This Week in Tech
So we are IT / CAT teachers. By definition we encourage the use of screens and tech. How ambivalent does that make us feel when countless headlines from the media scream out reminders that 'screen time' is bad for kids and should controlled / limited / eradicated completely? I know that I have felt the inner conflict at times. Surely so many pundits and experts can't be wrong? Is what I am doing actually bad for the children under my care?
(Here are some examples of the dire 'screen time is the apocalypse and is turning our kids brains to mush' warnings out there: New York Times "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones." and here (Oct 2018); Business Insider; Quartz; The Guardian; IOL; and many, many, many more.)
To add to this I want to / have taken things a step further. I believe that an online, interactive textbook is a better tool for our learners than a traditional textbook - and I have gone ahead and "put my money where my mouth is" to create just such a thing (check it out at LearningOpportuinities.co.za).
And yet I still have this nagging question inside me about whether I am only making things worse....
But, here's the thing. Deep inside me I know that this hysteria about screen time is wrong. Screen time is not the problem. It's how the screen is used and what is on the screen that are the cores of the problem.
Screen time is often used as a nanny / pacifier (dummy) by adults too busy and caught up in their own lives to become involved with their children on a meaningful level. The screen keeps the kids quiet and out of your hair for hours at a time. It's a miracle of modern technology! Give it to the kids and they go away and don't bother you.
The screen time most known and feared by concerned adults (parents, teachers, researchers and especially sensationalist media) is the passive, vegetative watching of meaningless video (YouTube), hours of gaming and other isolating, unproductive activities (which to my thinking should include use of social media).
Screens, especially the small screens we carry around with us all the time - smartphones and tablets) are technological incarnations of the Dr Jeckyl / Mr Hyde (free ebook here at Gutenberg.org) dichotomy. They are not all bad (and not all good). They can be used for reading (as an avid ebook reader since before the advent of the iPhone and tablet I can and do sing the praises of the wonder of a library in my pocket). Not all videos are bad (there are many useful tutorial videos on YouTube as well as the mindless gunk). Some games are really great (if you have not tried - and made your learners play - Human Resource Machine then you need to stop reading this article now and do so; it's a great way to understand how a CPU works!).
So what do we do when confronted by people telling us that screen time is bad?
My response is to ask how the screen is being used.
Is the kid given a screen and expected to go away, shut up and keep themselves busy in an unsupervised way? Yes. That kind of screen time is bad.
Do you spend meaningful time with kids doing all sorts of activities (including outdoors activities, chores, sports, games and screen time) and so naturally keep a balance in their lives? Do you share screen time with them, discuss what is on the screen - and make sure that the things available on their screen are not all mindless drek? Do you encourage the use of the screen to discover, explore and create new things? Do you encourage and foster independence and self reliance by showing how the screen can be used to find solutions to problems?
These questions direct to a realisation that handling the screen differently can transform what could be bad into something good.
It's about time we protagonists of tech took a stand and said that IT doesn't have to be this way!
This rant is prompted by finally seeing an article "In defence of screen time" on Tech Crunch, reading it and feeling that it does not go far enough.....
This weeks news links:
First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.
One of the biggest challenges in protecting privacy is that many of the violations are invisible. For example, you might have bought a product from an online retailer—something most of us have done. But what the retailer doesn’t tell you is that it then turned around and sold or transferred information about your purchase to a “data broker”—a company that exists purely to collect your information, package it and sell it to yet another buyer.
The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail. Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.
Let’s be clear: you never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, “Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.”
VR seems to be going the way of 3D TVs. You saw a lot of hype about it for a while but are seeing less and less as time goes on. Why?
That's it for this week. Happy teaching!
This week Intel announced a new CPU with 28 cores that runs at 5 Ghz. A day later AMD announced a CPU with 32 cores (no speed specified). Both announcements are a clear indication of the direction CPU development is taking for the future. Though no prices were announced these top of the range CPUs are likely to cost around R20 000 or R30 000 (just for the CPU). Maybe one day when I'm all grown up I'll get me one of those....
Microsoft moves under the sea
If you ever need proof that servers are designed not to be accessed directly by humans (but rather only through the network) then look no further than Microsoft's new data centre. It contains only 864 servers but, to save on energy costs it is submerged beneath the ocean off the Scottish shore. The sea keeps it cool without power hungry air conditioning - and it completely powered by renewable energy. Motherboard has the details.
Just because you see a 'deal' online don't believe that it's all that it's cracked up to be. MyBroadband investigates 'deals' on Takealot and finds that they come up seriously short... Remember always do some research and price comparisons before you click that 'buy' button.
Apple vs the plunderers of privacy
At its WWDC conference keynote held on Monday, Apple announce that its OS and browser (Safari) will take some serious measures to counter the way that you (the user) are tracked online by data vendors such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. There are TWO main prongs to this defence:
On top of that, law enforcement (and therefore anyone else who can lay their hands on the technology) has been able to 'crack' and log into phones by using a box that connects to the phone by USB cable and brute forces its way through the password. No more. The new version of iOS will allow you to disable USB access if the phone has been inactive for an hour.
Here are some relevant links:
Apple and your digital health
Apple didn't stop with privacy. People have also been complaining that our devices are too addictive and demanding that manufacturers do something about it. Well Apple took these complaints to heart. The new iOS has a feature called Screentime which will allow you to track how much you use your device - in detail. You will be able to see how often you look at your phone or tablet, which apps take up most of your time (precisely measured). More than that, you will be able to set time limits for usage - and even specify these limits by app. So, for example, you can allocate yourself 15 minutes a day for Facebook. The OS will track the time you use (on your phone and tablet together), show you how much tome you have used, how much is left and in the end cut you off (obviously they do allow you to override the cutoff and continue). This could be a shocking eye opener for some of us...
Hacks, cracks and malware
Robots, Drones, etc.
That's it for this week....
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:
Cybercrime - hacks, cracks, scams, etc.
Network & Internet
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.
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....
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
That's the news for this week. Happy teaching!
This week's news contains two significant robot announcements that point the way to a future where robots take over and humans have very little work to do. What existed only in the imaginations of comic book and Sci Fi authors in the 1960's is lowly becoming reality as our technology starts to catch up with our dreams. What is making this robot revolution possible? Small, low powered, reliable sensors (including GPS); powerful SoCs (System on a Chip - where the whole computer system is on a single chip); plentiful, fast, reliable and cheap memory and storage and major advances in AI algorithms....
Our robotic future
To the self-driving cars that seem to be just over the horizon we can now add robots that can farm by themselves - and carry out dental surgery without a human's guiding hand...
Hands Free Hectare is a project at Harper Adams University which just successfully proved that robots can plant and harvest a field without any human intervention. The robots in question were installed into old farming equipment (tractors, harvesters, etc.). During the entire process - from planting to harvest - humans were not allowed into the hectare sized field. The result? 4.5 tons of Barley!
And in China (where there is apparently a shortage of dentists) a robot installed two dental implants in a patient (humans are still required to change drill bits etc, but the precise, in-mouth work was carried out by the robot autonomously. On top of that, the implants were 3D printed! 3Dprint.com has more.
These are two great and interesting examples of ICT 'disrupting' the world as we know it and possibly increasing productivity whilst causing job losses for humans. It used to be that only factory style work (precise and very repetitive involving no ability to sense the world or make decisions) was the target for robotic replacement. Now any job is fair game...
Mining vs Advertising
Much of the web (and most of the 'free' apps and services we use) is 'powered' by advertising. The problem is, advertising is becoming over saturated and people are becoming suspicious and resentful of the 'tracking' that advertisers do. This week we saw proof that companies are investigating alternative sources of income. One of these alternative sources of income is 'mining' cryptocurrency. To 'mine' a bitcoin or ether or any other type of cryptocurrency you need to perform some intense calculations to solve complex mathematical problems. To make money by mining cryptocurrency you need expensive computer hardware running at full capacity - which uses a lot of electricity.
So why not get other people's computers to do the mining for you using a type of distributed computing?
That's exactly what The Pirate Bay (something you could expect of them) and video streaming site Showtime (a big surprise) did this week. They embedded scripts in their web pages that made your computer do cryptocurrency mining when you visited them. Your computer did the work, you got the electricity bill and they earned cryptocurrency. All without asking your permission. The Guardian has the details.
Tinder is a dating app. Like most modern apps it collects data about you to 'improve its performance'. We all know this. What might surprise you is how much data it collects. A journalist who used Tinder for 4 years of using Tinder requested that Tinder supply her with the data it collected. European data laws allowed her to do this and eventually Tinder complied - the result adds up to 800 pages of collected data. Data from Tinder, Facebook and Instagram had been collected. All the places she was when she used the app. The online conversations she had with people she matched up with.
|“Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising.”|
Alessandro Acquisti - from "I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets" in The Guardian, 26 Sept 2017.
The extent of data collected by Tinder is astonishing - but is nothing compared to what Google knows about you. Remember - the connected world is NOT a private place.
Read the article at The Guardian (worth the time).
Tapes are back!
No, not your 70's, 80's and 90's mix cassettes - no matter what the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise would have you believe. We are talking tape based data backups. The fact is, disk based backups are vulnerable to hackers. Tapes are slower, not permanently online and more cumbersome - but their major advantage is that they are secure. You need physical access to mess with their data. That's why many companies are looking to use tapes as a secondary, more secure type of backup. Read it at Marketwatch.com. This ties in with spies and security agencies going back to typewriters, paper and filing cabinets because hackers make data security a joke!
That's it for this week. Happy teaching...
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