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This Week in Tech

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Welcome back. We all know that ICT is incredibly enabling. IT puts a lot of CAN into your world. This week we take a bit of time to think about responsibility and consequences. We look at three specific examples of where we can ask - 'you can - but should you?'. But first, let's start with some general news for the week:

Quick news summaries:


You can, but Should you: Monitor your staff?

Sensors are becoming smaller, cheaper and more powerful. Using them, people are developing systems to use energy and space in offices more effectively. To do this, the sensors need to track the movement of workers in the office. No workers in a room? OK, turn off the lights and climate control. Have an open plan office and need to manage work spaces, conference venues, meeting rooms, etc? Track who is where in the building.

The problem is that all technology can be used for many purposes. The same sensors that can tell you how many desks are empty and which meeting rooms are available can also be used to track how much time a worker spends at his / her desk. Some sensors can even tell how often people speak to each other. Big Brother is alive, well and coming to an office near you.

So the trade off is, once again, efficiency vs privacy. This is a topic within the frame of reference of your learners - and makes the whole privacy debate real to them. So why not give them the topic and get them to do a real debate in the class?

Some reference sites:


You can, but should you: Profit from fake news?

You live in a poor town in a poor country. There is an election in a foreign country that many people are interested in. You see an opportunity to create some 'news' web sites related to candidates in this election - and make some money off the advertising when people view your site. Your actions may have a significant impact on the outcome of that election. Should you go ahead and make money or not?

This topic is drawn mainly from a fascinating Wired article titled Inside the Macedonian Fake-News Complex. The article details the actions of a 17 year old who made $16 000 (more than R200 000) in four months feeding fake news to the American public during the elections. An interesting read - which raises interesting questions that you and your class need to be aware of.


You can, but should you: Watch porn online?


88 percent of the top 500 porn sites have tracking elements installed.

Finally, we all know that most school kids have looked at online porn at least once. You can be as shocked and in denial as you like - but surely it's better to be honest and upfront with the issue - and with them.

Articles detail how, no matter how you try to hide it, your porn viewing habits can be tracked - and all it takes is a hacker to put it out in public for the world to see... or blackmail you into a very uncomfortable situation. Check out Brett Thomas's Blog and Motherboard.


"If you are watching / viewing porn online ... even in Incognito mode,
you should expect that at some point your porn viewing history will be
publicly released and attached to your name."
-- Brett Thomas

Even if you don't feel comfortable debating the issue of porn, online porn and the viewing habits of the modern teenager - surely it is worthwhile to warn your learners of something that could potentially cause them (at minimum) great embarrassment in the future?


Solving the database problem of time

For the more technically minded. Running a global database is an immense technical challenge. But one of the issues that does not jump to the forefront of one's thinking is Time. How does a database track and manage user interactions (insertions, deletions, edits) on a global scale given the problems of different time zones - and the delays inherent in electronic communications? Only one company has solved this problem - Google. The database it developed is called Spanner, which it is making available to paying customers as a cloud service. Read about it at Wired.


Ransomware & Malware corner

Here's this week's Ransomware and Malware news.

  • Researchers show PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers, the small computers used in many industrial contexts) can be hacked and used to do things like hold the power grid to ransom.
  • And: The Hacker News has an article where researchers show that the water supply is also at risk.
  • Related: CSO Online has an article on worries that Ransomware will hit critical infrastructure. Interesting video on recovering from a Ransomware attack at the bottom of the article.
  • Prediction: Ransomware insurance will become a hot new thing.
  • Is your English poor? Are you worried your dating scam will be detected because of bad grammar / spelling? Don't worry, the Darknet has a solution. Krebs on Security has an article detailing how you can buy dating scam packs - full of templates, photos, letters, etc. to make it easy for you to steal money from a lonely person just looking to connect with that special someone.


Fake news corner

Here's a summary of fake news related articles for the week:

That's it for this week. Happy teaching!

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