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This Week in Tech

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.


Welcome back

Welcome back after the Easter break. In this blog we'll summarise the news from the holidays, and warn that the next post will only be on 6 May as the author will be away. Happy catching up!

Mastercard test fingerprints in SA

Soon forgetting your PIN / protecting your PIN might not be so important anymore. Mastercard has been trialling a card that includes a fingerprint reader in the card in conjunction with ABSA and Pick n Pay. Many articles from all over. This one from BizNews.

All is not as it seems

Our learners live in a world where they are often bombarded by images of a 'fake perfect' culture. People pose, pimp, preen, ensure the light and camera angle are just so and create that all important 'perfect' image for posting on instafacebooktwitter. These girls at Hello Giggles show the difference between their posts and what they look like most of the time.

Might be worth a discussion about perception, the need to appear perfect and reality....

Bug in Firefox, Chrome and Opera makes phishing almost impossible to detect

This one is a bit technical, but bear with me... The WWW doesn't use ASCII. Instead it prefers utf-8 a unicode character encoding that helps make it easy for browsers to display other languages and symbols. This makes it possible for the web address to be displayed as in your browser. A problem for detecting phishing, because one of the first things to do is check that the name in the browser looks correct. Read more at Hackaday.

One fingerprint to rule them all

Mastercard might be too late with its fingerprint reading bank / credit card. Those pesky researchers are at it again, creating not one but a set of 'master fingerprints' that act like skleleton keys and make breaking into digital biometric fingerprint security possible. Check out the article at Digital Trends.

Facebook and murder

So a guy has issues with his girlfriend. He thinks the best way to get her attention is to walk up to a stranger, get them to say his girlfriend's name, shoot them in the head, record it all on video and then post the video to Facebook. Where it remained for three hours before Facebook took it down, despite the video being reported. Discuss.

Learn to think like a computer

An interesting piece from the New York Times on computational thinking.

Germany to parents: 'split on your kid's piracy!'

OK, so its basically a 'tell us who did it or the person paying for the internet connection pays the fine' scenario. So German parents will have to cough up for underage children but will have to choose between splitting on their adult kids piracy activities or paying the fine themselves

10m wide 4k display

Cinemas might not have projectors anymore. Samsung just revealed a 10m wide 4k LED display designed for small cinemas.

Teraco Data Center in JHB

Mybroadband has photos....

That's it for now, back in 2 weeks. Happy teaching

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