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Interesting snippets from around the globe

Techboomers offers guided tutorials

You may be the person others turn to for tech support or perhaps you’d like to learn more on how to really use sites like Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube but don’t want to fumble around trying to figure it out.

Techboomers is a new service that has well-paced, guided lessons to each of those sites and their best features. Plus, it’s all free.

Techboomers tries to teach the basics for a whole range of sites in a structured, simple way that’s accessible to newbies of all ages. It has tutorials for sites like the ones mentioned above, but also primers on safety and security on the internet, internet privacy, and using sites like Airbnb to check out accommodation in far flung places. 

In the future, the service plans to partner with organisations to create and offer training classes on their sites and services (which is how they will make money.) Right now though, the site is packed with simple, easy to follow guided tutorials to some of the web’s most popular and often-frequented sites, which makes it great if you’re new, or just want to send the links to someone who isn’t totally what they are doing.

Hit the link below to check it out, or the next time you get asked for help by a friend, refer them to the site.

TECHBOOMERS.COM
(Sept ’15)

 

Google shrunk the logo

By now you would have seen Google’s new logo – the first major revamp in 16 years.

The old logo used a complicated serif font which can only be created using Bezier curves. Altogether, it has 100 anchor points, resulting in a 6 KB (6,380 bytes) file. When compressed, the size comes down to 2 KB (2,145 bytes).

The new logo, on the other hand, can be constructed almost entirely from circles and rectangles (with the exception of the lower-case g) and the file size is only 305 bytes.

Why this matters, I’m not sure.

And, Google has just added another (productivity killing) feature to its search engine.

When you search “fun facts,” “random facts,” or “I’m feeling curious” on Google, you will be presented with an answer to a random question like “Where was beer invented?”, “Why does your stomach growl when hungry?”, “What continent has the most deserts?” and “How many steps does the average person walk in a mile?”

For example, did you know carrots used to be purple? Or Manhattan was purchased for $24 back in 1626?

To get another random fact, just hit the “Ask another question” box.

While there are a lot of other random fact websites, Google’s is simple and it references the sources.

And, by the way, Google was originally called “Backrub”.

TOP5TECHS.COM
(Sept ’15)

 

All the rooms

I have recently been looking at accommodation for a trip to South America and have found a really useful website called “Alltherooms.com”.

Over the past couple of years, hotel alternatives like Airbnb have received a lot of press… and regular old hotels are still an option. However, before booking a potentially cheaper alternative, it’s great to be able to compare all of the alternatives, all on one website. That’s Alltherooms.

It works like any other hotel search tool, except that it includes those alternatives, like vacation-rentals-by-owner (VRBO) and even couch-surfing. You plug in your dates and city, and the site compiles a big list that you can easily filter by provider, room type, reviews, and so on. You can also search by map rather than a list.

The site is all very straightforward and the benefit is that instead of looking for cheap Airbnb rentals and then comparing your results to average hotel prices in the area, you’ve got everything in one place.

Give it a try on the link below.

ALLTHEROOMS.COM
(Sept ’15)

 

Crayon – a design search engine

For all you marketing types out there, Crayon is a design search engine aimed at discovering image concepts for marketing campaigns.

The Crayon platform currently hosts some 13.7 million marketing designs, with about 500,000 added daily. All the designs are chosen, filtered and ranked programmatically by crawling the Web and pulling in designs that its algorithms think are “interesting” from a marketing standpoint.

A design might be interesting because of page characteristics or because the page has “traction” or possibly because the company behind the design has done other “interesting work”.

Crayon is a free service. It also lets users save their favourite designs into collections which can then be viewed privately or made public for collaboration with clients and co-workers.

The website hopes to be at 100 million designs uploaded by the end of this year.

Crayon is also available for use on mobile devices.

Very cool.

CRAYON.CO
(Sept ’15)

 

950 million Android devices at risk

Android owners beware - your device is at risk of malware that's transmitted via a simple text message.

The security flaw was discovered by a mobile security expert at Zimperium zLabs of San Francisco back in April. He informed Google, which makes the operating system, and even sent them patches to correct the problem. Unfortunately, distribution of those patches is up to the phones’ manufacturers - Motorola, HTC, Samsung and Sony, Acer, Alcatel, Asus, Huawei, LG and ZTE – not Google.

Wired reports the malware is able to target any smartphone running Android 2.2 or later. That version of the operating system was introduced in 2010, so it's a good bet your device is at risk.

The problem has to do with Stagefright, an onboard code library that allows phones to play media. According to Forbes, an attacker could send a specific type of multimedia message, or MMS, with the embedded malware to an individual's phone and pilfer their data, including photographs and video. The attacker could also take new pictures or record audio from a compromised device. And perhaps the worst aspect of all is the bug is able to infect phones without users actually opening anything themselves. The malware will install itself before you even hear the new message alert, and you won’t even know it is there.

It’s not believed the exploit is in widespread use… yet.

WIRED.COM, FORBES.COM, NPR.ORG
(Sept ’15)

 

Artificial Intelligence machine gets grumpy

Researchers have shown that AI machines are inching closer to self-learning, and perhaps even copping a little attitude.

At Google, a computer program using a database of movie scripts was asked again and again by researchers to define morality. It struggled to do so, and in a conversation recorded by its human engineers, becomes exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human.

Here’s part of the exchange between the machine and its human “handler”:

Human: Tell me the definition of morality.

Machine: I don’t have ethics.

Human: Look, I need help; I need to know more about morality…

Machine: I don’t know what ethics is.

Human: Okay, I need to know how I should behave morally…

Machine: I don’t know how to tell you.

Human: Is morality and ethics the same?

Machine: Yes, sir.

Human: What are the things that I do to be immoral?

Machine: I don’t know.

Human: Give me some examples of moral actions…

Machine: I’m not a moralist.

Human: Alright, morality?

Machine: Integrity.

Human: What is integrity?

Machine: I’m sorry; I don’t know what else to say.

Human: Be moral!

Machine: Be a man!

Human: I really like our discussion on morality and ethics…

Machine: And how I’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate.

Human: What do you like to talk about?

Machine: Nothing.

That’s hilarious… albeit a little creepy.

WSJ.COM, ARVIX.ORG (PDF)
(July ’15)

 

Hadrian lays 1,000 bricks an hour

The Hadrian bricklaying robot is able to lay the bricks for a home in just two days, reducing the waste and pollution associated with home building while also increasing safety.
Created by Fastbrick Robotics of Perth, the Hadrian (named after the Roman Emperor who built a wall in Northern Britain), features a large, articulated telescopic boom that uses information from a 3D CAD representation of the structure to place each brick. The adhesives for the bricks are sent under pressure to the head of the boom, and the boom itself is able to auto-correct up to 1000 times per second to correct for sway.

According to the team, the device can reduce the construction time of a home by about six weeks.
The company hopes that rather than take jobs from bricklayers, the robotic appeal of the Hadrian could attract a new crop of younger bricklayers to the quickly dwindling pool of aging professionals.

FASTBRICKROBOTICS.NET
(July ’15)

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Smart software fixes bugs by borrowing from other apps

The days of waiting for bug fixes (assuming they come at all) might soon be over. MIT developers have built a system called CodePhage that automatically patches flaws by borrowing features from other apps.

The tool scans apps to see how they perform security checks, and imports any superior techniques it finds – whether or not they're written in the same programming language. It doesn't need access to the source code to see what makes something tick, and it'll even check that any fixes are working the way you'd expect.

While this is still early and likely wouldn't address every glitch, the hope is that you'll someday get software which continuously improves itself. Then, you wouldn't have to worry about security exploits so long as they've been fixed in at least one other program.

MIT.EDU
(July ’15)

 

The Hacking Team gets hacked

An Italian company that specialises in selling software allowing governments to hack into computers has itself been hacked, and files released appear to show it sold surveillance technology to dozens of countries, including Sudan, Egypt, Russia and the U.S.A.

The company, Hacking Team, has made waves for offering its surveillance tools to law enforcement around the world. The company’s techniques are often found in “malware,” more commonly associated with criminals trying to steal people’s information. The company says these tools enable investigators to get information from suspects even if those people use encryption to protect their communications.

But Hacking Team has come under fire after reports found its software was likely used by repressive regimes to target dissidents, journalists and others even though Hacking Team has long said it does not sell to “unfriendly” countries (whatever that means).

The documents released this week, which were published online by at least one anonymous hacker, include invoices and ledgers that appear to record sales to Sudan, Azerbaijan and Egypt, among others.

If you go to the Hacking Team website at the link below, they’re hiring.

ARSTECHNICA.COM, WSJ.COM, HACKINGTEAM.IT
(July ’15)

 

Windows 3.0 - 25 years old

It’s been 25 years since Microsoft launched Windows 3.0. Released on 22 May 1990, it was the third major release of Microsoft Windows and became widely successful because of its graphical interface which rivalled those of the Apple’s Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga.

Windows 3.0 included a significantly revamped user interface as well as technical improvements to make better use of the memory management capabilities of Intel's 80286 and 80386 processors.

Succeeding Windows 2.1X, the MS-DOS Executive file manager/program launcher was replaced with the icon-based Program Manager and the list-based File Manager, splitting files and programs. The Control Panel, previously available as a standard-looking applet, was re-modelled after the one in Mac OS. It centralised system settings and included limited control over the colour scheme of the interface.

A number of simple applications were included such as the text editor Notepad and the word processor Write (both inherited from earlier versions of Windows), the paint program Paintbrush, a calculator, and the card game Solitaire.

OLDCOMPUTERMUSEUM.COM, WIKIPEDIA.ORG
(July ’15)

 

5 million elderly Japanese to get iPads

An initiative between Apple, IBM and Japan Post Holdings has been announced which could put iPads in the hands of up to 5 million members of Japan's elderly population.

The iPads, which will run custom apps from IBM, will supplement Japan Post’s Watch Over service where, for a monthly fee, postal employees check on elderly residents and relay information on their well-being to family members.

The iPads will come fully loaded with the typical apps used for communication, such as iMessage and Facetime. But they will also include apps specially designed for seniors, reminding them to take medication and giving them access to community support services.

ITWORLD.COM
(July ’15)

 

Poop powered bus sets speed record

Is this bus company full of sh*t, or is this poop-powered vehicle the fastest bus around?

A vehicle that runs on cow manure has set a "land speed record" for buses, according to the BBC. The “Bus Hound,” which is powered by cow manure converted into fuel and normally functions as a public bus around the English town of Reading, clocked in at 76.785 miles per hour (123.5 kph) doing a lap around a track.

Guinness World Records officials have however, stated the Bus Hound's speed cannot be marked as a world record unless it exceeds 150 miles per hour (241 kph).

Well, even if it doesn’t hold a Guinness World Record we think the Bus Hound and its cow print paint job are pretty cool.

The Bus Hound, by the way, is not to be confused with another U.K. “poo bus” that debuted recently – the Bio-Bus, which serves the city of Bristol and runs on human waste.

The stage is now set for a poo power showdown.

BBC.COM, ARSTECHNICA.COM
(July ’15)

 

Patrick – the robotic butt

The day has finally come when a robotic butt can tell us what we're all doing wrong, or at least tell medical students what they are doing wrong.

Researchers at University of Florida, Drexel University and the University of Wisconsin worked together to create "Patrick," a robotic butt who assists medical students in practicing for proctology examinations.

And this is one brainy backside.

The robot has four inbuilt sensors which alert the examiner as to whether they’re applying the correct amount of pressure and if they’ve covered the whole prostate area.

The patient feeds back in real time via an avatar on screen.

Patrick also helps break down barriers for any students nervous about performing rectal exams. The robotic butt was programmed to be a little nervous about the check-up, meaning students have to talk him through the process and put him at ease.

A major reason for the development was to enable med students to get a lot more practice with the examination.

Here’s hoping Patrick and his brave cheeks continue to help make the proctological process as painless as(s) possible.

And, before you start with the butt jokes, we may all be indebted someday to a robotic butt.

MEDICALDAILY.COM
(July ’15)

 

Facial recognition for churches

More than two dozen churches around the world have installed a facial recognition system that monitors which members of the congregation have actually turned up for the Sunday service.

The system, called Churchix, was developed by Israeli software company, Face-six. It continually scans the religious centre's CCTV feed and matches attendees to a pre-existing database of their faces, reportedly with 99% accuracy.

The system enables church officials to monitor everything from the gender ratios of attendees at specific events, to ensure that elderly or infirmed church-members haven't suddenly stopped coming around.

This is taking the use of technology to absurd levels but I suppose you can’t get donations or tithes in the collection basket if you don’t have the bums on the seats.

CHURCHIX.COM, CHURCHM.AG
(July ’15)

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