Category Archives: Technology

The British army wants You to drive its new tanks – but only if you’re a gamer

3220716960_c6fef85e07_o

All is not at it used to be in the British army, who are patiently waiting for its new Scout tank, set to be delivered some time in 2020.

The Scout is a complex machine kitted out with sensors, cameras and all kinds of modern electronics. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but there ought to be rumours flying about that it’s actually comes with an iPod docking station. At least there really ought to be those rumours flying about.

Anyway, all this new sensory equipment means that the olden days where a tank was operated by pulling levers are long gone.

Today’s tank crew needs a set of skills that has much in common with your average teen gamer.

“With the capability in the Scout SV, we’re really looking for the type of people who play Xbox games – tech-savy people who are able to take in a lot of information and process it in the proper way,” Kevin Connell, a vice president at General Dynamics, who is developing the tank for the British forces, told International Business Times.

The article goes on to talk about how easy it is to fire the main gun on the new tank…again, rumours ought to be circulating that foreign powers are so scared of this new weapon’s deadly potential that they have tried to incorporate details in the design that would render it less fearsome….like hacking through using control-alt-delete and / or the installation of Alt – F4 keys on the tank’s outside.

The reason for the jokes is: what place does a tank have on the battlefield of the future, which looks destined to be dominated by drones and semi-autonomous vehicles?

Your ‘smart’ fridge will broadcast adds – which may or may not (ever) exist

Photo: Ryan Steele
Photo: Ryan Steele

Imagine that you’re about to run out of milk. This sucks, because it means a trip to the store. Now imagine that your fridge is ‘smart’ and can see that you’re about to run out. Seeing as it’s ‘smart’ it can order the milk by itself – it would, however, just like to talk to you about what you’re missing out on by not switching to the new IsMilk brand.

Sounds wacky? Well, according to Google, this is the future of tomorrow, and not a hundred years.

“We expect the definition of “mobile” to continue to evolve as more and more “smart” devices gain traction in the market. For example, a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities. Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future, and thus our advertising systems are becoming increasingly device-agnostic,” the company wrote in a recent report.

And that’s fine. I mean, ads everywhere makes sense – especially if you’re Google.

What doesn’t make sense to me is the basic concept of a smart fridge. The definition of ‘smart’ in relation to intelligence is ‘having or showing a quick-witted intelligence.’ The fridge is basically going to be able to count. Lots of milk equals good, some milk is worrisome and no milk is bad. Surely that doesn’t make something smart?

A truly smart fridge would potentially let everything go old, giving its owners food poisoning – just because it was incredibly bored with just counting and then ordering things that were in short supply.

Oh yeah, it will also be capable of broadcasting adds. Adds that according to Google are ‘device-agnostic’.

The definition of ‘agnostic’ is ‘a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.’ So in this case the fridge, this means that it believes that nothing can be known about whether or not adds exist – and if they did, you wouldn’t be able to describe them or what they were like.

I’m not sure if that’s smart or incredibly stupid….

US Customs want to destroy 2000 multi-meters – for being yellow

multimeter

The letter and number code 337-TA-588 might sound pretty harmless, but it has recently proved to be down-right lethal. If you are a yellow multi-meter that is.

337-TA-588 is a US International Trade Commission Exclusion Order, that recently his the US company Sparkfun smack in the face.

It turns out that their imported multi-meters, which have a dark-coloured body and a yellow border, were in violation of a trademark awarded to the US company Fluke back in 2003.

OK, according to Sparkfun, at least, the multi-meters have a yellowish-orange border, but it’s still too close for comfort for the US Customs authorities, who are, it should be added, just following the rules – stupid as they may seem in this case.

“So we really only have two options, ship them back or have them destroyed. Having them destroyed costs $150 per hour with no indication of how much time it will take to destroy 2,000 units. Returning them has been ruled out by the manufacturer in China because the import taxes in China are so steep (yay free trade) that bringing them back into the country to have them modified would be more expensive than paying for the return shipping and taxes. Between bad and worse, we have to have them destroyed. Sorry Earth,” Sparkfun wrote about the whole situation.

Google + Nest = Casper the ‘Friendly’ Terminator?

Google's next product?
Google’s next product?

Google’s purchase of thermostat producer Nest Labs for several billion dollars has raised eyebrows (there are so many puns on temperature of stock and so on that it’s almost…almost not funny) in tech circles and beyond.

The general agreement seems to be that the deal shows that Google is no longer ‘just’ a search engine company, but is aiming to be so much more – that the deal shows how the company has gone from wanting to run everything on your computer / tablet / phone to now steering toward a future where Google runs your home.

Others question paying $3.2 for a company that basically builds pretty thermostats. OK, you get a couple of former Apple poster boys thrown into the deal (one of them is seen as the daddy of the iPod), but it’s still a lot of money.

Others speculate that this new purchase is particular bad news for Apple – although also just generally bad for everyone in the tech industry that’s not Google.

While most people seem to think that this is due to the fact that Google is now taking a big swing at businesses that were previously out of harms way when the internet giant decided it was time to flex its almost limitless economic muscles, then I have a slightly different take.

In recent years, Google have, amongst other things, done the following:

Bought Nest – makes thermostats that thermostat can learn user behaviour and whether a building is occupied through temperature, humidity, activity and light sensors.
Bought Boston Dynamics – builds robots for the US military.
Bought a startup that works on software for recognising human gestures.
Sponsored automated vehicle competitions and shows videos of their self-driving cars.

So in other words Google have acquired soft- and hardware that, if you add it together, seem to be the building blocks for a Terminator – and they’ve already sort of built Skynet. Now take all those facts and think about the name of the software that Google have helped develop that powers most of the world’s smartphones…

If I was competing with Google, I’d be very nervous around Brin and Page in future and be sure to watch their hands for any sort of kill-signal….:-)

Why small satellite systems should scare your company

1194985335600791561satellite_dish_ali_hussn_01.svg.hi

According to a new study, hackers might be aiming their sights at the small communication satellite dishes found on oil rigs, ships, banks, and power grid substations.

The systems, that are referred to as VSATs (very-small-aperture terminals), are used in a wide variety of industries, including the media and banks to send data across the planet. But according to a report from cyber-security firm IntelCrawler, at least 10.500 of them are wide open for hacking.

We found thousands and thousands of these systems with what are essentially their digital front doors left wide open,” Dan Clements, IntelCrawler’s President, said according to CSMonitor.com.

“We haven’t looked for direct evidence in the underground that someone has compiled these vulnerabilities on VSATS,” he said. “But common sense says that if we’ve scanned it then others have, too – nation states, cyber-gangs. It’s information that’s out there.”

How to turn duty free into a bomb making experience

duty free

A friend of mine, who used to do a lot of travelling with his work, was often left wondering about the security checks in airports.

‘It’s weird,’ he’d ponder.

‘You go through the check point, where they tell you that you’re not allowed to have more than 100 ml of fluids that has to be sealed in tiny bags, through a screening process where you’re not allowed to carry a pair of nail scissors, or a shaving kit. The next thing you know, you’re walking straight into a duty free shopping area where you can buy high percentage alcohol, a shirt and a lighter…I mean, there’s gotta be a pretty easy way of combining those items into some sort of DIY Molotov cocktail, right?’

It seems he’s far from the only one who’s ever wondered about this sort of thing.

Take Evan Booth, for example. Actually, take Evan Booth as the example.

He’s a Digital Media specialist and programmer, who spends some of his spare time on picking locks, or giving talks on several subjects, including:

Airport Security
Creativity
Creative Problem-solving
Resourcefulness
Ninjas

In early 2013, he started a research project with this simple question: ‘Can common items sold in airports after the security screening be used to build lethal weapons?’

As it turns out, the answer is ‘yes’. The slightly longer answer is: ‘sure, in loads of different ways!’ – somewhat sadly, none of them seem to involve ninjas. They are, however, still very interesting.

Take the slow burning Blunderbuss(ness) Class gun, for example:

Or how making caffeine kick ass, literally, with the FRAGGuccino Mark II grenade:

Mr. Booth has constructed a series of similarly nasty weapons based on either his own or other people’s design ideas. They can be found at the website Terminal Cornucopia.

You might be asking yourself: ‘is this a good idea?’ ‘I mean, what if the wrong people get a hold of these instructions?’

Not to scare you, but what makes you think that the ‘wrong’ people (we’re probably talking about terrorists of various sorts) needed a site like Terminal Cornucopia to come up with these ideas? As it turns out, many key terrorist leaders have degrees in Engineering.

In his own words, Mr. Booth’s defence is that:

“All of these findings have been reported to the Department of Homeland Security (TSA) to help them better detect these types of threats. Furthermore, the next time you fly, you’ll be flying as a more informed consumer (and taxpayer, possibly) — one who is more equipped to demand better, more appropriate airport security.”

How heavy metal piracy is gold-plating Iron Maiden

It’s probably the last thing you’d expect, but it seems like music piracy might be presenting a completely new business model to some bands. Requirements for making it work do, however, seem to include either very long or very short hair, a tendency to wear leather, a fondness of whiskey and beer and a tendency to point at stuff with your index and pinkie at the same time.

Right, stereo(which is actually a bit of a pun when you thing about it)types aside, what we’re talking here is how piracy might be offering heavy metal bands a new way of making their money.

As an example, the members of Iron Maiden are looking like they’re doing very well for themselves in spite of being one of the most heavily pirated bands around – and data seems to indicate that the band is making a lot of money in the exact locations where it’s also being heavily pirated. Basically what seems to be happening is that the heavy metal fans are downloading Iron Maiden’s music illegally, liking it and then going out and buying it.

“One reason for this may be metal itself. It has a fiercely loyal fanbase and a clear brand and identity, even down to the uniform-style black t-shirts that fans wear that differ only in band logo and art. The audience identifies with the genre, which stands in contrast to genericized genres like pop, rock and rap. It doggedly maintains its own identity and shuns outsiders. As a result, fans tend to identify more with their music, and place a higher value on purchasing it,” as the website DeathMetal.org put it.

Of course using Iron Maiden as an example of how a new business model can save an industry is a bit like focussing on what some of the positive impacts are of lower banana prices for Chiquita, while disregarding what it means to banana farmers….

Google Android has more than quarter billion followers in China

Google’s Android operating system looks to be more popular than the Communist party in China – at least according to a recent study by the Chinese search engine Baidu.

The figures for actual users are a bit hazy…a bit like Beijing at midday, really. OK, Beijing at midday is downright foggy, but still – the point is that the number is a bit of a guesstimate, as there aren’t any centralized office that looks into this sort of thing in China.

Instead Baidu have had to count trends and then do a bit of creative maths.

Much like the Chinese Communist Party when they do their ‘user satisfaction’ studies, then….

US Killer Robot Policy – No. 5 gets to press the fire button

5robots

When the US Defence Secretary signed the deliciously named directive 3000.09, he was, in effect, launching the world’s first national policy on killer robots.

The purpose of the directive is split in two and reads like this:

“This Directive:

a.Establishes DoD policy and assigns responsibilities for the development and use of autonomous and semi – autonomous functions in weapon systems, including manned and unmanned platforms.

b. Establishes guidelines designed to minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi – autonomous
weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.”

So basically, it’s about who get to develop killer robots, and who we get to point the blame at, should the killer robots go all Robocop 2 on everyone.

It was released last year, but according to a thourhgly researched and very interesting article in the rather niche publication Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the policy actually:

“[…] fully supports developing, testing, and using the technology, without delay. Far from applying the brakes, the policy in effect overrides longstanding resistance within the military, establishes a framework for managing legal, ethical, and technical concerns, and signals to developers and vendors that the Pentagon is serious about autonomous weapons.”

What this means is that not only are we likely to see various arms manufacturers enter a race to build real versions of the No. 5 Robot from Short Circuit (minus the actual short circuiting and evolving feelings from jumping on a frog), but that one piece of legislation has achieved the nigh on impossible feat of horrifying human rights organisations and military drone operators at the same time. .

Fracking: opportunity or danger? Or cute cartoon?

Hydrofrackturing rock formations to extract gas – or fracking, as it’s commonly known – has generated more than a fair share of debate in recent years.

Supporters call it the key to solving our energy needs while moving towards more green energy, while opponents call it the worst idea since the Romans put lead in their aqueducts.

And water is often at the heart of the debate between the two sides, with opponents saying that fracking causes pollution of drinking water and also causes earthquakes. Supporters, on the other hand, say that this isn’t the case and point to the fact that gas extracted through fracking has lowered the use of coal in some countries, meaning that it’s helping reduce the amounts of CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere.

Right or wrong, this is a complex issue. Good thing we have cartoons.

OK, that’s a dig (bad pun, sorry), but this illustration of the pros and cons actually does a pretty good job of explaining the whole thing: