Monthly Archives: December 2014

Internet Problems in North Korea: Related to The Interview?

One of the biggest international news stories of the past week has been the ongoing saga of Sony’s internet troubles, reportedly due to the anger over the company’s new movie The Interview. The movie features James Franco and Seth Rogen and features an interview crew sent into North Korea, where they successfully assassinate Kim Jong Un. The film was set to release on December 17, but after threats of violence against any theater showing the film and cyber attacks against Sony, it was temporarily halted. The FBI has stated that the cyber attacks originated in North Korea, and President Barack Obama stated that the US would respond.

Late on Friday, December 19, the internet connectivity in North Korea began to get slower and more glitchy. This continued until Monday when the internet when completely out. By 5:00 Eastern Time the internet had begin showing signs of returning, but the country still remained largely in the dark. Some have begun blaming the United States for this internet blackout, including some North Korean government officials, but others claim that the attack was too unsophisticated to have originated at the higher levels of United States espionage.

The connectivity blackout looks to have been caused by a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack, one of the most common attacks for knocking servers out of commission. These attacks occur when hackers flood a network with traffic until it collapses. They are a common tool of “hacktivists,” groups who use relatively unsophisticated cyber attacks to shut down or disrupt internet in a country or among a group of individuals. They were recently used during the Ukraine conflicts and the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The flickering of the internet that took place beginning Friday and throughout the weekend seem to indicate that the attack was unsophisticated. Even a weak DDOS attack would knock out North Korea’s internet, and that was not achieved until Monday. North Korea’s connection to the worldwide web is incredibly limited, with only 1,024 internet protocol addresses in the country. So while the US may still respond to the attack on Sony, this was probably not that attempt.

25 Technology Leaders Send Representatives to Diversity Summit in Silicon Valley

For most of the past year, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has been pushing the technology industry to recognize and address the remarkable lack of women and minorities in their staff. On Wednesday, the technology companies responded: 25 companies sent representatives to a summit held in Santa Clara at which Jackson was the main speaker. Google, Facebook, and Apple were among the technological giants to send representatives, and Intel served as the host. Roughly 300 people were in attendance, including a number of entrepreneurs, academics, and nonprofit workers dedicated to increasing diversity in the technology world.

Some of the current statistics regarding employees at technology companies are frightening: only 2 percent of US workers at Google and Facebook are black, while only 5 percent are Hispanic. Even more technology companies, including Apple, have worldwide staffs of which women make up less than a third. This state of affairs will not be changed quickly and will require far more than a change in hiring practices. The culture of information technology is dominated by men, from high school all the way through graduate school. If the employee compositions of these companies are to change, the pool of qualified candidates must also change.

Jesse Jackson made a major push to address and correct the employee imbalance in tech companies back in 1999, but this year’s effort has seen a much better response. Intel agreed to host the summit to demonstrate their dedication to changing the current culture, and Google has put $50 million into a three-year program called Made With Code. Made With Code will partner with nonprofits pushing girl involvement in information technology to try and increase the number of women in the candidate pool. Microsoft and other major tech companies are spending the week supporting the “Hour of Code,” an educational program dedicated to teaching students about computer coding. While there is still a long way to go, these positive movements toward equality in the technology workforce indicate a bright future in Silicon Valley.

3D Printers

It is amazing that technology has reached the point where if you can design something online or within a program, you can turn it into a tangible, 3-dimensional object. 3D printing takes a computer design and analyzes it from every plane and layer imaginable. Then, it prints out the object in deft layers by heating up small plastic wiring. You can see the ridges in many 3D printed materials that show where the plastic was melted and “glued” together.

Whether you want to own a 3D printer for personal use or you want to contract with a 3D printing company, the world of design is suddenly at the general public’s fingertips. This 3D technology has the potential to revolutionize many different industries like medicine, construction, and more.

3D printing has been shown to be effective in creating extremely accurate implants for transplantation and reconstructive surgeries. The technology can effectively pinpoint the structural needs of a patient and create bone structure that is unique and reliable. According to surgeons, using the 3D printing technology actually makes the time it takes to complete surgery much shorter. The technology can also make it easier to create customized solutions for prosthetics and implants.

In the UK, Royal Mail is partnering with a 3D printing company to provide printing services to customers. The model hopes to encourage customers to try out the technology without having to face the expense of purchasing the necessary equipment themselves. Royal Mail wants to provide 3D printing services to small businesses that can’t afford to invest yet, pushing forward the growth of the industry, which is expected to surge over the next 4-5 years.

In the construction industry, it may not be long before your home is first printed out on a 3D printer before it is constructed. Companies can lay out a whole estate or neighborhood before starting to build and can establish a better way to plan and organize a construction project from start to finish. One day, it might even be possible to print actual buildings – the technology could be used with quick drying concrete and other formable materials to create affordable housing for lower-income families that are sturdy and reliable.

The technology of 3D printing is rapidly improving. As 3D printing becomes more available, it proves to have a positive impact in many industries.

Recognizing Poorly Designed Websites

Websites that are well designed are apparent. Even if you’re not exactly sure why it’s so great, you know quality web design when you see it. Much of that feeling you can’t put a finger on comes from intuitive design. Intuitive designs are easy to use and seamless, making for a pleasant user experience and providing information quickly. Poorly designed websites, on the other hand, can cause frustration and lead even elementary users to navigate away from them. Here are some of the design flaws that are hallmarks of poorly designed websites:

  • Too many pages. If users have to click through several tiers of information to get to what is useful for them, it can be frustrating. When it comes to web design, less is definitely more.
  • Cumbersome content. Having unformatted information that is difficult to sift through can make it tough for site visitors to navigate and can turn users away from the site completely. Focus on using bullets and subheads to break articles up, and don’t be afraid of white space on a webpage.
  • Distracting elements. If there is too much movement on a page or colors that clash, the page will be regarded as an eyesore. Multiple, crowded photos, and distracting backgrounds can all contribute to a hard to use website – a site where it may be difficult for visitors to find the important information.
  • Auto-play videos. When web surfers open multiple tabs to peruse information at their leisure, having an autoplay video start on a hidden tab can be distracting and annoying. Many times, they’ll completely eliminate the tab rather than go through the trouble of opening it and pausing a video. It’s considerate to let the user click on a video at his or her convenience.

When building a website, focus on the things that would make people want to revisit a website. Eliminate distracting elements and add meaningful content to improve the likelihood of repeat visitors and to increase site traffic.

Facial Recognition Technology: Privacy, Access, and Advancement

Accurate facial recognition technology seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. However, accuracy in computerized facial recognition has advanced very quickly. Computers are now almost on the same level as human beings in their ability to recognize a face, and the rapid advancement of facial recognition software has many concerned for their privacy.

Facial recognition has long been of interest to law enforcement agencies. However, these agencies aren’t taking the technological lead – the average person might not have even been aware of advances in facial recognition if not for Facebook. The social networking site now has 1.23 billion active users, and it is continuing to grow.

The FBI recently rolled out its facial recognition program, Next Generation Identification (NGI). This software only has an 85% accuracy rate. Meanwhile, Facebook’s DeepFace system returns accurate results 97% of the time. Facebook has fewer comparisons to make between faces than the FBI, though, so this isn’t necessarily a fair contest. However, believers in Orwell’s 1984 predictions are finding the government and law enforcement aren’t the only organizations keeping an eye on the public – social networks are taking the lead on recording where people are and whom they are with.

Individuals can now take advantage of facial recognition as well. The recently released FotoTiger app for Android automatically tags and sorts photos taken with your phone’s camera. Once people are tagged once, FotoTiger can recognize and tag them in future photos. Users can choose whether or not to post these tagged pictures on Facebook, or simply keep the photos organized within their phones.

Applications for facial recognition continue to grow in leaps and bounds as technology improves, but advances in technology aren’t necessarily combined with advances in privacy laws. The United States government has so far been silent on the privacy concerns these technological advances raise. As facial recognition is refined and applied more widely, it will be interesting to see how the technology is handled legally in the United States and around the world.