Category Archives: Tech News

Boston Dynamics shows off its latest snow-walking Atlas Robot Tech News 24 FEB 2016

Google acquired Boston Dynamics back in December 2013, which following the name change, now makes Boston Dynamics a subsidiary of Alphabet Co. This of course means a lot more money for their already amazing robotic research (and more importantly, robots!), which in turn lead to this latest iteration of their humanoid Atlas robot.

atlas robot stepping forward from boston dynamics robot line

The new version of Atlas, originally a high mobility, bipedal humanoid robot designed to negotiate outdoor, rough terrain, has just been unveiled, this time designed to operate both outdoors and inside buildings.

It is electrically powered and hydraulically actuated, using sensors in its body and legs to balance and LIDAR and stereo sensors in its head to avoid obstacles, assess the terrain and help with navigation. This version of Atlas is about 5′ 9″ tall (about a head shorter than the DRC Atlas) and weighs 180 lbs.

The robot itself is an absolutely amazing feat of engineering and software programming. It can open doors, trudge through snow, as well as track, bend and pick up objects (and then safely place them down again). Atlas can also right itself if it is hit (say, by an angry man with a hockey stick for example), and most amazing of all, is able to stand up by itself if it falls over (a particularly difficult feat in robotics).

In fact, watching Atlas in action is more than just a little creepy:

Astounding.

Related Link: Boston Dynamics

What is an Hash Algorithm and What are Hash Collisions? Tech News 29 JUL 2015

Tom Scott, who I think is particularly adept at explaining complex computing concepts in very understandable and relatable ways, joins up with Computerphile to explain what exactly the idea behind hash algorithms are, how they can be used to confirm a file’s transmission for the most part, and what things called hash collisions are.

Great, so just in case you were still using MD5 for something meaningful then, best you move over to something a little more modern, no?

computerphile

Related Link: Youtube

How NOT to Store Passwords Tech News 20 JUL 2015

British presenter and tech personality Tom Scott (whom I’m quite fond of featuring here on my little blog thanks to his likable personality and way of clearly and concisely explaining things) joins up with Computerphile to bring this great 10 minute video on how software developers should not be storing passwords.

The fact is, most of us in the trade would probably have implemented pretty much all of these erroneous methods at some point in our careers! (I know that I certainly have)

Definitely worth watching if you are in charge of writing some or other access-controlled system.

Take away points: Passwords should never be encrypted using a two way algorithm. Passwords should be uniquely salted in order to get differing hash values.

Worth remembering!

username password login screen

Related Link: Youtube

Cheetah: The Bounding Robot that now Jumps over Obstacles! Hardware | Tech News 31 MAY 2015

Building robots that mimic animal behaviour is pretty common these days it would seem, and in 2014 the team making up the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory group (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in case you’re not familiar with the famous MIT abbreviation) unveiled their entry in the form of the Cheetah, a robot set apart by its bounding movement action.

Needless to say, the robot was glorious to see in action:

Fast forward a year, and the team has announced improved algorithms that now allows their Cheetah robot to hurdle over obstacles as it runs – making it the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.

To get a running jump, the robot plans out its path going through the following sequence: As it detects an approaching obstacle (using LIDAR), it estimates that object’s height and distance. The robot then gauges the best position from which to jump, and adjusts its stride to land just short of the obstacle, before exerting enough force to push up and over. Based on the obstacle’s height, the robot then applies a certain amount of force to land safely, before resuming its initial pace.

In experiments on a treadmill and an indoor track, the cheetah robot successfully cleared obstacles up to 18 inches tall – more than half of the robot’s own height – while maintaining an average running speed of 5 miles per hour.

To see this in action is pretty amazing:

An incredible feat and yet another big step closer to that terrifying fear of being chased down by a killer robot becoming a reality!

mit cheetah robot jumping over hurdle

Related Link: MIT | Bounding Cheetah | Hurdling Cheetah

Why Google Translate wasn’t particularly useful in Japan Tech News 24 MAY 2015

Ryan and I managed to navigate our way around Japan pretty well over the course of our whirlwind holiday last year.

However, this wasn’t because some useful translating tool like Google Translate was making everything understandable to us, nor more importantly allowing other people to understand us.

No, it was entirely due to the helpful course that big cities have undertaken in an effort to open up Japan to more foreigners – by putting up the romaji (literally Romanization of Japanese characters) versions of names everywhere!

In fact, Google Translate was pretty much completely useless to us over there. (A point made painfully apparent when we tried to converse with Terrance’s new parent-in-laws and after a half hour of trying the tools, resorted to hand gestures, nodding and waving)

Anyway, British presenter and tech personality Tom Scott and Gretchen McCulloch put together this great little video explaining just why it is that computers seem to suck so badly at translation. (Hint, it is not their fault)

Makes sense to me.

translate-bubble-icons

Related Link: Youtube | Tom Scott

Afrihost: More Mobile Data, Same Price Tech News 29 MAR 2015

For some reason, ever since the MTN takeover of Afrihost back in June 2014, it seems to have become kind of been cool to moan about Afrihost’s services and customer service – none of which makes sense to me because I’ve been using them for a good five years now and I have absolutely nothing to complain about at all! In fact, I’ve pretty much thrown all my Internet eggs in their basket because of their fantastic systems, support tools and customer service – ADSL, web hosting, mobile data… they all just work!

afrihost-mobile-data

Anyway, if you have a mobile data contract with them then you would have been pleasantly surprised to recently receive an e-mail from them during March 2015, announcing that their Double Data promotion was in essence back – but this time for their mobile data offering (it is already in place on their standard capped ADSL packages).

All existing clients get 100% more data than what they currently receive for their spend, so for example, a client with a 250MB package for R29 per month will now receive 500MB per month for the same amount (which affects me, seeing as I hang on to the 250MB mobile data as a backup to switch over to when my ADSL line falls over – relatively often thanks to all the loadshedding). Clients on higher packages will also receive more data, for example, clients receiving 2GB per month will now receive a total of 3GB per month.

So in other words, pretty handy, quite appreciated, and definitely a move to try and win back some customer sentiment and perhaps drive more people to take up their Afrihost Plus+ membership (which I don’t really see the point of just by the way).

Thanks Afrihost. I continue to be coloured impressed with your service and products!

Related Link: https://www.afrihost.com/mailshots/2015_mobile_data_signup_more_data/

Boston Dynamic’s Spot: A Robot that You can’t Kick Over Hardware | Tech News 14 FEB 2015

Boston Dynamics (whom I’ve highlighted before) is an engineering and robotics design company that is best known for the development of BigDog, a quadruped robot designed for the U.S. military with funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and DI-Guy, software for realistic human simulation.

Early in the company’s history, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) to replace naval training videos for aircraft launch operations with interactive 3D computer simulations featuring DI-Guy characters.

National Academy of Engineering member Marc Raibert is the company’s president and project manager. He spun the company off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, in order to continue their work in developing robots that run and maneuver like animals.

On 13 December 2013, the company was acquired by Google.

google boston dynamics spot running robot

Well now Google and Boston Dynamics have a new metal friend in the mix.

On the 9th of February they unveiled Spot, a four-legged robot designed for indoor and outdoor operation. It is electrically powered (in other words can operate in both inside and outside conditions), hydraulically actuated, and has a sensor head (Lidar by the look of it) that helps it navigate and negotiate rough terrain. It also weighs about 72 kg, more than 30 kg lighter than BigDog. (In other words, it is smaller, more agile and faster than its big brother).

The robot, can walk, trot and climb across all types of terrain, and can even survive attempts to destabilize it by unfeeling humans eager with their kicks. (Which is a bad thing because we probably shouldn’t be antagonizing these things!)

Right. So here’s Spot’s unveiling video:

SkyNet will be well pleased with this latest addition…

Related Link: http://www.bostondynamics.com/

Pay on Google Play with PayPal – but not in South Africa Tech News 06 NOV 2014

Halfway through this year the news broke of an unusual move that saw Google open up payments on its Google Play platform to Google Wallet direct competitor, PayPal. Which makes perfect sense when you remember that PayPal is a lot more mature and widely used than Google Wallet, hence it has the potential to bring in a whole lot more sales onto the notoriously difficult to get users to part with their money platform that is Android.

From around the web at the time:

“To start with, the feature is being rolled out in 12 countries including the US, Germany, and Canada. When you make a purchase on Google Play in these countries, you’ll find PayPal as an option in your Google Wallet. Tap on it, enter your PayPal account login and you’ll theoretically be able to make purchases pretty easily. Google says its goal is to ‘provide users with a frictionless payment experience, and this new integration is another example of how we work with partners from across the payments industry to deliver this to the user’.

While, the news will be pretty welcome to PayPal loyalists, it’s worth noting that you won’t be able to buy physical goods on the Play store using the online payment service, only apps and other digital content.”

Of course this is awesome if like me you have a PayPal account that probably sits pretty unused for 90% of the time. However, six months down the line and if you are like me a good old South African, then sadly, like me, you’ll realize that the damn option to pay on Google Play with PayPal is STILL not available to us living here at the bottom of Africa.

google-play-logo

Which makes sense when you read the original list of territories this PayPal integration is available in, i.e. USA, Germany, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom, but damn it, it is pretty damn frustrating.

Especially when this is the first time you ever Googled “Pay on Google Play with PayPal” and just learned about this wonderful news today.

Sigh.

(And to think I only found out about this annoying limitation after going the whole hog and learning how to do it!)

Microsoft Tech Call Scam in South Africa Tech News 06 FEB 2014

keyboard spelling scam in redPretty much everyone I know has received at least one of these phone calls, usually with the person on the other end of the line carrying a fairly thick Indian accent:

Update: That’s hilarious. I was literally in the process of posting this when my home phone rang and on the other end was a nice Indian lady claiming to be from the Windows Technical Department Support Group! Such a chuckle! :)

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Microsoft South Africa has issued a press statement saying it is once again warning local consumers to be cautious of a reoccurring phone scam by fraudsters claiming to be from Microsoft.

The scams have left the wallets of unsuspecting consumers hundreds and, in some instances, thousands of rands lighter, Microsoft said.

According to Microsoft, cybercriminals and scammers make use of public phone directories as information gathering sources on consumers in an effort to convince clients that they can be trusted.

These callers claim to be from Windows Helpdesk, Windows Service Centre, Microsoft Tech Support, Microsoft Support, Windows Technical Department Support Group, or even Microsoft’s Research and Development Team.

From this point onwards, Microsoft said the scam typically unfolds in the following manner: A cold caller, claiming to be a representative of Microsoft, one of its brands or a third party contracted by Microsoft, tells the victim they are checking into a computer problem, infection or virus that has been detected by Microsoft.

“In reality, the scammer only tricked unsuspecting consumers into believing that there is a problem and that paying a fee would be the best way to sort the issues out. Often they will also push clients to purchase a one year computer maintenance subscription,” said Ashleigh Fenwick, Microsoft South Africa’s PR and communications manager.

Beyond this tactic, cybercriminals also aim to trick consumers into installing malware onto their PCs, with the aim of gathering sensitive data such as online banking logins, Microsoft said.

Fenwick says that consumers should be aware that Microsoft will not cold call them with regards to malfunctioning PCs or viruses.

In the rare instance where Microsoft might contact consumers directly, the caller will be able to verify the existence of a current customer relationship, Microsoft said.

In order to keep from falling victim to the phone scam, Microsoft provided the following advice to local consumers:

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