Episode 370 – Aussie Tech Heads Shownotes

posted in: Show Notes


Microsoft invests in $8m Melbourne research centre

The Microsoft Centre will identify new social applications for natural user interface (NUI) technologies. NUI technologies include voice recognition, gesture control, eye recognition and touch interactivity.

Researchers at the centre will focus on how to best incorporate these interactive technologies into Microsoft user interfaces.

The Microsoft Centre for Social National User Interface (NUI) Research will be the 14th in the company’s network of science labs and the first to concentrate on technologies that may one day help strengthen human bonds and nurture relationships


Partnered with the Victorian Govt.


The centre opened today and will employ 28 staff.



Consumer hard drives as reliable as enterprise hardware

according to data from Backblaze, an online storage firm Consumer hard drives don’t fail any more often than enterprise-grade hardware – despite the price difference.


Backblaze runs most of its storage on consumer-grade drives, but also has a selection of enterprise-class systems from Dell and EMC.


Over four years, Backblaze has tracked 14,719 drive-years – representing the number of drives it has, multiplied by their lifespan (for consumer-grade hardware) – finding 613 failures, which is a failure rate of 4.2%.


For enterprise-grade drives, Backblaze clocked up 368 drive-years, with 17 failures – a failure rate of 4.6%.


“It turns out that the consumer drive failure rate does go up after three years, but all three of the first three years are pretty good,


no data on enterprise drives older than two years, as they have only been using enterprise drives for 2 years so we don’t know if they will also have an increase in failure rate.


engineer Brian Beach says


“Enterprise drives do have one advantage: longer warranties. That’s a benefit only if the higher price you pay for the longer warranty is less that what you expect to spend on replacing the drive.”

“This leads to an obvious conclusion: If you’re okay with buying the replacements yourself after the warranty is up, then buy the cheaper consumer drives.”


Office 365 now free for students

Under Microsoft’s student advantage program, schools and universities that purchase licences for Office Professional Plus or ProPlus can provide Office 365 ProPlus to their students at no additional cost.


Microsoft launched its student advantage offer in Australia on 1 December. The company claims 35,000 academic institutions worldwide are positioned to benefit from the student advantage program.



Windows updates codenamed “Threshold” coming 2015

Microsoft has codenamed the next wave of major Windows releases “Threshold”, and plans to deliver the updates in Autumn 2015.


the Threshold codename was used in a recent internal email from the company’s operating systems chief Terry Myerson.


Microsoft will beef up encryption fearing NSA surveillance

Microsoft plans to roll out new encryption and security measures in response to possible National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance on the company.


No definitive evidence has surfaced to prove that the NSA broke into the company’s global communications or monitored user actions, but documents leaked by Edward Snowden include references to Microsoft’s Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger services. A separate NSA email also mentioned Microsoft Passport as a potential target of the surveillance project MUSCULAR.

Google, Yahoo and Twitter already increased their encryption methods following NSA revelations.


Google kicks CyanogenMod out of Android store

Earlier this month, the CyanogenMod app was released in Google’s store, making it easier for users to replace their existing version of Android.

CyanogenMod doesn’t include any of the network/handset manufacturer customisations that irritate many Android users, and offers features that are often not made available on regular handsets.

However, the CyanogenMod team claim Google has effectively forced them to withdraw the app, as it breaks the company’s developer terms.


a post on theCyanogenMod blog

“They [Google] advised us to voluntarily remove the application, or they would be forced to remove it administratively


Google’s decision doesn’t kill the CyanogenMod project – it can still be installed, as before, by following the instructions on the CyanogenMod site.


Spotify reveals artists earn $0.007 per stream

The company said it pays an average of US$0.007 per play, according to figures on its new website Spotify Artists, aimed specifically at musicians.

Explaining its business model, Spotify said it had paid more than US$1bn in royalties since its 2008 launch.

Spotify said it has kept just 30% of the money from subscriptions to its premium service and advertising.

Using a series of charts, the Spotify website has illustrated how much a niche indie album could earn $3,300 per month () compared to a breakthrough indie album ($76,000), a Spotify top 10 album ($145,000) and what it calls a global hit album ($425,000 a month in royalties).

Currently with 6 million subscribers worldwide, Spotify said several artists were paid more than $3m  in 2013.

Earlier this year Radiohead singer Thom Yorke pulled material from the site in protest at how much it pays artists.




New Malware Can Jump Air Gaps Using Inaudible Sound


A team of computer scientists has developed a new breed of malware that can leap between devices using inaudible audio signals, and then covertly transmit passwords and other sensitive data without a network connection. Using just built-in microphones and speakers, the researchers can transmit passwords and other small quantities data over distances of 20m.  Talking to Ars Technica, the computer scientists, from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics, explained:


Foxtel Is About To Start Selling Broadband


In a bid to be more relevant to an increasingly distracted TV audience, Foxtel is about to start selling consumer bundle plans including ADSL and NBN home broadband.


Australia’s largest pay TV provider will start offering bundles to home customers that include everything from broadband internet, through to home phone plans and of course, the TV service.


Amazon Drones Are Truly Revolutionary [For Marketing]


The most thrilling [marketing] advancement in recent years was unveiled last night on 60 Minutes. If you missed it — how could you have missed it? — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos detailed the [marketing] future of his company for millions [of potential customers]: Amazon PrimeAir. The [marketing] future is here, and it is [vague promises of] 30-minute delivery by drones.  That’s right! It’s just a matter of [at least five years’] time before Amazon’s [currently fictitious] army of drones takes to the skies to deliver your [2.2kg or lighter] package straight to your doorstep[‘s general GPS location] [assuming you live within 15 kilometres of an Amazon fulfillment centre] [which you don’t]. If that doesn’t sound like the future [of marketing], I don’t know what does.

Nuclear Launch Code At US Silos Was 00000000 For 20 Years


Today I found out that during the height of the Cold War, the US military put such an emphasis on a rapid response to an attack on American soil, that to minimise any foreseeable delay in launching a nuclear missile, for nearly two decades they intentionally set the launch codes at every silo in the US to eight zeroes.  We guess the first thing we need to address is how this even came to be in the first place. Well, in 1962 JFK signed the National Security Action Memorandum 160, which was supposed to ensure that every nuclear weapon the US had be fitted with a Permissive Action Link (PAL), basically a small device that ensured that the missile could only be launched with the right code and with the right authority.


Coalition NBN Will Miss Delivery Target And Make Less Money Than FTTH: Report


When you’re trying to reconcile a big, ugly fibre broadband project, the last thing you want is someone looking at your list of “Challenges” to rectify. A leaked report supposedly from Malcolm Turnbull’s “Blue Book” full of ministerially important stuff says that the fibre to the node NBN will make less money than the network proposed by the Labor government and miss proposed roll-out dates. Ruh roh, Malcolm.  Fairfax obtained a leak of the so-called “Blue Book”, and found that some fairly serious challenges await the incoming government with its fibre to the node NBN roll-out.  The advice contained in the Blue Book from experts says that the FTTN roll-out will struggle to complete the first stage of the 25Mbps network deployment by 2016, meaning that the delivery date of 2019 for 50Mbps services might also be pushed back.




Sydney switches off analog TV


Analog television signals have been switched off in Sydney and surrounding areas, with digital-only reception taking over.


The permanent switch took place at 9am (AEDT) on Tuesday.


The switchover is Australia’s largest to date, with more than 1.7 million households involved, bringing the national tally of switched homes to more than 8.7 million nationwide.


The federal government’s Digital Switchover Taskforce says there are only two regions left to make the change. On December 10, Melbourne and remote and central eastern Australia, including areas of the Northern Territory outside of the Darwin switchover region, will complete Australia’s switch to digital-only TV.


People who have not converted have the option of switching to a digital TV or attaching a digital set-top box or digital recorder to their analog TV.



Double-sided smartphone goes on sale in Russia


Russia’s first smartphone – a quirky, dual-screen device with a traditional LCD-color display on one side and an electronic-paper display similar to the Amazon Kindle on the other – began selling in Russia and several other European countries on Wednesday.


The Yotaphone, developed by a Russian tech start-up, Yota Devices, will be sold for about 19,990 roubles ($668) in Russia, slightly cheaper than top competitors like the Apple iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S4.


The Russian phone, which uses an Android operating system, is an attempt by a European company to jump into the handset market, largely dominated by US and Asian manufacturers. Nokia, the largest mobile phone maker in Europe, is in the final stages of selling that business to Microsoft for $US7.2 billion. Jolla, a smaller Finnish start-up founded by former Nokia engineers, has only recently started selling its own handset aimed at a global audience.


At a kickoff event at the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture in downtown Moscow, the chief executive of Yota Devices, Vladislav Martynov, said the introduction of dual screens was “a revolution in telephone architecture” and would conserve battery life.


Martynov said that the electronic-ink display on the back of the Yotaphone would show information, including feeds from Facebook and Twitter, even when the phone is not in use.


“Before Yotaphone, this space was useless,” he said.



Amazon Wants To Use Autonomous Drones To Deliver Stuff To Your Door

On Sunday’s 60 Minutes, Bezos dragged Charlie Rose out of his black-backgrounded studio and to Amazon HQ to show off “Amazon Prime Air” octo-copters, tiny, electric drone aircraft that he believes could someday bring packages directly to customers’ homes and offices.


“I know this looks like science-fiction,” Bezos tells a jaw-dropped Rose. “It’s not. It’s early; this is still years away… we can do half-hour delivery, and we can carry objects — we think — up to five pounds, which covers 86% of the items that we deliver.”


Bezos says the current generation of test drones have a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. Given the growing number of Amazon warehouses out there, that would cover quite a substantial portion of some major metro areas.


“It won’t work for everything,” he admits. “We’re not going to carry kayaks or table saws this way.”


Unlike most currently operating drones that are remotely piloted by someone on the ground with a monitor and controls, these Amazon copters do the flying themselves.


“You give them instructions of which GPS coordinates to go to, and they take off and they fly to those GPS coordinates,” explains Bezos. “The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need… this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood. That’s not good.”


He admits that the project is still years away from becoming a reality.




From March next year and pending regulatory approval, students will be able to order books from Zookal via an Android smartphone app and have one of six Flirtey drones deliver them to their door in Sydney. As the drone arrives, students will be able to track it in real-time on a Google map.


After its initial launch, Flirtey hopes to then expand the service to other products and locations, even seeing potential to deliver food and drinks to people and blood to and from blood banks and hospitals in future.



Millions of stolen passwords found in botnet controller


Security experts have uncovered a trove of some 2 million stolen passwords to websites, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo!, from internet users across the globe.


Researchers with Trustwave’s SpiderLabs said they discovered the credentials while investigating a server in the Netherlands that cyber criminals use to control a massive network of compromised computers known as the Pony botnet.


The company told Reuters on Wednesday that it has reported its findings to the largest of more than 90,000 websites and internet service providers whose customers’ credentials it had found on the server.


The data includes more than 326,000 Facebook accounts, about 60,000 Google accounts, more than 59,000 Yahoo! accounts and nearly 22,000 Twitter accounts, according to SpiderLabs. Victims were from the United States, Germany, Singapore and Thailand, among other countries.


Representatives for Facebook and Twitter said the companies have reset the passwords of affected users. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment. Yahoo! representatives could not be reached.


SpiderLabs said it has contacted authorities in the Netherlands and asked them to take down the Pony botnet server.


An analysis posted on the SpiderLabs blog showed the most common password in the set was “123456”, which was used in nearly 16,000 accounts. Other commonly used credentials included “password”, “admin”, “123” and “1”.



Big holes discovered in Vic Govt’s cyber security


The Victorian government’s IT systems are woefully underprepared for a cyber attack and the state does not have the procedures in place to detect and respond to one, the Victorian auditor-general has found.


Auditor-general John Doyle said a concerted attack on multiple agency ICT systems had the potential to be catastrophic, and the state additionally had no central mechanism to collect reports on such an attack.


“Overall, there is a low level of awareness of how an agency’s ICT systems are likely to perform if subjected to a cyber attack,” a report on the government’s information security provisions found.


The report discovered that, alongside Western Australia, the Victorian state government accounts for the highest rate of cyber security incidents amongst Australian jurisdictions.


In 2012, inner Victorian agencies experienced 26 “serious cyber threat incidents”, only half of which were reported to the Australian Signals Directorate’s Cyber Security Operations Centre.


“Common incidents included login credentials being stolen and published on websites frequented by cyber criminals and hackers, malicious code being used in online applications to trick a user or hijack a session, website defacement and malicious emails with embedded links or attachments.”


In one agency audited, 70 percent of all staff had a privileged level of access to critical systems, which they held on a permanent basis. In a number of cases across government, the report said, passwords guarding administrative access were “simple and easy to guess”.


During penetration testing commissioned by the auditor-general’s office, testers were able to locate unprotected lists of passwords which they then used to gain privileged access to secure systems – including an account held on behalf of one agency with an overseas financial institution.





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