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This Week in Tech

AMD fail, Facebook wail and video games don't create mass killers

Welcome back to another weekly news round up.

AMD fail...

A short while ago we got news of the Spectre and Meltdown hacks on Intel CPUs. AMD claimed that the chip design flaw that made these hacks possible did not apply to their CPUs and so they were soooo much better than Intel. Buy AMD instead! Well.... The shoe is now on the other foot. Researchers have found that anyone with 'Root' (administrator) level access to a computer or a network can get malware to run on the protected secure enclave of the CPU, making that malware impossible to detect or eliminate.

A disturbing part of the discovery is that it appears that the Israeli firm that published the report breaking news of these flaws seemed to be trying to use its findings to affect the stock price of AMD and other companies (i.e. trying to make money from the flaws by messing with the markets).

The fact remains that the flaws are real though - and are yet to be patched.

Read about it at Ars Technica and The Hacker News.

Facebook wail....

Facebook just kicked Cambridge Analytica off the system - for pulling private information from more than 50 000 000 users. To help Trump win his election (Ouch!! That's adding insult to injury!). They claim the event is not a hack or breach because no passwords were stolen - only personal and private information...

The New York Times has a detailed piece on this.

Here's Facebook's official explanation of what happened.

Here's Joy of Tech cartoon's take on it - Mark Zuckerberg Vs Wonder Woman!

BUT WAIT.... Here's more...

The Next Web has a piece showing what data Facebook has on you - and how you can check it out for yourself...

Every time you open Facebook, the time, location, IP address, browser & device have been recorded. If you’re part of the 1.4B people that use Facebook on a daily basis, they have enough data points to determine your everyday life patterns with great accuracy: home and work address, daily commute, wake up & bedtime, travel duration & destination, etc.

Video games don't create mass killers

One of President Trump's reactions to the recent school shooting in Florida (besides suggesting that teachers be armed) was to say that video games are responsible for creating a mindset that makes mass killings possible.

Luckily for us, science proves otherwise - and Gizmodo has the details.

Passwords Out, Biometrics In

CNN Money has a segment on how quickly the US is moving away from passwords and resorting to biometrics for security. I'd take the statistics with a grain of salt, but interesting nonetheless.

Tourism & The Selfie

The Citizen has a great in-depth article on how selfie culture is affecting tourism. Great for broadening your view and gaining insight.

Android - with malware pre-installed

The Hacker News has an article detailing how 5 million Android devices have been found with some particularly nasty malware pre-installed.

Climb into a taxi - and find there's no driver...

Waymo is trialling driverless cars in its service in the US. Digital Trends has an article on how people are reacting. Video below.

Digital Trends explains:

What is RAM

What is an SSD

Criminal using drone to scout target in JHB

The Citizen has the details.

That's it for this week. Happy teaching!


Laser Canons, Heavy Rockets and a Spying House

Welcome back. The news this week contained some interesting tidbits - the most awe inspiring of which was Elon Musk and SpaceX's successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. Besides the rocket (whose 27 engines did literally shake the earth) there's nothing of earth shaking, overwhelming importance. Let's jump straight into it then...

The Falcons have landed.

Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in operation today (and the most powerful since the Saturn V which took humanity to the moon) completed its test launch this week. Your learners might like to know (if they don't already) that there is now a cherry red sports car (with a space suit clad mannequin in the driver's seat) on its way to Mars!

More significant and beautiful and awe inspiring was the simultaneous landing of the two booster rockets at Cape Canaveral (these rockets had both been used before). The whole launch is worth watching just for this landing.

Of course, SpaceX's rockets are completely computer controlled and the precision of that landing would be impossible without IT.


    • First rocket capable of sending people to the Moon / Mars since 1973.
    • Cost effective - carries twice the load of the second most powerful rocket at ⅓ of the cost.

Watch the video below.

Sim Swap hacks reaching the US

SIM Swapping is nothing new for South Africans. It has been part of our cyber crime landscape for yonks. Seems like that is not the case in America. Motherboard has an article on T-Mobile issuing warnings about the scam. They call it a 'phone number port out scam'. Sim Swap seems so much easier to understand...

Social media & the death of originality

The video below is a collage of people's travel photographs on Instagram. Read the article on Boing Boing to see what the photographer Oliver KMIA has to say about our obsession with photographing and posting. He also points out his video is a cliche - a copy of what others have done before...

The House IS the SPY

Gizmodo has a fascinating article that was intended to reveal how much as smart house spies on you - but ended up revealing a bigger problem with the technology...

It's just plain irritating!

South Africans need to improve their Cyber Manners has an article detailing Microsoft report showing how badly South Africans behave online.

As teachers we need to make sure our learners, friends & family know better and tech others to behave better!

US Navy buys first big Laser Canon

Motherboard has the details.

Smartphones used in fighting crime in New York City

The headline of this Digital Trends article is about how New York cops are switching from Windows Lumia phones to iPhones. Read past that for some insight on how smartphones are actually used by the police.

3D Printing in full colour

If you have $50 000 - $100 000 you can get one of HPs new full colour 3D Printers. It may be unaffordable now, but is shows what kind of future is heading our way - fast!


That's it for this week. Enjoy & tech well.

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.


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....


A Social Mess

Social interaction has always (in my mind) been humanities Achilles' Heel. It is in this area where our insecurities and fears are most exposed - and where our need to dominate and profit often rise above our more redeeming characteristics. The rise of mobile, always on, always connected computing has gone hand in hand with the rise of mega-companies that are little more than symbiotic parasites - they ostensibly offer 'free' services that add value to our lives yet - leech like - drain much of the good and decent and substantive from our lives and social interactions. It would seem as if there is no low they will not stoop to in order to maximise their own profits.

In recent weeks we have seen these giant corporations scrambling to explain how and why they sold adverts that influenced the American election; how and why they publish and promote fake news; how and why it is OK for the American President to spout divisive, bullying hate speech on their platform... I find myself viscerally sickened and repulsed by it all.

And yet their quest to inveigle themselves into our lives is ever more persistent, determined --- and creepy. Two stories on Gizmodo this week particularly creeped me out:

Both stories deal with PYMK (People You May Know). Facebook wants you to make 'friends'. Their thinking (and research) is that the more friends you have, the more you will interact with their site (and the more money they will make from you). So they keep on suggesting people for you to connect with and be friends with. How they find these people is a closely guarded algorithmic secret (after all, other companies want you to connect to people using their network so that they can make money from you) and no one outside of Facebook really knows how it works.

PYMK uses '100 signals' to work out who to connect you to. Facebook refuses to say what these signals are. They deny that they use data bought from third parties or location data / location tracking in this mysterious algorithm. Yet they only vaguely describe around five of these 100 signals.

Both the articles describe extremely creepy connections that Facebook has made between users - connections that should not be possible.

Should any company have this kind of invasive power that they can wield at their own discretion without our having any recourse to prevent them?

The Reed Dance and social media

Facebook and Google and most other social media tries to block and censor nudity. But what if being bare breasted is part of your culture?

The Mail and Guardian has an article on how local girls protest their bare-breasted photos from the Reed Dance being deleted from social media....

Microsoft News

In case you missed it, Microsoft has discontinued support for Office 2007 (upgrade if you haven't already) and says that Windows 10 Mobile (and physical phones) is no longer a priority. The mobile space really belongs to Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

Kaspersky - Anti-Virus or Hacking tool?

If you use Windows then going without anti-virus software is like going into space without a spacesuit. It feels kinda suicidal. Of course, the fact that everyone needs anti-virus to protect themselves from the baddies who want to hack and steal data means that, well, the AV programs themselves are the perfect way to hack...

In the news this week is a complicated story of how Israeli intelligence hacked into Kaspersky AV to find proof that the Russians had hacked the AV software so that it would steal American spies' secrets. Sounds more complicated than a badly written Hollywood tech-spy thriller? Probably - but it is true nonetheless. Read it at Ars Technica (and many other places).

Technology and the future

MIT Technology Review has an interesting article on predicting the future of AI (and technology). It does a good job of explaining the limits of AI in its current forms (including the 'machine learning' that is a buzz concept today). Excellent, thoughtful and worth a read.

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
Roy Amara - Amara's Law

A robotic massage

Digital Trends has an article on a massaging robot that has just started work in Singapore.

That's it for this week. Enjoy.


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