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Interesting snippets from around the globe


Google hits the road in Bangladesh

Google is literally hitting the road to promote the potential of the internet in Bangladesh. The company has launched ‘Google Bus Bangladesh’ an educational program aimed at teaching key digital skills to more than half a million students in the world’s eighth most populated country.

It plans to visit some 500 educational centres across 35 locations over the next 12 months, bringing with it instructors who can teach students about important tools to help them them make the most of the Internet.

In addition to tutors, students involved in the project will be able to get hands-on with a number of internet-connected Android devices.

Whether that’s helping connect them with friends, family or experts, giving them better access to information and news, or just providing a medium for entertainment, many people in emerging markets are simply just unaware of what’s possible. That’s why a tutor led approach has its merits.

With two-thirds of the world estimated to be offline, local initiatives like Google Bus Bangladesh offer inexperienced or first-time internet users an important opportunity to familiarise themselves with the basics and the possible benefits.

There is no doubt that the more people that who are connected is good for Google’s business, they are still to be commended for tipping in resources on projects like this.

(Nov ’14)


…and the poo bus

A bus that runs entirely on human waste and food scraps has started ferrying commuters between Bristol and Bath in England. The "poo bus", the first of its kind in the UK (or anywhere else that we know of), fills up on waste from Bristol sewage works and runs on the biomethane gas created by the treatment of sewage and other waste.

The 40-seater “Bio Bus” has a range of 300 km on a full tank which is the equivalent of a year of waste from five people.

(Nov ’14)


Italian court bans the Microsoft tax

The Italian Supreme Court has ruled that the practice of forcing users to pay for a Windows licence when they buy a new PC is illegal.

Manufacturers in Italy are now legally obligated to refund that money if a buyer wants to put GNU/Linux or another free OS on the computer. The focus of the Court's reasoning is that the sale of a PC with software preinstalled is not like the sale of a car with its components (the 4 wheels, the engine, etc.) that therefore are sold jointly.

Buying a computer with preinstalled software, the user is required to conclude two different contracts: the first, when he buys the computer; the second, when he turns on the computer for the first time and he is required to accept or not the license terms of the preinstalled software. Therefore, if the user does not accept the software license, he has the right to keep the computer and install free software without having to pay the 'Microsoft tax.'

(Nov ’14)


Phishing scams are still working

It might be 2014, but somehow half of all people on this email infested planet are still falling for simple phishing scams.

According to a study by Google, which looked at the success rate of ‘manual hacking’ emails which try to trick users into giving fake (but real-looking) websites their username and password. The scam is pretty simple: you get an email with a link to a website.

When you click through (something that an astonishing 45% of people appear to do), you're presented with a realistic-looking imitation of a login page, where you enter all your sensitive information for nefarious hackers to gobble up. Here, people seem a little less gullible – only 14% of visitors to the fake pages actually submitted their info, meaning that the overall success rate is only about 5%. But, if you think of the scale at which these emails scams normally operate, that’s a big number.

From there, Google says that hackers work quickly. 20% of compromised accounts are accessed within a half-hour, and often the hacker will change the password, then use your legitimate email account to spam your address list.

Google's tips for avoiding scammage are exactly what you'd expect: don't open suspicious links, and if you're in doubt, visit the website via a URL typed into your web browser, rather than following the link.

Oh, and set-up a 2-factor authentication and a recovery phone number while you're at it.

(Nov ’14)


Drones catch tax evaders in Argentina

The Argentine government has used drones to identify 200 mansions and 100 swimming pools in an upper class area about 10 miles south of Buenos Aires that had not been detailed on tax returns.

Tax officials said the drones took pictures of luxury houses standing on pieces of land registered as empty.

The evasions found by the drones amounted to missing tax payments of more than $US2 million and owners of the properties have been warned they now face large fines.

Use of drones has been expanding in South America with the unmanned vehicles, mostly originating from Israel, being deployed for reasons as diverse as locating drug smuggling routes, monitoring farm crops, and looking for archaeological sites.

(Nov ’14)


A board game teaches coding to kids

Forget board games like Scrabble. Not only does Robot Turtles teach kids about reptiles, but it also teaches them the basics of computer programming—aka coding.

The game, created by a Seattle software entrepreneur named Dan Shapiro, actually started life as a successful Kickstarter project, but is now available to anyone with $US25 to spare and a desire to see their kids understand the basics of computer coding.

The goal of the game is for kids to manoeuvre their turtle across the board, avoiding obstacles and other players, in order to rendezvous with a jewel. But instead of rolling a dice and letting fate decide, they use a set of cards that serve as basic programming instructions, telling the turtle where to move and when to turn.

It's a family game because parents serve as the computer, executing the kids’ commands as they play their cards.

Young George won't be developing iOS apps after the first week, but he will learn some essential basic programming concepts such as combining instructions to create a line of code, solving problems and fixing bugs, and breaking larger problems down into manageable steps.

(Nov ’14)


Google VP sets record skydive

The New York Times reported that Alan Eustace, a computer scientist and senior VP at Google, has successfully broken the record for the highest freefall jump set by Felix Baumgartner in 2012.

For a little over two hours, the balloon ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute (8.1 metres per second) to an altitude of 135,908 feet, more than 41 kilometres. Mr. Eustace dangled underneath in a specially designed spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system. He returned to earth just 15 minutes after starting his fall.

Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the earth at speeds that peaked at more than 1285 km/h, setting off a small sonic boom heard by observers on the ground.

His technical team had designed a carbon-fibre attachment that kept him from becoming entangled in the main parachute before it opened. About four-and-a-half minutes into his flight, he opened the main parachute and glided to a landing about 115 km from the launch site.

(Nov ’14)

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Austin, TX airport tracks cellphones to determine wait time

If you get into the TSA security line at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, you'll see monitors telling you how long your wait will be and if you have a phone with Wi-Fi enabled, you are helping the airport come up with those stats.

A system implemented by Cisco tracks the MAC addresses of phones searching for Wi-Fi networks and sees how long it takes those phones to traverse the line, giving a sense of how quickly things are moving.

While this information might be useful, the privacy implications are a bit unsettling.

(Nov ’14)


UK supermarkets selling selfie figurines

Walmart-owned ASDA supermarkets in the U.K. are beta testing 3D full-body scanning booths that allow patrons to buy 6-in to 9-in high "selfie" figurines.

Artec Group, a maker of 3-D scanners and software, said its Shapify Booth, which can scan your entire body in 12 seconds and use the resulting file to create a full-colour 3-D printed model. The 3-D Shapify booths are equipped with four wide view, high-resolution scanners, which rotate around the person to scan every angle. Artec claims the high-powered scan and precision printing is able to capture even the smallest details, down to the wrinkles on clothes or the faces of the aged.

The scanning process generates 700 captured surfaces, which are automatically stitched together to produce an electronic file ready for 3-D printing. The figurines sell for $US50 for a 6-in (15 cm) model, $US70 for a 7.5-in (19 cm) model, and $US100 for a 9-in (23 cm) figurine.

(Nov ’14)


Germans get heat from the Cloud

The idea of re-using waste server heat isn’t new, but German firm Cloud&Heat seems to have developed it further than most.

For a flat installation fee, the company will install a rack of servers in your office, with its own power and Internet connection. Cloud&Heat then pays the bills and you get the heat. As well as Heat customers, the firm wants Cloud customers, who can buy a standard OpenStack-based cloud compute and storage service on the web. The company guarantees that data is encrypted and held within Germany — at any one of its Heat customers' premises.

In principle, it's a way to build a data centre with no real estate, by turning its waste heat into an asset.

(Nov ’14)


MS-Lync rebrands as Skype for Business

Nearly three years after acquiring Skype, the video calling service, Microsoft has announced that it is rebranding its Lync enterprise communications tool as ‘Skype for Business’.

The name change will be effective in the first half of 2015 when new versions of the Skype for Business client, Skype for Business on-premises server, and Skype for Business online service (part of Office 365) will be made available.

Microsoft’s is widely used by a number of our clients for voice, video, and conferencing. While the rebranding will have no effect on Lync's existing features, Skype for Business will include some of Skype's user interface elements, including icons for calling, adding video, and ending a call, as well as the ability to keep an active call visible in a small window even when you want to focus on another application.

Skype for Business will also enable any user to access the Skype user directory, making it possible to call any Skype user on any device.

Current Lync Server customers will be able to take advantage of these capabilities simply by updating from Lync Server 2013 to the new Skype for Business Server in their data centres – no new hardware is required. For Office 365 customers, the Microsoft says it will provide the required updates.

(Nov ’14)


What texting does to your spine

Research has found that texting posture is equivalent to hanging a sixty pound (28 kilogram) weight from your neck.

An average human head weighs about four to five kilos in a neutral position -- when your ears are over your shoulders. Tilting it down to check Facebook, send a text, or to Google the weight of a human head increases the gravitational pull on said cranium. In fact, for every inch you tilt your head forward, the pressure on your spine doubles.

According to the paper, “As the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds (12 kg) at 15 degrees, 40 pounds (18kg) at 30 degrees, 49 pounds (22 kg) at 45 degrees and 60 pounds (27 kg) at 60 degrees."

Physical therapists have been howling about the scourge of “Text Neck” for years, but it's certainly eyebrow-raising to learn that looking at Twitter in the supermarket checkout line is the equivalent of giving a Labrador a piggy-back ride.

(Nov ’14)


Netflix is coming to NZ

Netflix has announced that the service will be available in New Zealand (and Australia) starting March 2015.

The company said that “users in Australia and New Zealand will be able to subscribe to Netflix and instantly watch a curated selection of popular movies and TV shows in high-definition or even 4K where available.”

Netflix’s use of “curated selection” in the press release suggests that it will have a limited selection of content at launch compared to its US counterpart.

The company didn’t provide details or pricing for the service saying that it will provide those details at a later date and that those interested in the service should sign up at the link below to be notified when it launches.

(Nov ’14)


Rebooting extra-terrestrial IT systems

An alien world, extra-terrestrial exploration, and memory wipes on Mars sound like a major IT project.

After a decade of exploring, the Opportunity rover's computer system will get a reboot to reformat its flash memory and eliminate its reliance on malfunctioning memory cells. In the last month alone, the rover has had to reset its systems a dozen times, a process that can take a day or two.

John Callas, project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project, said in a statement:

Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets. The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover.

The Opportunity rover, more formerly known as Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, is one of two robots that landed on the surface of Mars in 2004. The original missions’ parameters called for three months of operations. The first rover, Spirit, lasted six years. Opportunity is still going after ten years on the job.

(Sept ’14)


Microsoft’s $US93 billion stash

According to disclosures in the company's most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft Corporation is currently sitting on almost $US93 billion which it is harbouring outside of the U.S.

The problem is, if it repatriated the $US92.9 billion ($NZ113 billion) of earnings it is keeping offshore, it would owe about $US29.6 billion in U.S. taxes.

That stash of $US93 billion is roughly equal to the 1.5 times the core annual expenditure of the New Zealand government.

(Sept ’14)



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