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This Week in Tech

Internet Censorship in SA

The FPB (Film and Publications Board) which so recently and unreasonably overreached itself by giving the film Inxeba: The Wound a pornographic "X" rating, is one step close to trying to censor the internet.

MyBroadband has the details here and here. This gives you a great opportunity to discuss and debate the issue of censorship in general, its dangers and, more importantly, the practical feasibility of enforcing this law.

The Human Error dept.

On 7 March all Occulus Rift VR headsets worldwide stopped working. Not because of a bug or a software problem, but because a security certificate was not renewed. MyBroadband has the details.

Cryptocurrency Heater

This Motherboard writer found himself stuck without a heater in the latest cold blitz in the USA. His solution? Fire up his cryptocurrency mining rig. His article explains how effective it was - and the upshot in terms of cost. A short but entertaining read.

Alexa's Creepy Laugh.

Just read the BuzzFeed article. If it happened to me I'd probably also be creeped out.

The Yellow Pages finally bends the knee

The Yellow Pages. Remember them? That fat book of (obviously) yellow pages containing business listings and advertising for the landline, pre-internet area. Well, it still exists and is going digital. MyBroadband has the details.

What to do when your ISP over-promises and under-delivers

Your ISP sells you a 20 mbps line. You never get to experience that speed. In fact, you are lucky when you get 10 mbps. What to do? In SA, unfortunately, not much. The UK govt has seen the light and has passed a bill which will allow users to simply tear up their contract and move on without penalties. Cool. Engadget has the details.

Deepfakes. AI generated face-transposing videos.

There has been a lot of buzz about the problem of DeepFakes - a technology which has been used to create fake pornographic videos of celebrities by putting their faces on the bodies of porn stars in porn videos. This New York Times article takes a deeper look at the tech and how it works - and foresees the fake news problem becoming worse with a looming increase of fake videos.

More on the fake people in video scene...

If you saw the original Blade Runner movie and the new sequel then you would have noticed the appearance in the new movie of a character from the old - completely unchanged. Boing Boing has an article showing how this was done.

Two articles on News, Fake News and reading from the New York Times.

Both are worth reading.

The Guardian has an article in a similar vein detailing MIT research on why fake spreads faster than true on Twitter.

DigitalTrends "What is" series

Finally: China's first space station due to crash back to Earth

This will happen somewhere around the end of this month. No one knows exactly where or when. Engadget has the details.

That's it for this week. Ciao.

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.

Comments

Gaming at school

Facebook never seems to stop putting its foot in its mouth. They're in the news again this week because of, amongst other things, spreading fake news videos about the victims of the recent mass school shooting in the USA. China also features with a concept sure to appeal to at least some of your learners - namely gaming schools! Then there's a whole batch of other interesting tidbits - specifically an in depth article on how it is becoming more difficult to learn to program.

E-Sports - a career option?

E-Sports are a thing. There are competitions with significant prizes and even TV stations dedicated to covering people playing games such as StarCraft against each other. The Citizen has an interesting article on China's approach to the concept of learners playing games in school. Well worth a read...

260 million people are already playing eSport games or watching competitions...

the eSport industry will be worth $906 million in global revenues in 2018

China an example of future surveillance state?

Not really an article you can use in the classroom, but an interesting view of ways that the state can use technology to surveil its citizens. Engadget has the details.

Always Connected Windows - limits exposed

Remember a few posts back I mentioned the prospect of an 'Always Connected' Windows machine using ARM processors - and feared that it would have the same kind of limitations as the failed Windows RT project. Well, DigitalTrends has an article detailing these limitations that was briefly listed (and then pulled) by Microsoft. Spoiler: if you were expecting the full Windows experience then prepare to be disappointed.

YouTube, Facebook and Fake News

Recently 17 young people were killed in a school shooting in Florida. Or were they? Right wing gun freaks claim its all a hoax - and YouTube and Facebook spread their message... Business Insider has the details. Om Malik Explains why Facebook will never change this kind of behaviour.

Good Reads:

  • DigitalTrends has the history of 3D printing.
  • 2018 Budget means smartphones will become more expensive in SA - MyBroadband has the details.
  • The New York Times has a great article titled: 'In an era of smart things, sometimes dumb stuff is better'.
  • CNN Has a great segment of biometrics and giving IDs to people without official documentation.
  • TechCentral announces that a Driverless Taxi service has been improved in the US.
  • The BBC shows us a motorbike racing robot.
  • The BBC has a segment that asks the question "What if the internet stops working?".
  • Did you know? Samsung has a TV factory in SA that can produce 5000 units a day. MyBroadband has the details.
  • Allen Downey has an excellent article on why it is becoming more difficult to learn programming.
  • Bloomberg has a great segment on the connected car. Ars Technica adds more information to scare you even more.
  • Business Insider talks about how social media lures you in and makes an addict of you.

Free Resource:

This YouTube channel has a set of lessons on how computing theory that you could find very useful.

That's it! Hope it's useful.

Comments

Storage shrinks.... to DNA size!

It has been a relatively quiet week (if you exclude product launches) in general tech news. So this week's blog is equally short - but it does contain one or two interesting snippets...

Storage

We know that storage keeps getting smaller, faster, cheaper. BUT, this typically relates to the 'working storage' that we use all the time whilst our devices are active. Backup storage needs RELIABILITY above all other factors as its main characteristic. Tapes, Hard drives, optical media... they all fall short when it comes to long term archiving and storage of data. The material itself degrades, the hardware and software used to read the media becomes obsolete and so, ironically, our age of data collection and accessibility might in the long term, possibly end up with fewer records than the written pages of the Middle Ages!

One of the efforts aimed at solving this problem is aimed at figuring out how to store data using DNA. Yep, that same stuff that holds the genetic encoding that makes you 'YOU'.

This week in the news saw scientists encode complete jazz songs onto DNA - Digital Trends has the article here. The company responsible - Twist BioScience - has and interesting blog explaining what they see as the need for and the potential of DNA storage here.

Cryptocurrency

The New York Times has a short 'Q&A' style article explaining what Bitcoin is and how it works. Worth a read if you don't understand cryptocurrencies...

Tattoo Sensors

The video says it all....

That's it for this week.

Comments

Rise of Ransomware

Remember that whole saga of Apple vs the FBI when Apple refused to create a back door for the FBI to investigate a terrorists phone? Apple said that it was too dangerous and would make iOS vulnerable to hackers. The FBI said something like 'but you can trust us, we are a powerful government agency, we will protect the backdoor and keep it safe and no one else will ever get to use it - especially not hackers....' Apple stuck to their guns and the matter was never tested in court because the FBI withdrew their case and found an alternative solution to their problem.

Turns out Apple was very right though. A couple of weeks ago we reported on US government hacking tools and secrets being exposed by a hacker group calling itself the Shadow Brokers - and published on Wikileaks. That leak led to the biggest flood of ransomware infections in history. Computers across the globe became inaccessible - their data encrypted and unavailable. Ransoms of $300 - $600 were demanded. Here are some very important facts about the infection:

  • The malware in question 'Wanna Cry' (where 'Cry' stands for cryptor or decryptor) is not a virus nor a phishing attack - it is a worm with the smarts to distribute itself over the network without human intervention (you don't need to click on a link to get infected).
  • It is based on an 'exploit' leaked from the Shadow Brokers' hack of 'safe' US government intelligence agencies, specifically the NSA..
  • Microsoft was warned by the NSA that they had been hacked and that there might be a leak - and made update patches that fixed the vulnerability available in March of this year (two months ago). Unfortunately they did not patch outdated versions of their OS (XP, Vista, Server 200, Server 2003, etc).
  • Turns out most of the computers that got infected were running Windows 7.
  • The spread of the infection was slowed when a researcher discovered that the malware checked for the existence of a specific web page. As long as the web page did not exist, the ransomware continued to spread itself. The researcher (MalwareTech) registered the domain, created the web page and WannaCry stopped spreading itself.
  • Microsoft took the unprecedented step of releasing free patches for its outdated OS's.
  • Turns out that if you got infected and have not rebooted there is a possibility you can crack the encryption and free your data. The tool is available on GitHub.
  • The hackers have not earned that much from the infection. Monitoring of suspected linked bitcoin wallets shows a ROI (return on investment) of around $70 000 dollars so far. Perhaps the infection was just too large and created too much talk too quickly for people to pay up.

Wanna Cry infected hundreds of thousands of computers in over 100 countries world wide. It crippled businesses, government offices, health care (especially the NHS in the UK) and private computers indiscriminately.

The biggest lesson though is that machines with the latest version of the OS and up-to-date patches were pretty much safe from the attack.

Cartoon resources - great for class discussion or tests / exams:

MP3 is dead - NOT!

News articles this week tried to scare people into believing that MP3 as a music format is dead. Why? Well, basically the Fraunhofer institute that created MP3 is no longer licensing the format. Because their patents have expired. Which means that the format essentially moves into the public domain and is free for developers to write encoders and decoders for without having to pay royalties.

The articles suggested people use other formats such as AAC - which are, co-incedentally, still under patent and require royalty payments. These formats are newer and (slightly) better than MP3. I was just gearing up to explain the nonsense in detail when I came across this article by Marco Arment - who did it all for me so I don't have to!

The Working Dead - IT jobs in review

As IT and CAT teachers we have a vested interest in extolling the job market for IT savvy workers. InfoWorld has an excellent article on the evolution and turnover of IT related jobs and just how tricky the IT job market can be. Well worth a read so that you can talk in an informed manner with your learners on the topic.

Other News:

Fake News corner:

You might wonder why I did not report on the supposed 'Blue Whale' suicide game last week. It's simple: what information was out there seemed sketchy, anecdotal and unreliable. It seemed like a sensationalist story, the kind that proliferates on Facebook. Here's htxt.africa doing some serious research and vindicating my opinion of the story and not giving it any kind of credence.

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