This Week in Tech
VR is a buzz concept - something exciting whose time is almost always 'about to come'. I remember its first manifestation in the early 90's. Huge headgear. blocky graphics. Lots of buzz. VERY high prices. Few sales. Today we have smaller headgear. Much better graphics. Lots of buzz. High prices. Better sales. But no real market penetration (check out Digital Trends's article detailing sales of VR gear on Amazon).
The fact is that VR headsets are bulky and uncomfortable. Sure, they track and sense your head motion and update what you see accordingly, creating an 'immersive' experience. Except its not quite good enough (hence the quotes around immersive). Even dedicating a top of the line computer with top of the line GPU to the VR experience is not good enough to fool the body. What you see lags your bodies movements - by an infinitesimally small amount its true - but it is still enough to disconnect from the inner ear and make many people feel nauseous or get headaches.
Besides that, beyond the display, VR has still got a long way to go to provide satisfactory and intuitive input. The completely immersive rigs of Ready Player One and other works of fiction are a long way off.
The final two nails in the coffin are the cost of VR kit and the lack of compelling VR software at present.
VR is interesting. A first encounter with it is amazing. After that it comes a bit 'been there, seen that...' meh. The potential of the technology is undeniable - so is the extent of its improvement in the last 30 years. BUT... it still has a long way to go.
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.
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....
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...
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.
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...
The video says it all....
That's it for this week.
Deadly pictures. Farmers becoming hackers. SSDs that can double as RAM. Lasers protecting Salmon. A physical key for safety in the digital world.... This week's news is a mixed batch - most of which sounds and feels a little incredible and sci-fi. Enough credible news outlets have reported on the topics to be reasonably sure that none of it is 'fake news' ;-) [and now I have just used an emoji in a blog post, something I never thought I'd ever do!]. Anyhow, there's a lot in this post that will make you shake your head in disbelief and which you can use to amaze and astound your learners.
Gif. The image format that allows for animated images to be shared on the web and through social media. The image format that has been intentionally used to physically attack a human being. You see, people who suffer from Epilepsy can have a seizure triggered by flashing lights (that's why there are epilepsy warnings for some video games, movies,etc.). So a Trump supporter (who else would be that dumb and malicious) designed a Gif that would trigger a seizure and then sent it to a reporter that they felt was criticising the president too much. He also made his intentions clear by putting “You deserve a seizure for your post” below the image. A Texas jury has just ruled that a Gif image can be considered a deadly weapon. Read the fascinating story at here and here Digital Trends. The person responsible tried to hide his tracks by creating and using a fake twitter account but has been traced and identified.
American farmers pwn their farming equipment.
No, pwn (pronounced 'pone') is not a typo. Well, it actually was originally one when some unknown hacker typed 'pwn' instead of 'own' when describing taking over someone's computer. This 'leetspeak' (language used by the 'elite', the hacking community) term is what American farmers are having to do to their Tractors, Combine Harvesters, and other computerised farming equipment, especially those made by John Deere. A fascinating article on Motherboard describes why and how they are doing this.
|"What you've got is technicians running around here with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software that they bought off the black market"|
Save the Salmon - with lasers
Sea Lice. Parasites that flourish in the nutrient rich environment of a densely packed fish farm. A real problem for fish farmers. Enter.... an underwater drone armed with lasers that shoots to kill! Check out the article on Digital Trends. Or just watch the video below.
Storage or Memory? Both!
The line between storage and memory is being blurred by a new Intel product - the Octane SSD. Ars Technica has a technical but interesting article that is worth a read, more for you to be informed so that you can say to your learners that maybe in the future Ram and Storage will be the same thing. Basically a normal SSD is 10 000 times slower to respond to a read or write request than RAM is. The new Octane SSD is only 10 times slower than RAM! This means that you can choose to use it either as RAM or storage, depending on the needs of the moment. NB: A very exciting and interesting technology that could have a huge impact on hardware of the future! Of course, like most new technology, it is insanely expensive now - expect to pay around R20 000 for less as 375 Gb unit.
The poisoned wine problem
Brian Brushwood presents this video (from his 'Scam School' Youtube Channel) which you can use to have some fun with your learners when doing binary numbers.
A battery that powers chips whilst cooling them
This is a loooooong way off, but holds some very exciting potential. I'm not going to repeat the article so just head over to Engadget and read it there.
Fido. The physical key to your digital security.
This one is also a long way off, but is a potential solution to the 'hackers keep stealing usernames and passwords' problem. Read it at My Broadband. In the meanwhile make sure your learners understand the need for (and use) two factor authentication on any of the sites and services they use that offer it.
Which is the Safest browser?
PC Building Simulator Game
Your learners might have fun with this. And they can learn something without destroying expensive hardware. Download the software (still in beta) here and check out the video below.
Fake news corner:
Other News for the week
That's it for this week. Hope you find it all as amazing, astonishing and interesting as I do. Happy teaching.
DNA storage, anyone?
The quest for smaller, larger capacity, low power storage is pretty much never ending. This week news emerged of people finally being able to store data on DNA with 100% accuracy (Motherboard, Engadget). A great long term future trend to mention to the class, though it will probably take 10 - 20 years before this becomes a commercial product. Although capacity is huge (you can fit over 2 TB of data on 1 gram of DNA!) it can take forever to do so - the researchers took 7 hours to write 2 MB of data. Then another 7 hours to read the data.
3D Printing in the spotlight
More for your current and future trends session. 3D printing is continually advancing. Almost every week there is an article on how surgeons succeed with particularly difficult operations because they first use a MRI / CAT scan to generate a 3D image of the persons body and then 3D print the part they will work on - so that they can practice the operation before surgery starts.
South Africa is not being left behind in the 3D printing revolution. The CSIR is about to go operational with the worlds largest 3D printer - capable of printing metal parts 200m long, 6m wide and 6m high. Read about the Aeroswift printer here at 3DPrint.com.
The world has its first printed on site house (Digital Trends) - and it only took 24 hours to print the house. Watch the video (a bit of a sales pitch for Apis Corp, the makers of the printer, but still an interesting watch). Another great current and future trends topic for your classes. 3D printing houses - reduced costs for making the house, huge loss of jobs for construction workers. Which is more important?
The robot revolution
From house printing robots to small, furry pollinators. Check out how a Japanese scientist is trying out a concept of using micro drones to do a bees work (because, scarily enough, bee populations are dying out around the world).
Advances in robotics continue apace, and as always, Boston Robotics is at the forefront. This week they unveiled a new machine called Handle - check out the video below to see what it can do.
For more insight into robots, their place in the workplace and people's relationships with robots there is a long but very interesting read at The New York Times. Good material for you to gain insight into robotics in the real world.
That's it for this week. Enjoy!
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