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This Week in Tech

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....

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18 cores, a surf-able drone and jaywalking

Exams are upon you, so you don't have too much time to deal with in-depth news and articles right now. So this week I'll keep it short and sweet.

18 Cores

That's right: Intel just just announced a new i9 series of core processors that maxes out at 18 cores (36 threads) on a single CPU - trumping AMD's earlier announcement of a Ryzen processor with 16 cores. That's if you are willing to pay $1 999 (over R30 000) just for the CPU in your system! As always though, this development is an indication of how CPUs are developing and where they are going. That, and the fact that everybody (including Apple) seems to be trying to catch up with Google and their Tensor chip by creating silicon designed specifically for AI and machine learning.

Surf-able Drone

This is not something that is on the market, more a proof of concept used in a cool way. Digital Trends has an article on a guy delivering the match ball to a soccer cup final in Portugal.


Don't Jaywalk!!

What's jaywalking? Crossing the street anywhere that is not an official pedestrian crossing - or crossing against the light. Paris has a problem with jaywalking - statistics say that over 4000 people a year are hit by cars whilst jaywalking. So, obviously, authorities would rather people did not jaywalk and have come up with an innovative technical way to discourage people from jaywalking. Digital Trends has the details.


An AI chatbot that helps you get a job

CNN Money has and article on a startup trying to develop a chatbot that deals with recruitment and preliminary job interview questions.

VR Training midwives

Virtual reality has been 'on the cusp' of mainstream use since the early 1990's. I remember the first huge clunky VR sets and the blocky graphics that they displayed. Today's VR is much more realistic and immersive but still faces the problems of lag (even milliseconds of lag can cause headaches and sea-sickness) and expensive hardware. That said, I think VR is closer to mainstream use than ever before and is seeing some innovative use cases. An Australian University is using VR in its final exams to test how good a trainee midwife is at delivering a baby. CNet has the details.

Facial Recognition in education

A French business school will use facial recognition software to check how much attention its students are paying in class. Useful? Invasive? Creepy? You decide. read the article at The Verge. This author strongly agrees with the sentiments expressed in the second last paragraph.

I promised this week would be short and sweet - so that's where we stop! Good luck with exams, invigilation and marking!

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Unintended Consequences

Tech is always pushing the boundaries. A continual fountain of new ideas, new gadgets and new ways of doing business bubbles up, with entrepreneurs and investors (and consumers) eagerly jumping aboard the latest bandwagon. The 'next big thing' arrives and is proclaimed by its inventors / creators / designers; we all reach, starry eyed and full of hope, for the magic that will miraculously improve our lives and ease our blighted souls.

The problem is: new tech is untried, untested and - even it performs flawlessly and does what it is meant to do in an exemplary fashion - people are wily and conniving and deceitful and will find a way to pervert the purpose of even the best technology.

This brings me to the cause of this negative and cynical rant: Poachers are trying to hack the tracking technology designed to protect and preserve their prey (Full scientific article available at Wiley Online Library). Cyber poaching. A new term to learn and loathe.


“Animal tracking can reveal animal locations (sometimes in nearly real-time), and these data
can help people locate, disturb, capture, harm, or kill tagged animals,”

Another job bites the dust

Used to be that people thought that jobs flipping burgers at fast food joints would be the last refuge for humanity whilst robots took over the world. Flappy, the burger flipping robot might hake something to say about that. Read it at Engadget and check out the video below.


Wikileaks and the CIA

The big news this week, splashed all over the news and just about every publication you care to read, is the Wikileaks publication of CIA hacking tools. The New York Times has an article detailing how to protect yourself if you are worried (summary: update, update, update!), Popular Science retcons it is all over-hyped and Digital Trends has a summary of the leak.

General news:

  • How big of a problem is spam? A single spammers list of email addresses has been found - an incredible 1.3 Billion adresses. From one spam operator. Just think how much faster and more responsive the internet would be if it were not clogged by the foul morass of spam mails.
  • It is early days yet but Google has started applying image recognition tech to videos - trying to identify objects in the video. Why it matters: You could search a video library for a specific item or scene quickly rather than suffering through endless fast forwarding. It also opens the path to all sorts of as yet unimagined analysis of video archives - as well as self-alerting surveillance systems.
  • Microsoft has announced it is creating a version of Windows Server that will run on the same type of smaller, lower powered, cheaper processors (ARM processors) that power your smartphone and tablet. Read it at Digital trends. Why it matters: This move would make servers (and data centres) cheaper and more energy efficient.
  • Android is about to overtake Windows as the most used OS globally. Why it matters: More proof that most people's first (and perhaps only) computing device will be a mobile one.
  • Prototype Red Cross Land Rover launches and lands drones from its roof - while on the go! Why it matters: Besides being sooooo cool? Improved response time and efficiency.
  • Is Facebook doing something about its Fake News problem at last? Possibly. Here's a link to a page on Facebook that allows you to declare a news item as possibly fake. Problem is, that they haven't made it generally available as yet. Why it matters: We've been talking about Fake News a lot and how it influences real life. This can help people become more aware that what they are reading is not necessarily true.
  • David Mahlobo (our very own Minister of State security) wants to monitor and restrict social media in South Africa. Why it matters: If you think that even a hint that government wants to control social media (for whatever reason) is not disturbing and dangerous then I am not sure how any amount of words can explain why this is important. Zapiro has a perfect cartoon to explain the futility of the idea and the repressive, dictatorial company that our Minister wants to join.
  • CNN announces availability of some news in 360 degree VR.
  • 3D Print has a great, but technical, article on printing baby skeletons and organs to improve neonatal care.
  • CPU Developments. AMD announces server CPU with 64 cores. Why it matters: It is always good to know the trends in CPU development (not that it is likely a consumer will have a machine with such a chip $3000 - $4000 (over R40 000 just for the CPU) . Obviously, this increases server, data centre power at the same high end price point.
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