Archive for November, 2008

Site redesign!

So, I’ve decided to change the way the site looks. What do you all think?


November 19, 2008 at 4:09 pm Leave a comment

11/17/08: Technology not just for the guys

Hi Everybody,

We have really enjoyed blogging with you all this semester. We have seen some really cool stuff. I hope that you have developed an interest or at least learned something new about technology. One thing is for sure, people who work in a technology field can change the world. And, anybody with a little passion and creativity can pursue and excel in such a career. Good luck with finals! After viewing, don’t forget to take the corresponding Blackboard Assessment for extra credit!



Here is a link to blackboard:

November 17, 2008 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

11/13/08 Promises of Change and Technology

Barack Obama has been elected president! His victory was in no small part because he embraced technology on the campaign.  Check out this article about the changes technology made in the campaign and the changes Obama plans for technology fields.  When you’re done head back to blackboard and take the matching quiz.


President-elect Barack Obama has made history and will have the chance to go along that path further in future years. If we look at technology especially, we see the so-far probably most tech-savvy president being confronted with a country that is in dire need of changes that affect technology infrastructure, research and innovation in many ways to catch up with other countries. Silicon Valley has been complaining for years that government has neglected a technology-focused promotion of education, but besides with, what can the IT industry expect from the new president?

Silicon Valley’s cash already voted for Obama. According to a study conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics, Barack Obama received the lion’s share of donations from the nation’s tech giants, which backed him in a 5:1 ratio. Google alone donated almost half a million dollars, while its CEO Eric Schmidt publicly announced Obama as his choice

on many occasions. In total, Obama collected $1.44 million in donations from employees at the 20 largest Silicon Valley companies. The figure compares to McCain’s $267,041.

Obama demonstrated a greater understanding and use of technology than any other presidential candidate before. His campaign used web and mobile for fundraising and connecting to voters. Unlike McCain, who admitted that he does not know his way around computers, Obama was regularly spotted using handhelds. The Internet played a key role in Obama’s fundraising effort.  So what can we expect from this tech-savvy President-elect?

Article courtesy of Christian Zibreg and

November 13, 2008 at 4:11 am 1 comment

11/10/08 Cisco and Technology Learning

As you might know Cisco is a company dedicated to engineering hardware and software technologies for communications and networking. Cisco devices are virtually everywhere and therefore technological and especially computer systems careers often require students to learn about Cisco devices.

One way for college students to demonstrate their Cisco expertise are the Cisco certification exams, a very long list of exams are available, they are divided by area of knowledge. However usually the basic CCNA (Cisco Certified Network associate) is what most technology programs in college level initially prepare students for. What is surprising is that not only technology students seem to obtain great benefit from taking these certifications exams, but as shown by studies such as the “Indiana University CCNA six month program follow up”, CCNA programs  had an “education effect on high school students and an “employment effect” on community college students in the United States”.tech-home1

Programs that encourage Cisco learning are established and organized by the Cisco Learning Institute founded by Cisco in 1999. it is a not profit organization that “promotes the effective, appropriate use of technology to advance learning”, the institute often awards students around the world who demonstrate commitment to networking education and learning.

Marisa Mariscotti is an example of one of forty students recently awarded worldwide with the 2008 Panduit Excellence scholarship, one of the CCNA awards offered by the Cisco Learning institute. She is a student at CNIT a community college in San Francisco. What is special about her case — besides the fact that she is the only woman in the United States awarded– is that her career is not technological as one might think instantaneously, but rather artistic “Marisa is a professional modern dancer”. Her interest in technology is just part of her efforts to build a wider skill set and variety of knowledge.

Technological advancement is available for everyone seeking to expand their professional experience and anyone can find great benefit from technological training. Cisco classes are just and example of it but it goes well beyond it, any technology related expertise is very well appreciated in the real world work environment.



November 9, 2008 at 9:03 pm 1 comment

11/06/08: Robotic flute player aces “Flight of the Bumblebee”

Researchers have developed a robot that playes the incredibly complicated “Flight of the Bumblebee”, note for note, perfectly. He’s even equipped with a bowler hat, of sorts, and expressive (and somewhat creepy) eyes.

See for yourself:

The team of developers behind the design made gave the robot these human qualitys to hopefully have him be a contendor for performances infront of audiences.  He was named, “Waseda Flutist No. 4 Refined IV” (WF-4RIV for short), after the University in Japan that is working on the project. WF-4RIV’s mouth and lips were created to have the elasticity of human lips and use embedded pins, to control their shape. By moving the pins slightly, the shape of the robot’s mouth is changed, allowing him to mimic the movements of his human counterpart.

robotic flautist in his early stages

robotic flautist in his early stages

The robot’s lungs are composed of two air-tight acrylic cases, with a bellow that allows them to breathe in and out. Not only that, “the robot’s eyes have two cameras that allow it to interact with the audience and other musicians, so we could soon see it playing duets with people.”

One could argue that this type of research is pretty useless, but, by researching ways to have robots mimic human movements, scientists could perhaps develop robots that could help the disabled in an iRobot sort of fashion. (Hopefully they’ll be a bit less angry than the robots from iRobot, though.)

Math 120 students: As usual, don’t forget to head back to blackboard to take your extra-credit quiz! Sorry in advance if you’ve been having some blackboard issues, hopefully the bugs will be worked out soon! Also, if you liked this article (or if you want to help us improve), feel free to click the “comments” button on the bottom and leave us a note! We appreciate it!

Thanks everyone,


November 6, 2008 at 12:07 am 3 comments

11/03/08: Sight for the Blind and Speech for the Deaf

11/03/08: Sight for the Blind and Speech for the Deaf

Hi Everybody,

Technology is an amazing thing. This story is about how people in the technology field can make a difference by using their knowledge and creativity to help others. After viewing, don’t forget to take the corresponding Blackboard Assessment for extra credit!



Here is a link to blackboard:

Sight for the Blind and Speech for the Deaf

A professor turns cellphones into aids for the disabled


Three years ago, in the depths of a Pittsburgh winter, Priya Narasimhan saw a blind man trying to catch a bus.

Stepping in and out of pools of slush, the man called out to passing pedestrians to ask if a vehicle he heard arriving was his ride home. Buses passed by.

“We can do better than that,” Ms. Narasimhan said to herself.

Ms. Narasimhan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, soon became the hub for student research projects that develop technologies to assist the disabled by doing such tasks as identifying buses or translating sign language into spoken words. Their creations turn the most ubiquitous device on a college campus — the cellphone — into an independence-enhancing machine.

Some of these endeavors are now being spun off into a small company. Ms. Narasimhan’s and her students’ accomplishments have come after countless hours of work, some for credit but much uncredited, and almost always not financed save for a small grant cadged from the university.

Shortly after the bus incident, Ms. Narasimhan began kicking around ideas about ways to make blind people’s lives easier using technology. Her main priorities were convenience and affordability, so her first inclination was to upgrade something many blind people already use: canes. Perhaps, she thought, she could create a cane that would give audio clues to the surrounding environment.

In the process, she began consulting with Dan Rossi, a systems administrator at Carnegie Mellon who has been blind since childhood. Mr. Rossi has strong views about what kinds of technologies can help blind people. He told Ms. Narasimhan flatly that upgrading the cane, as other inventors have tried to do, was a terrible idea.

“A cane is a cheap tool,” he said. “You know, it’s 20 bucks. You can break them, you can throw them away, you can get them wet, and they don’t have to be recharged. It’s like a pencil. You really don’t want to soup up a pencil.”

More Technologies

Casting canes aside, the budding engineers starting looking at cellphones, which can be bought already outfitted with text-to-speech software and which many disabled people also already use. So far Ms. Narasimhan has advised three student projects that adapt cellphones for use by the blind, and one for use by the deaf.

The first adaptation helps solve the problem faced by the blind man waiting for the bus. Her students’ software program allows users to retrieve scheduled bus routes on their smart phones from the transit system’s Web site. The schedules are then read aloud by the phone.

But buses tend to be off-schedule, so Ms. Narasimhan said she is also lobbying the local transit authority to give her access to buses’ GPS locations. That way a blind person can know for certain if the vehicle he hears approaching is the one he needs to board.

The second project assists blind people in shopping for groceries or other goods by connecting a tiny bar-code reader to a cellphone, which retrieves product names from a free Universal Product Code database that is already available on the Internet. This way, Mr. Rossi said, he doesn’t need a sighted person to help him determine if the cookie box he is holding is oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip.

Ms. Narasimhan is hoping to build a new version of the public UPC database that will include nutritional information, pricing, and other details that a visually impaired shopper might want to know.

Devices already exist that allow people to create custom-made bar-codes, which could be added to the new database so that blind users could label and then identify objects at home or at work.

The last vision-related project Ms. Narasimhan and her students have been working on may receive more attention thanks to a major lawsuit.

In May a U.S. appeals court ruled that the U.S. Treasury must change U.S. paper currency to make bills accessible to the blind. Unlike paper currency from most other countries, U.S. bills of different denominations are the same size and have the same texture. Blind people thus must ask sighted people to identify the bills they are given, and then usually rely on folding or organizing tricks to remember which bills are which.

Ms. Narasimhan’s students have provided an alternative. They have populated a database with images of bills, crisp and crumpled, well lit and shadowed. With special software, a blind person can take a picture of a bill using a cellphone camera. The software will transmit the picture to the database and name the bill based on an image match.

There are already text-reading currency identifiers that can also read words from a variety of other sources. A blind person using these products must zoom in directly on the word “FIVE” or number “5,” though, rather than any other part of the bill. Image matching, with the Carnegie Mellon system, does not have this limitation, though it has the disadvantage of not being able to identify unknown text such as that on menus.

While trying to secure backing for the technology projects for the blind, Ms. Narasimhan has also been advising a nascent project that uses text-to-speech software on cellphones to assist the deaf. This project involves a gesture-recognition glove that can translate hand movements, such as American Sign Language, into spoken words. When a deaf person wearing the glove makes a sign, sensors in the glove translate each hand position into words that are then read aloud by the cellphone’s text-to-speech software. That way, the deaf person can communicate with a hearing person who doesn’t know ASL.

This project is still in the early stages and right now can translate only a few test gestures — a thumbs-up sign triggers the phrase “Go, Pens!,” for example, in honor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite the financial straits Ms. Narasimhan’s students say they are in, and the fact that they are no longer receiving course credit for this work, they devote many late nights and weekends to the assistive-technology projects.

“I spend a little more time on this stuff than I should be, at least if I want to graduate anytime soon,” said Patrick E. Lanigan, a graduate student who has been working on the technologies for the blind. But, he and his colleagues say, in this kind of work, they are motivated by more than the desire to obtain a degree, and have learned to get a lot of work done even when resources are scarce.

“This has mostly been a soup-kitchen kind of project,” says Ms. Narasimhan.
Section: Information Technology
Volume 54, Issue 42, Page A13

November 3, 2008 at 2:18 pm 1 comment

November 2008
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