IT Cowboys, Data Hacks and the Self-Driving Race

What happens when a near 60-year old programming language bumps heads with a language from the 21st Century?

No – this isn’t a very long winded joke that only developer’s will laugh at.

This is a real problem that major banks all around the world are struggling with today.

Although it feels like an age since the old days of giant computers and rooms full of whirring tape, you might be surprised to hear how many major institutions still rely on the these machines, as well as the code that was used to program them. The now-vintage language, COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is used in portions of the US Federal Government and financial institutions around the world, but workers fluent in the archaic language are now a dying breed.

With the constant drive to modernise and update technology systems, corporations are now approaching serious issues when trying to get their new apps to talk to programs over 50 years their senior. As programmers fluent in COBOL have started passing away, the industry is now crying out for anyone who help them with their unique problem.

Luckily for them, there are a handful of these men and women still left working in the States, now commanding an hourly wage of $100/h.

Some of these veterans have returned to work at the age of 75 and up, coaxed back out of retirement by the promise of larger nest egg. For others, it’s simply a chance to gain vindication over an industry that had turned them away, in favour of younger, cheaper employees.

In more bizarre news…

A recent computer hack (as yet unclaimed) has caused 156 emergency sirens to sound off for over 90 minutes. At 11:42 PM CDT, alarms were triggered from an unknown location, causing major disruption to late night revellers and those trying to get a good night sleep.

According to industry experts, Vaz, this was one of the largest hacks to have affected emergency sirens. The alarms had to be shut off manually by engineers, leaving the city stuck with the wailing of sirens until 1:17 AM.

Although the hack is currently being investigated by the police they have found to no leads so far – let’s hope it didn’t disturb too many people!

Finally, speaking of data hacks…

Uber has come under fire from rival Waymo, as they inch ever closer to producing a self-driving car that could have benefited from 14,000 files downloaded from Waymo’s servers.

It has been suggested that a former executive of Waymo had downloaded the files shortly before leaving the company to start a company, recently bought by ride-sharing giant Uber. Anthony Levandowski, who now leads Uber’s self-driving program, has successfully sought his right against self-incrimination and will not testify, for fears that he may be charged with criminal actions.

Mr. Levandowski has claimed that he has not handed over the files, Uber has claimed to have not received them and the Judge presiding over the case has suggested that the lawyer representing Uber has not ‘searched well enough’ for the files in question.

This probably won’t be the last we’ll hear from these tech giants.

As the race to produce the first self-driving car heats up, we’ll no doubt see a lot more allegations of technological espionage.

HoloLens Steps Up and Green Electronics Progress…

It’s the year 2017 and each week we’re presented by more and more possibilities for the application of our considerable advances.

 This week is no different and our friend from Hawaii, Joan, has done her best to cherry pick the most interesting developments in the world of electronics. 

Infrared link Could Replace Wires In Data Centres

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand the sight of loose wires. My husband is constantly trolling me for my ‘tidiness complex’ as he calls it, but the truth is that our home would be a cluttered mess if wasn’t for my ‘little social disorder’.

The TV is so often the source of the untidiness. Years of collecting videos on varying formats, video game consoles and speaker sets has led to a lethal ‘no man’s land’ of knotted cables developing behind the TV, something that I choose to ignore rather than sort out. These worries could well be a thing of the past though, if the technology that’s being developed at Penn State University makes to the wide world.

Using infrared free-space optics, engineers working for a group of Universities have figured out a way of replacing cables in data centres with simple lasers and receivers. These connections can carry data at a speed of 10Gb/s and could be the start of a semi-wireless future. Prof. Kavehrad, spokesperson for the study, has said that he’d like to simplify the process even more by removing the fire optics altogether.

Microsoft’s HoloLens Gets First Medical Simulation Tool

Since the dawn of Virtual Reality last year, with the market release of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, there has been an increasing interest from the Medical community in the technology.

It’s not hard to see why Medical Practitioners and Surgeons are so interested in this burgeoning technology.

The human body is a wonderfully unique and complex creation, students may get a certain amount of experience studying cadavers but the opportunities they get to learn about surgery, outside of theoretical classes, are slim. Although last year’s VR releases have provided developers with ample opportunity to develop supporting programs, it’s Microsoft’s AR competitor, HoloLens, that is currently showing the most promise.

CAE Healthcare, one of the leading Healthcare Simulation companies in the States, has officially announced the first Medical Solution application for Microsoft’s, yet to be released, Augmented Reality headset. The application allows students and teachers to practice surgical procedures on real-dummies, whilst the interior of the ‘patient’ is visible through the use of 3-Dimensional Anatomical Map. This innovation could help students get the practice (and confidence) they need in developing their skills before moving on to the real thing.

Future of Green Technologies Looking Bright

Lastly, the idea of your phone or laptop being solely created with the use of biological materials may well seem a little strange, but it’s a reality that we are now one step closer to, thanks to positive progress made by microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts.

The similarity between the way biological cells communicate to each other and traditional electronics work have been noted for a while, but scientists have yet to find a naturally occurring example of this phenomena, until now that is.

According to their report, which you can read in full in this week’s mBio, they have discovered ‘a type of natural wire’ that has ‘substantial advantages over human-made materials’. Derek Lovley, taking the lead on this project, has stated that the natural microbial nanowires are cheaper and easier to create compared to their chemically synthesised counterparts.

The research is in it’s early stages still, so we might have a while to wait before our phones are grown from test tubes.