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Top Stories for the Week of January 4, 2017

  • Episode 485
  • January 4, 2017

Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday January 4, 2017

The UK government is cracking down on sites selling fraudulent degrees.

More than 40 fraudulent websites have been shut down in a major crackdown on the sale of fake degrees.

The sites closed included those selling authentic-looking certificates using the names of real British universities.

Others were providers offering distance learning courses but were not valid UK degree awarding bodies.

An agency set up to investigate the issue, Higher Education Degree Datacheck--or "HEDD"--said it had reports of more than 90 bogus institutions.

The investigation found fake University of Kent degree certificates on sale online in China for £500.

The government announced a crackdown on bogus providers in June 2015, with the aim of prosecuting and taking down fraudulent websites.

Hedd has now asked new graduates not to take photographs with their real degree certificates in case they inadvertently aid fraudsters.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Degree fraud cheats both genuine learners and employers so we've taken decisive action to crack down on those seeking to profit from it."


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

The manufacturer of the iPhone hopes to replace their human workers with robots.

Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturing giant behind Apple’s iPhone and numerous other major electronics devices, aims to automate away a vast majority of its human employees.

Dai Jia-peng, the general manager of Foxconn’s automation committee, says the company has a three-phase plan in place to automate its Chinese factories using software and in-house robotics units, known as Foxbots.

The first phase of Foxconn’s automation plans involve replacing the work that is either dangerous or involves repetitious labor humans are unwilling to do. The second phase involves improving efficiency by streamlining production lines to reduce the number of excess robots in use. The third and final phase involves automating entire factories, “with only a minimal number of workers assigned for production, logistics, testing, and inspection processes."

The company can now produce around 10,000 Foxbots a year, Jia-peng says, all of which can be used to replace human labor.

In the long term, robots are cheaper than human labor. However, the initial investment can be costly. It’s also difficult, expensive, and time consuming to program robots to perform multiple tasks, or to reprogram a robot to perform tasks outside its original function. That is why, in labor markets like China, human workers have thus far been cheaper than robots. To stay competitive though, Foxconn understands it will have to transition to automation.

As of last year, Foxconn employed as many as 1.2 million people, making it one of the largest employers in the world. More than 1 million of those workers reside in China, often at elaborate, city-like campuses that house and feed employees.

By replacing humans with robots, Foxconn would relieve itself of any issues stemming from its treatment of workers without having to actually improve living and working conditions or increase wages. But in doing so, it will ultimately end up putting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out of work.


Sent to us by: Jeff Weston

Drone deliveries are so 2016. Now, Amazon wants to make the whole warehouse fly.

Amazon has filed a patent for massive flying warehouses equipped with fleets of drones that deliver goods to key locations.

Carried by an airship, the warehouses would visit places Amazon expects demand for certain goods to boom.

It says one use could be near sporting events or festivals where they would sell food or souvenirs to spectators.

The patent also envisages a series of support vehicles that would be used to restock the flying structures.

The filing significantly expands on Amazon's plans to use drones to make deliveries. Earlier this month it made the first commercial delivery using a drone via a test scheme running in Cambridge.

In the documents detailing the scheme, Amazon said the combination of drones and flying warehouses, or "airborne fulfilment centres", would deliver goods much more quickly than those stationed at its ground-based warehouses.

Also, it said, the drones descending from the AFCs - which would cruise and hover at altitudes up to 45,000ft would use almost no power as they glided down to make deliveries.

The patent lays out a comprehensive scheme for running a fleet of AFCs and drones. It suggests smaller airships could act as shuttles taking drones, supplies and even workers to and from the larger AFCs.

Amazon's patent was filed in late 2014 but has only now come to light thanks to analyst Zoe Leavitt from CB Insights who recently unearthed the documents.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Kingston is pushing the envelope with the release of their 2TB USB flash drives.

Kingston Digital, Inc., the Flash memory affiliate of Kingston Technology Company, Inc., the independent world leader in memory products, announced yesterday their DataTraveler® Ultimate Generation Terabyte (GT), the world’s highest capacity USB Flash drive.

DataTraveler Ultimate GT offers up to 2TB of storage space and USB 3 performance.

Power users will have the ability to store massive amounts of data in a small form factor, like up to 70 hours of 4K video.

DataTraveler Ultimate GT is rugged as well, with a zinc-alloy metal casing for shock resistance.

This is the next step in portable solutions for storing and transfering huge files.

DataTraveler Ultimate GT ships in February and will be available in 1TB and 2TB capacities. It is backed by 5-year warranty, free technical support and legendary Kingston reliability.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson

Don't blink: The leap second already happened.

The addition of an extra second to 2016 didn’t cause too much tech chaos, but did lead to some websites being difficult to reach for about 90 minutes.

A leap second is an additional second added at the end of a month to compensate for the fact that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down very gradually (and can also be altered by major seismic events) and thus slips out of synch with atomic clocks.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service calculates when one is necessary and so far 27 leap seconds have been added (though only five in the past 18 years), all at the end of June or December. The second is officially added to the Cordinated Universal Time (UTC), used as a reference by most computer systems, by having an out-of-the-ordinary 23:59:60.

While the process is simple in concept, and comes with six months of warning, it can potentially cause problems with computers. While many machines work from remote time signals (which either literally broadcast the extra second or send an instruction to add a second), some simply can’t cope with the idea that a minute doesn’t have 60 seconds and need manual intervention. Popular Science notes that solutions include pausing the clocks for the final second or literally slowing down the clocks over the course or the day to spread the extra time out so it has no significant effect.

According to Cloudflare, the extra second caused one of the numbers in its software to turn negative, something the software wasn’t designed to cope with because the code writers worked on the sensible enough idea that time can’t run backwards. Part of Cloudflare’s DNS resolution process involves using time codes to generate a random number, a step which fell apart whenever a negative number was thrown into the mix.

Fortunately this only affected 0.2 percent of DNS queries and overall fewer than one percent of attempted visits to Cloudflare client sites threw up error messages.


Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson



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