cryptojacking seems to be morphing into reality faster than expected. Both Google's mainstream ads and YouTube ads made the news this week as being targeted by Malvertising syndicates. The basic idea is to place adverts using Google's DoubleClick ad service. The ads though, contain code that sets the computer they are displayed on to mining cryptocurrency - and can use up to 80% of the computer's processing power to do so.

Trend Micro (an anti-virus / anti-malware company) published the breach on their blog on 26 January. On the same day Ars Technica published that YouTube was affected by the same problem. Confiant (a digital advertising company) has released a report detailing how last year 28 fake ad agencies were created by criminals in order to generate over 1 billion views of 'malvertising'. A technical but very interesting read.

So, What is 'Malvertising'?

Malware (anything from ransomware to botnet controllers to cryptocurrency mining software) hidden in advertising that can be displayed on any web page you visit. Some malvertising delivers its payload as soon as the ad is displayed, some need you to click on the advert before they become active. The bad guys create the ads and submit them to ad agencies. The ad agencies display ads on web sites based on algorithms which match you to the content on the web site. The bad guys have to pay for the ad to be shown, but they potentially gain so much more when you are infected. Digital Guardian has a great, in-depth explanation of malvertising here.

So why is cryptojacking bad?

As malware goes, cryptojacking doesn't seem so bad - after all, it doesn't destroy your data... What does it do? It sets your computer to doing the complex mathematical calculations needed to 'mine' a cryptocurrency. For you, your computer slows down and goes into overdrive with 80% of your CPU's time being spent on the mining operation. This also means that your computer runs hotter and uses more power. For the hacker; they don't have to buy expensive mining computer hardware - or pay the expensive electricity bills that go with mining cryptocurrency. They just collect the cryptocurrency that gets mined.

Password problems....

In the meanwhile it has emerged that the fake missile alert in Hawaii mentioned in last week's blog could have had a much quicker resolution. It turns out the Governor of Hawaii wanted to tweet a message saying the alert was fake mere minutes after the alert went out. Why didn't he do so? He forgot / didn't know his password....

XKCD's take....

Hawaii

Car makers are tracking you - whether you know it or not.

The Washington Post exposes how car makers are gathering data from their products. A fascinating read.

Net Neutrality explained - with burgers!

In case you have missed it, Net Neutrality legislation in the US has been repealed, opening up the possibility for various abuses of the internet by the telecommunications companies that own the infrastructure. Many people don't really understand what this means. Burger King created an ad to illustrate the problem using burger sales in their stores.

Primates Cloned in China.

Not a direct tech story - but rather a biotech story that is made possible by IT. Chinese scientists have successfully cloned two long tailed macaque monkeys.

The quote below explains its significance:

"The technical barrier of cloning primate species, including humans, is now broken,"
- Qiang Sun, Lead Researcher

Little Ripper - Hero Drone

A drone saved two boys from drowning on its first day of use.

That's the news for this week. Happy teaching!

Welcome back for 2018

Welcome back from what has hopefully been a good, refreshing, energising break.

The holiday period has seen quite a bit of activity in the tech sector - including some far reaching hacks and bugs. There's a lot of it, and so this blog will have little discussion and lots of links...

Here's a short summary of (some) of the most important news and activities:

Hacks & Bugs:

A huge security hole in CPU microcode and hardware affects almost all CPUs made since 1995. OS vendors have to patch to work around the hole. Endless articles about the issue are available online. This article makes the issue comprehensible. Also includes a great graph showing the relative speeds of memory and storage.

Swatting is when you make a fake emergency call to the Police to get them to send a SWAT team to raid the house of someone who has been irritating / annoying you in your game. This article shows how it can go wrong.

This malware will even record conversations that take place when you are in a specific location! It feels like a type of 'James Bond 007' spy app with some pretty insane capabilities.

Someone pushed the wrong button. For 38 minutes a whole American state's inhabitants thought they were about to be nuked.

The state of the IT industry

A fascinating read for the gear heads out there. TLDR; the overhead of modern OS and multitasking means that yes, it takes longer for a letter to appear on your screen when you press a key today than it did on an Apple II!

Excellent read!

Social Implications

A New York Times article looking at the possible robot impact on jobs in the future. Good read.

According to Wired though, the answer might be to learn to use Spreadsheets (perfect for CAT learners).

An interesting article that looks at the rise and fall of technologies through the years.

Speculative research is that online porn used over 5 million Kwh of power in 2016. That's a lot of power! The article shows that porn consumption has increased due to the internet - so much so that the cost of power overwhelms the savings made by getting rid of physical products such as DVDs (and their packaging).

Africa produces about 5% of the world's e-waste but recycles almost none of it. Around 44 million tons of e-waste (TV sets, smartphones, etc) was dumped last year alone. A study speculates that the gold, silver, copper & other valuable materials that were not recovered is around $55 Billion.


New Tech

  • Rollable TV screen

Leads to...

Bad news: Not planned for commercial release anytime soon...

Really interesting & short.

56 cores, 3Tb of RAM, 1700w power supply (4 household fridge's worth), 10Gb ethernet, TWO nVidia Quadro graphics cards... A maxed out spec costs over $69 000 (nearly 1 million bucks!). Just think of your gaming performance ;)....

ENI is a gas and oil company that has successfully used supercomputers for prospecting (it found huge gas fields in Mozambique and Egypt). It has expanded its supercomputing power to a 18 Teraflop machine in Milan.

Imagine your laptop is always on, always connected (just like your tablet) and its battery can last more than a day. The idea of Windows running on low power ARM CPUs could make this possible. Microsoft has a proof of concept - but real world performance is still to be seen. It would have to be a lot better than the discontinued Windows RT for anyone to be convinced...

And that's it for this week. Welcome back and happy teaching.

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