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All posts by Rowan Puttergill: Columnist

  • Amazon next step forward: Buying a massive robotics company

    Amazon has announced that it is going to buy Kiva Systems for US$775-million, in order to help further automate many of the processes within its large warehouses. Kiva Systems develops a fairly unique robotic shelving system, where hundreds of mobile robots can plug themselves into various shelves and move them around a warehouse. In fact, the system is so advanced that shelves literally deliver products to the shipping department from around the warehouse as orders come in. Kiva Systems was listed as one of the top 50 of the world's most innovative companies by FastCompany earlier this year, where...

  • Are social networks really killing the web?

    Occasionally I stumble on blog posts describing how social networks are killing the internet. The claim is that people are becoming locked into social media so much that they no longer surf the web like they used to. Instead, they rely on information shared within the closed environment provided by sites like Facebook. These articles annoy me. To begin with, the internet is really the underlying infrastructure on which everything online, including the social networks themselves, exist. But pedantry aside, and assuming that these authors are really referring to the death of the web, is it really true that social...

  • Why competition for the SKA Telescope is important for tech

    A recent article in Nature states that South Africa has won the backing of the SKA Site Advisory Committee to host the SKA Telescope. Although the report states that the victory was by a very narrow margin, it is great news for South Africa and many of the other participating African nations. If you're wondering what this has to do with your usual dose of IT news, it's actually very important. The SKA Telescope is a radio telescope that consists of over 3 000 radio dishes with a total surface area of one kilometer squared. In order for it to...

  • How to create your own hidden network

    For us privacy loons, it's always interesting to find ways to communicate with friends and family on the internet without having to worry about somebody watching everything we're doing. With the battle against piracy heating up, its interesting to watch the technological fallout that is taking place in the software arena. A newsworthy newcomer on the P2P stage is just starting to grab media attention. After installing it and setting it up, I can see why. RetroShare takes advantage of a variety of technologies to provide a simple way to set up your own DarkNet. For most people, a DarkNet sounds...

  • Google’s privacy policy: ‘This stuff matters’

    Google's new privacy policy is probably pretty old news to you by now. After all, for every search that you do, you get a nice notification from Google that its privacy policy is changing and that "This stuff matters...". If you've bothered to read it, you will know that Google intends to amalgamate all of the data that they collect about you into a single account profile. Unsurprisingly, the new policy has divided reception across the internet. Google fans can't see any wrong in what Google is up to, while people on the other side of the fence are pretty...

  • How much online influence do you have?

    A number of years back, I read Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point which presents his thesis on why things "go viral". Its a very powerful book, even if it has received some interesting criticism. Bells started ringing for me as soon as I started reading a recent publication from a group of students at Oxford University titled The Dynamics of Protest Recruitment through an Online Network. The paper is a bold attempt to monitor the spread of information about a protest on Twitter, and it draws some interesting conclusions based on the results. Perhaps most importantly, these sorts of...

  • Why you should be excited about the single-atom transistor

    According to Moore's law, which states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years, the size of our transistors will need to have shrunk to a single atom by 2020. In a massive leap into the future, researchers at the University of New South Wales, Purdue University and the University of Melbourne have created a controllable transistor engineered from a single phosphorus atom. This is not only important for the future of traditional computing, but also provides a scalable foundation to explore the possibilities of quantum computing. The transistor, which is...

  • Why being a Linux geek could make you more employable

    I love Linux and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to use it as my base operating system in all of the different companies that I've worked for the last ten years or so. But, I know that unless you're a systems administrator, most fans of the OS find themselves battling against corporate IT if they even try to run a non-Windows system at work. Just recently, I noticed a post on Slashdot where a user was asking where he could get a job in the FOSS industry. So, I was quite relieved to see that...

  • E-Waste and the underbelly of the tech industry

    Last year, the EU updated its directives for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), in an effort to step up recycling and the safe disposal of outdated and malfunctioning equipment. In the US, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act was introduced as a bill in June last year. India is also taking governmental steps to control how E-Waste is handled. That sounds like good news; after all, old electronics goods are full of good things that can often be re-used. And, of course, they're also full of toxic things that we don't want leached into our rivers and oceans, or...

  • Google ScreenWise pays you for your data

    You're the product! I hear this over and over on all of the geeky sites that I tend to frequent. It's a direct response to every article that comes out describing how yet another "free" online service is gathering every last shred of data on its users, in order to gain access to some of that precious advertising revenue. Now, Google is finally acknowledging that your data is worth a lot of money. In fact, it's willing to pay you for it. All you have to do is install the Google ScreenWise extension and then carry on with your every...

  • The battle for Brazil’s tech market is heating up

    Brazil is going through an economic boom. In December, it overtook the UK as the world's sixth largest economy. Much of Brazil's success has come through changes within its agricultural sector where, over the past 40 years, it has focussed on the Soya trade. But Brazil's success does not rest on agriculture alone. Brazil has access to huge mineral resources and has recently struck oil. Its industrial sector has been picking up pace, and China has been taking notice. Last year, China decided to step up investment in Brazil by ploughing over US$12-billion into the economy, with most of...

  • Getting to know you — how internet security is changing

    In my predictions for security in 2012, I pointed out that hand-in-hand with an increase in governmental control over the internet will come a spate of attacks from those that oppose such control. I also harboured some concern over the industrial systems that control infrastructure such as water, sewage, electrical grid, public transport and so on. The year has actually started with a lot of tension around exactly such problems. Towards the end of 2011, Anonymous targeted US Government sites in response to SOPA, but these attacks have not ceased even though the original SOPA bill has been put...

  • You wouldn’t download a car… or would you?

    I recently came across an interesting blog post which states that the Pirate Bay (by the way, if you support the kind of thinking behind SOPA you shouldn't click on that link, it takes you to a site that encourages copyright infringement) has created a new download category -- 'Physibles'. According to the Pirate Bay, physibles are digital objects that can be converted into tangible physical objects. Huh? It took me a few seconds to work out what the hell these guys were talking about, but it's not that complicated. You see, most of the design work that people...

  • 4 non-mobile tech trends to look out for in 2012

    Everybody is talking about mobiles. If the trends in 2011 were anything to go by, 2012 will revolve around mobile phones and tablet computing. So making predictions and talking about what there is to look forward to is pretty easy if you just want to stick to safe topics. Of course, with Solar Maximum all set for 2012, major solar storms could make it a tricky year for the mobile. So I've decided to take a look at non-mobile related technology to see what other positive things we should look out for. 1. Cheaper hardware Flooding in the far-east made 2011...

  • Zappos customers feel the boot

    It's already a pretty rough year in the security game. There have been a number of interesting security compromises that have already taken place this year, but nothing has matched the scale of the attack on popular online shoe retailer, Zappos.com. On Sunday 15 January, Zappos sent an email to 24-million customers notifying them of a security breach which is likely to have exposed sensitive customer detail for all of its users. Two days later, Zappos is still offline, which suggests that the breach has effectively crippled its business. While actual credit card details were not compromised (as these were...