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Archive for April, 2016

The Raspberry Pi gets smaller

April 26, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Google, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The raspberry Pi launched in Feb 2012 with modest ambitions to give young people a small cheap programmable device.

The raspberry Pi launched in Feb 2012 with modest ambitions to give young people a small cheap programmable device.

Now Raspberry Pi is getting smaller and cheaper – and has become Britain’s most successful homegrown computer.

The latest edition is the Raspberry Pi Zero. It is slower than the full-size version (though faster than the original Raspberry Pi) and has fewer ports, but its main selling point is that it is so cheap.

The Zero, which like its predecessors is being manufactured in Wales, will sell for £4. And subscribers of the Magpi, a Raspberry Pi magazine, will find a Zero attached to the cover of the magazine – possibly the first time that a computer has been a free giveaway.

“We still meet people for whom cost remains a barrier to entry,” says Eben Upton, the man behind the whole project. He says driving down the cost of hardware has always been a key aim of the project, and he now expects more people to be able to get involved in computing.

The hope is that the whole Pi project can be clear about its mission

But it looks more likely that existing users will snap them up as extra components in computing projects. Upton sees it being used in “internet of things” or robotics projects, where a smaller device may be needed, or as a media player.

Throughout its history, Raspberry Pi has found a bigger audience amongst middle-aged hobbyists rather than the school children who were its original target. That is likely to be the case at first with the Zero, though school computing clubs may may find it a useful addition to their projects.

With more than seven million Raspberry Pis sold so far, and 270,000 in October alone, there is no doubt that it has been a commercial success. The challenge for those behind the project is to keep on remembering that the aim is to enthuse and inspire young people about computing, not to maximise profit.

By putting Eben Upton in charge of the commercial operation and appointing Philip Colligan as chief executive of the charitable foundation, the hope is that the whole project can be clear about its mission.

Meanwhile however, there are rival cheap computing devices, from the Arduino to Beagle Black, which also seek to get young people interested in coding. And the Raspberry Pi Zero has raced ahead of the BBC’s Microbit device, which will now be delivered to all Year 7 pupils in the UK early next year.

The Raspberry Pi was the right device at the right time, catching a wave of enthusiasm for improving understanding of computing. Now, in an increasingly crowded field, it will have to keep on innovating – while making sure that schools, teachers and children retain their enthusiasm for all things Raspberry Pi.

Dell faces fresh security questions as new issue found

April 25, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Dell is facing further questions after admitting to a second security issue with its computers this week.

Dell is facing further questions after admitting to a second security issue with its computers this week.

The new problem – similar to the first – could leave users’ personal information vulnerable, researchers backed by the US government said.

Dell said it had again released a fix, after doing the same for the first problem earlier this week.

The repeated issues raised concerns about the company’s attitude towards security, one expert told the BBC.

In a statement, Dell said that the second problem affected users who downloaded its Dell System Detect product. It said the second issue was not pre-installed on computers – as the first was.

It said the product was removed from its site once the issue was spotted and a replacement application was made available.

Earlier this week, Dell said it had inadvertently opened up a security hole in its computers when it pre-installed software on them. A self-signed root certificate authority (CA), which is used to identify trustworthy websites, was “implemented as part of a support tool and intended to make it faster and easier for our customers to service their system”, Dell said.

But the CA it installed, called “eDellRoot”, allowed hackers to intercept a Dell user’s internet traffic, while the private key that came installed with it could be used to trick the computer into thinking that unsafe websites were safe, security researchers pointed out.

The second vulnerability, another CA called “DSDTestProvider”, worked in much the same way, according to the Germany-based journalist who reported it to US Department of Homeland Security-backed researchers at Carnegie Mellon University: Hanno Bˆck.

In their subsequent report, the researchers wrote: “An attacker can generate certificates signed by the DSDTestProvider CA. Systems that trusts the DSDTestProvider CA will trust any certificate issued by the CA.

“An attacker can impersonate web sites and other services, sign software and email messages, and decrypt network traffic and other data.

“Common attack scenarios include impersonating a web site, performing a [man-in-the-middle] attack to decrypt HTTPS traffic, and installing malicious software.” Such an attack involves the hacker intercepting internet traffic between the user’s browser and the site they are accessing.

A Dell spokesman said: “When we became aware of eDellRoot earlier this week, we immediately dug into all our applications that get loaded on Dell PCs. We can confirm we have found no other root certificates on the factory-installed PC image.

“What we did find was that the Dell System Detect application and its DSDTestProvider root certificate had similar characteristics to eDellRoot. The application was removed from the Dell support site immediately and a replacement application without the certificate is now available.”

How data is shining a light on global property markets

April 14, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, search engines, Uncategorized

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The prices you’ll see on most websites are asking prices. The value of a done deal – the real price – can take land registries weeks to process, by which time a fast-paced market will have moved on.

So those on the inside doing the deals, such as estate agents and developers, have a distinct advantage.

Could technology help blast open this closed market?

Teun van den Dries, chief executive of Dutch software company GeoPhy, believes his data analytics software program could do just that, starting with commercial property, a global market worth about Ä22.5tn (£15.7tn), according to the European Public Real Estate Association.

His program crunches lots of different data sets – public transport, roads, congestion, location, demographics, local economy, building quality and so on – to calculate an estimated value for a property.

And he has data for 41 countries, from Singapore to Spain, Brazil to Belgium.

“If you look at the current property market, almost all transactions are handled by estate agents that will describe property as being well situated, with great accessibility and beautiful views,” he says. “And that could all be true, but it doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t allow you to compare.”

Location accounts for 70%-75% of the weighting in the algorithm – a mathematical set of rules – and his pricing is accurate within about 5%, he says.

Estate agents are known for their creative euphemisms when it comes to property descriptions, but data could help cut through the sales speak to arrive at a more realistic assessment, he believes.

But, he notes, “a valuation is never right until someone pays. So, it’s the same price point a surveyor will put their signature on.”

The only difference is that it’s derived from data and a set of comparable rules, he says.

However, there are some valuations it can’t help us to understand – parts of London, such as St James’s Park or Mayfair, home of the £90m mansion, simply defy data analysis.

At present, his customers are pension funds and other large institutions that own property portfolios. They want quick access to property valuations, as well as other data, such as the energy efficiency of their buildings.

But he hopes this type of analysis could also help make the residential property and rentals markets more transparent, too.

So when your landlord says prices are rising in your area and hikes up your rent, you’ll be able to see if that’s really the case, says Mr van den Dries.

 

But not everyone is so sure about the benefits of data analytics in the commercial property market.

For example, a seller may offload a building to make a loss to offset against tax and as such will sell at a lower “rational” price, he says.

And shifts in economies thousands of miles away – China or in the Middle East, perhaps – could suddenly empty money out of a given market, without the data giving any warning.

While many large publicly owned property owners have talked about using data, many “just don’t really know where to start and are only at the start of the journey,” he says. “Commercial property is the last imperfect market.”

“Homes may be better, as they are more homogenous and could be more comparable,” he adds.

Mr van den Dries admits that there is some resistance to this new data-driven approach – a number of property owners have expressed displeasure at having their buildings benchmarked, he says.

But he, and others, remain convinced that better analysis of more data is key to a more efficient – and less mysterious – property market.

Tablets ‘eroding’ children’s digital skills

April 09, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, data security, Dr Search, Email, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, smart phones, Tablets, Uncategorized

Children are learning very different skills via tablets and smartphones, suggests a report.

Children are learning very different skills via tablets and smartphones, suggests a report.

Children’s growing use of mobile devices may hamper their learning of key technology skills, says a report.

An Australian educational body noted a “significant decline” in IT literacy among some students since 2011.

Its report said children learned very different skills on tablets and smartphones to the basic technology skills required for the workplace.

Changes to the way that ICT was being taught in Australian schools could explain some of the decline, it said.

The report added that significant alterations in the types of devices people use could also be behind some of the changes.
Poor performance

The report by Australia’s National Assessment Programme looked at technology literacy among two groups of children – one just leaving primary school and another in its fourth year of secondary school. More than 10,500 students took part.

It compared digital literacy scores from 2011 with those from a survey carried out in late 2014.

“This report shows a significant decline in their ICT literacy performance when compared to previous cycles,” it said.

Both age groups saw a decline in IT proficiencies, it added. Statistics revealed that the average performance of 16-year-olds in the 2014 group was lower than the average in any other year.

In addition it found that the number of children meeting basic ICT literacy standards in these age groups had dropped.

Pupils now made “increased” and “extensive” use of mobile technology and it was possible that this meant they were “practising fewer of the skills that have been associated with ICT literacy,” it said.

Tablets and smartphones were making children competent at using many forms of online communication, it said, at the expense of those other skills emphasised by the curriculum.

It warned against assuming that children who use tablets and other portable devices were more widely competent with technology.

“We cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction,” it said. “They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills.”

Eben Upton, who came up with the idea for the bare-bones Raspberry Pi computer, said the Australian research presented some “interesting” conclusions.

“It’s always been my belief that ‘appliance-like’ hardware platforms don’t encourage real computer literacy because there are missing rungs on the ladder between being a consumer and being a producer,” he told the BBC.

“There’s a place for tablets in education, but we need to get away from the idea that knowing how to pinch-zoom makes your toddler the next Bill Gates,” he said.