Features

The following tech features originally appeared in On MAS, the magazine for members of the Medical Assurance Society.

 

 

Online Risks and Pitfalls

 In February 2016, a staff member at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (HPMC) in Los Angeles opened an invoice in an emailed Word document and accidentally activated Locky, a nasty piece of ransomware that spread rapidly across the hospital’s systems, encrypting files as it went. Within hours, doctors were unable to access patients’ records or share X-rays, scans or medical test results. Admin staff had to resort to pen and paper to do admissions. According to some reports, the hackers initially demanded US$3.6 million to unlock the hospital’s files. In the end, HPMC paid US$17,000 in untraceable bitcoins, and 10 days after that fateful click its systems were back online.

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3D Glasses Not Required

On the side of an Amsterdam canal, a replica of a 400-year old canal house is being constructed from composite materials, bio-plastics and eco-concrete. An unusual combination, but the most remarkable thing about the house is that it’s being constructed by an oversized 3D printer.

In Shanghai, a year after printing ten 200 square metre houses in 24 hours, Chinese company WinSun produced a five-storey apartment block on an even larger 3D printer — this one measuring 10 by 40 metres and standing six metres high …

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2016-02

 

Finding Love Online

In 1695, shortly after the modern newspaper’s first appearance, a shrewd pamphlet editor took an advertisement from a 30-year-old London man with “a very good estate” who was seeking “a good young gentlewoman that has a fortune of £3,000 or thereabouts”.

Whether his quest was successful or not is unknown, but it marked the start of a form of personal advertising that remained largely unchanged until the advent of the internet almost 300 years later.

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2015-08

 

Driverless Cars

One day your driverless car may kill you. Deliberately.

In the field of ethics it’s known as the Trolley Problem, because its original formulation has you standing by the lever of an out-of-control trolley car. The trolley is plunging straight down a hill. lf you do nothing, it will continue on into a gathering of five people waiting at the bottom, unaware there’s anything amiss, and kill them. lf you do pull the switch, however, the trolley will be diverted to a siding where a lone worker toils, and kill him instead.

What do you do? You have a second to decide.

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2015-02

 

Home, Smart Home

The.world’s first internet-connected fridge went live in June 1998 in the town of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. After 17 years and almost 70,000 door openings, it’s still going.

The 100-year-old house in which it sits — a private residence owned by systems analyst Alex van Es — has had many of its operations connected to the internet, from doorbells to mail deliveries. You can read a log of the latest happenings on his website www.icepick.com.
“Garage door opened. Back door closed. Toilet flushed. Alex’s computer switched off…” Hardly riveting reading, but you’ll start to see the potential of a wired home when you look at the pot plant page.

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2014-08

 

Chrome Just Got Cooler

When Google’s Chromebooks first appeared in 2011 they were accompanied by a series of short, jokey ads that have since become classics.

How do you back up a Chromebook? (A hand appears and pushes it backwards.) How do you protect your Chromebook from viruses? (A pair of hands, a squirt of hand sanitiser and offyou go.) And how do you protect your Chromebook from aliens? (The computer is vaporised as a voice-over says, “You can’t. But at least your files are safe.”)

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2014-02

 

 Catch a Mouse to the Shops

‘Black Friday’, the day after the Thanksgiving Day holiday, is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season in the United States. Its name comes from the notion that many retailers make little or no money in the first part of the year, but from that day until year’s end, they’re firmly’ in the black’.

But last year Black Friday took on a darker tinge. Retail sales were down almost 3% on 2o12 and foot traffic for the year fell by more than 20%. lnstead of battling traffic jams, queuing for car parks and waiting to be served, many Americans did their shopping online.

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2013-08

 

 Internet Streaming

In 2oo6, United States television network ABC started streaming some of its most popular shows over the internet. lf you missed an episode of Lost or Grey’s Anatomy, you could catch up online — and it’s a trend that broadcast networks around the world have followed, including TVNZ and TV3. But until quite recently streaming was the province of computer and smartphone users. Yes, it’s useful, but who wants to sit in front of a keyboard or peer at a tiny screen all evening?

Smart TVs are changing that by bringing web content directly to your telly. Thanks to high-speed broadband connections and Wi-Fi networks, you can now do everything from browsing the web, to chatting on Skype, to keeping up with Facebook – all from the comfort of your armchair.

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2013-02

 

Broadband Delivery

Talk about a moving target! Few things change more quickly, or more dramatically, than broadband plans. There are fixed-price plans, monthly plans and prepaid plans that top up automatically out in today’s market. Some plans include mobile, TV and telephone usage, and/or free national or international calling. So how do you choose?

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2012-08

 

 Getting Smart

Poor old Dick Tracy. All the famous cartoon detective ever had was a wrist radio. Compare that with a typical modern smartphone with its in-built accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, GPS, compass, FM radio and camera. Via a high-resolution, multi-function touch-screen, it’ll do everything from connecting with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks to recording high-definition movies — all in a pocket-sized package weighing less than 150 grams.

But what actually constitutes a ‘smartphone’?

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2012-02

 

 GPS Everywhere

Originally slated for military use, the project to build a satellite-based navigation network began in t973, although it was t6 years before its first satellite was launched. The final satellite went into orbit in t994 and the network – dubbed the Global Positioning System – became fully operational. Although it’s maintained by the US Department of Defence, once the network was sufficiently developed the American Government deemed it a ‘common good’ and made it freely available for civilian use.

The 24 satellites that make up the network continuously transmit signals containing the precise orbital positions and the time each message is sent. By using these signals and a clever bit of geometry called trilateration, GPS receivers can determine their position to within a few metres.

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