Archive for September, 2010

9/30/2010 The Social Network

When I saw my blog post falling this week I could not pass up the opportunity to discuss the dangerous combination of computer science, money, and the most popular social networking site.  On Friday, October 1st this will happen when The Social Network hits theatres.  Created by Aaron Sorkin (familiar to our parents as the creator of West Wing and to many college students by his role in Entourage), The Social Network tells the story of Facebook.  The story of Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard nerd rarely seen outside his dorm room, creating a website is now a Hollywood bread winner.  Disregarding the debates about the accuracy of the film, Zuckerberg’s true intentions for Facebook, and all other advertisement garbage it most importantly represents the changing face of computer sciences today.

“Moviemakers love hackers…fictional tech-heads always come in handy whenever the hero needs to pop open a locked door or drain a bank account”, explains author Scott Brown in a six paged spread on The Social Network in Wired magazine.  The media portrays any computer specialist as basically a magician.  This has positives and negatives.  In my first programming class at ISU we were able to create a program that sent a text message.  A user could type in a real phone number and a brief message that would be received by the intended recipient within a couple minutes.  I actually did feel like a magician when all my friends received weird messages from a creepy, unexplainable number.  But the media represents computer skills as something so foreign and complex it scares many away.  My guess is The Social Network will focus on the betrayal of friendships, lawsuits, and social chaos of Zuckerberg and limit the technical aspects as much as possible without hurting the plot.

Brown argues “computer guys have never had a this-is-our-moment movie”, and The Social Network is going to be it regardless of its accuracy.  Mark Zuckerberg is the “first tech nerd to be granted Hollywood celebrity” and many are questioning its impact on future students.  The movie version of Zuckerberg is “frankly, way cooler” than the actual man.  They surround him with parties, girls, and money but they are missing the point.  He created the most trafficked networking site ever to be created.  He is cool without the social norms.  A CEO of a $800 million company with 1,400 employees.  I was proud to show my roommates a simple program that was able to tell local movie times and Zuckerberg had changed the world.

Facebook is unique to our generation.  The Social Network represents this along with the close link between advancements in technology and moral guidelines.  Conflicts involving stealing code, hacking, and intellectual property theft did not apply in the past but are now current issues.  How these issues are portrayed in The Social Network will surely be critiqued.  The growing awareness of technology is obvious in mainstream society.  While the “handy-techie” stereotype still exists, the field is expanding in every direction including Hollywood.  This continues to surface new issues.

Don’t forget to take the quiz. Also, Justin Timberlake is playing Sean Parker the Napster cofounder and former Facebook president.  Interesting casting…wonder how this movie will be. Cheers!

Our Main Man:


September 30, 2010 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Google Uses AI to Make Searches Smarter

We are all well aware of the success and future potential that Google has achieved over the last decade.  More and more, Google is starting to appear to be one of those companies that our children will be familiar with and, who knows, maybe our children’s children as well?  Aside from redefining how you search for the address of your favorite Thai restaurant, or how people now interact with smartphones through the Google operating system Android, Google has worked on many projects to help bring fun and convenience to our lives.

So what’s the next step for Google?  Well, did you know that last year alone Google spent $2.84 billion in research and development in Artificial Intelligence?  Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google and former developer for NASA helped develop software that temporarily controlled NASA’s Deep Space 1 spacecraft without any human input more than 60 million miles away from earth.  Now he brings his focus much closer to home, researching AI to benefit us through our own personal computers and mobile devices.

“Imagine a very near future when you don’t forget anything because the computer remembers.  You are never lost.  You are never lonely,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at a conference earlier this month.  Obviously Google knows that this is something worth diving into, knowing that their research could potentially affect their revenue stream, which last year hit $23.7 billion.

A prime example you may have noticed is the release of Google Instant earlier this month.  Now after you have completed a search in Google, and you start typing in the search box, the search results will automatically display as you are typing saving a user two to five seconds per search, according to the company.

Speech recognition is another AI application propelling Google forward in research.  In the US, 1 in 4 searches on an Android phone are conducted via voice.  Eventually, Peter Norvig dreams for a phone to always be on, constantly absorbing a users surroundings from text input, sounds sentences it picks up, and settings it sees to generate useful information.  Later this year, Conversation Mode will be revealed for its Translation software.  It can make translations at the press of a button during a conversation between a tourist and a store clerk and respond out loud with the translation.  Though pleased with the progression, Norvig hopes one day for the entire event to be fully automated, but with limitations such as battery life, it’s difficult to keep a phone working full time.

It’s a start, and a cool one at that.  Imagine going to Paris not speaking a lick of French, but having your nifty Android phone to order the delicious Escargot for you with just the press of a button, with hopes that in the future, it can do it all on its own.

Thanks for reading all.  For more info here’s the link to the original article and don’t forget the quiz!


September 27, 2010 at 6:09 am 2 comments

SixthSense: A Little Less Bruce Willis and a Little More Tom Cruise

I see dead people. Nope. Nevermind. What do I see with this SixthSense instead?

Imagine this. You’re reading a newspaper, but in place of the picture that goes along with the article, a video starts playing. You can actually see the winning touchdown pass from last night’s game replay on the front page of the sports section. You flip to the back page to check out the weather and it updates to the most current forecast. This is doable, right? Just make the newspaper out of a sturdy material and build in the technology.

Here’s another scenario. You run into a friend after class and they invite you over to their house for an impromptu cookout of burgers and beverages. At one point while hanging, you realize this is a good photo op for you and your friends. You tell your friends to hang on while you grab your phone and turn on the camera option for some quick pics. Afterwards, you want to show your friends the awesome snapshots that you just got, but you all have to huddle around the tiny screen to see them. Is there an easier way? Absolutely.

Think Minority Report meets the Wii in real life.

We’ve just solved both problems quickly, technologically and simply.

Well, we haven’t, but Pranav Mistry has.

As Mistry explains on his website, SixthSense is a wearable gestural interface that allows us to access, use and store information applicable to our physical world. In other words, information from a portable computer is projected on our environment and we can interact with that computer through hand movements and images taken by the computer’s camera.

In the newspaper scenario, SixthSense would scan the article you are reading and search online for video corresponding to the article’s topic. The video is then projected onto the newspaper. The computer can also recognize the weather map on a page and can project current temperatures and radar onto the map.

SixthSense is capable of taking pictures by using the snapshot gesture (as seen in the photo below), allowing the user to capture moments that pass more quickly than the time it takes to dig out a camera. Want to review or show off the photos you’ve taken? SixthSense can project on any surface and you can easily view, edit and even send photos from any location.

Mistry has further developed this technology to allow you to drag images and applications to or from another computer by just pinching the item and sliding it on or off the computer screen. Images and text can also be borrowed from paper documents, combined and printed directly from SixthSense.

Besides being a pretty cool little gadget, SixthSense is also being looked at as a potential tool for people with disabilities. It can essentially become FifthSense and be used as a partial replacement for communication or navigation.

What could make this any sweeter? Two words. Open source. Mistry has also announced that he will be releasing the software as open source and will be providing instructions on how to assemble the hardware for the gadget. For those of you who don’t recognize the term, open source means that the code is available for free and people can use it and make changes to it on their own (given the knowledge, of course). And what about the price tag for this project? $350.

While the software and design specs are not available yet, check out his website for more information on SixthSense and for a cool video actually showing the technology in use.

Don’t forget to head over to Blackboard and take the extra credit quiz!

Thanks for reading! Have an awesome rest of the week!


September 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm 1 comment

Bloom Energy Boxes: The Way of the Future?

For the last couple of decades there has been a lot of talk and research into coming up with clean alternative energy sources.  In one of the most recent and potentially most efficient fuel cell discoveries yet, Bloom Energy is marketing tiny fuel cell boxes called “Bloom Boxes”.

The creator, who was originally employed by NASA, had already created a version of this fuel cell to work on Mars.  Instead of using the original design that was created to produce oxygen on the martian planet, founder K.R. Sridhar changed the configuration so that the fuel cell would use a chemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen to create energy.  One of the most interesting parts about these fuel cells is that they use sand and cheap metals.  There are also other secretive chemical formulas that are applied to the sand but K.R. doesn’t need to use expensive, precious metals for his fuel cells to work.  In addition, the fuels that these cells use range from fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, to sources of renewable energy like landfill gas, biogas, and solar energy.

Standard size fuel cell that one American home would use

One day Bloom Energy hopes to replace the current energy grids that we all rely on.  Bloom has a very convincing argument in terms of costs as well.  Although the cells are currently priced at $700,000-$800,000 each, they hope to one day be able to supply every home with a box for under $3,000 a piece.  These fuel cells are predicted to be cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than the current electrical grids that we are using now.

Giving Bloom even more credit are the people who are already funding and backing these boxes.  One of the venture capitalists who funded companies such as Netscape, Amazon, and Google, is also helping fund the over $400 million project that Bloom Energy currently is.  With little to show and much to prove, Google, Fedex, Walmart, Staples, and Ebay have all purchased “Bloom Boxes” to power a percentage of their campuses.  Bloom’s first customer Google now uses half as much natural gas as it normally would to power their datacenter.   Ebay has saved 15% or $100,000 in their first month using biogas as their fuel.  Since they are using biogas and oxygen, this makes their emissions carbon neutral.  In addition, the state of California has highly incentivized the use of these new energy solutions by subsidizing costs and giving big tax breaks.

One of these fuel cells is enough to power a light bulb

This could be one of the biggest new developments that begins to sweep the world. R.K. dreams of having these in every home in America over the next 5 to 10 years as well as locations such as villages in remote parts of Africa along with all of Europe and parts of Asia.  Just as the laptop replaced the desktop, and wireless phones replaced landlines, “Bloom Boxes” could be found in your backyard replacing current energy grids.

For more information please see which also has a link to the clip of a 60 Minutes segment that I watched about Bloom Energy.

Don’t forget to take the quiz!

September 20, 2010 at 11:56 am 2 comments

Bloomington Public Library Gets Technical

I have worked in retail and as a waitress.  It did not take me long to realize some people will steal and cheat the system at any possible time.  Five months ago I started to work at the Bloomington Public Library and was so excited to leave my other jobs for the sophisticated and respectable atmosphere of a library.  I was quickly brought down to reality after a couple days at the job.

“Hi, this is Marla calling from the Bloomington Public Library.  The copy of Hustler you returned had missing pages, was wet with what smells like coffee, and has slight mold throughout the back cover.  Your account has been charged $13.00.”

This is only one example of the difficult situations the library handles.  People steal DVD’s and CD’s.  Books are damaged, returned after the due date, and more often than you would imagine, never seen again.  To combat this libraries have become increasingly technical.  Every single item is given an RFID tag which programs the item to a unique ID number (I do this!).  At the library item ID numbers will always start with “A119” and have eight more following numbers (Ex.A11967890997).  This tag, which sticks on the back cover of books or back casing of DVD’s (please do not remove if you ever see one), is read by our computers and displays the due date of the item, how many times an item has been checked out, which patron has the item checked out, where the item is shelved in the library, and even more specific data.  It increases security of our items and improves our efficiency.

When I started to work at the library when a patron wanted to “check-out” an item a circulation employee would place it on a pad registering that item to a user.  When a patron was “returning” an item, a circulation employee would place the item on a pad registering it back into the library.  As of two weeks ago, a new computer system does both of these functions for us!
New machines were installed by the company 3M.  I came into work one morning to find construction workers, torn down walls, and confused library patrons.  The machines allow the library patrons to use new computers to read the unique RFID tags on each item and “check-out” items themselves.  When returning items patrons send their items through a scanner and they are immediate removed from their card.

The library employs an entire Technical Services staff and Information Technology workers to support these new systems.  It would be hard for a typical library patron to understand all the behind the scenes support.  The TS and IT staff work hard to make my job easier!  However, there are positives and negatives to the installation of this new technology, especially in an atmosphere where the general population having a wide variety of technical abilities are required to use it.

Don’t forget to take the quiz. Cheers!

Check this out for more info.–

September 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm 6 comments

What is HTML5, and Why Should You Care?

Hey readers!  I’m excited to get the blog rolling this semester on a topic I’m pretty sure we all share a heartfelt passion for:  the internet.  Or rather, what the internet really is once you start to scratch the surface and what is to come in the near future.

You may have heard the term “HTML” before, and if you haven’t, well you’ve probably interacted with it.  HTML or Hyper Text Markup Language forms the backbone of almost every site on the internet.  HTML4 was the last major iteration of the language, which debuted in 1997 and has pretty much been the standard for web coding since, and for good reason too!  With additional plugins such as Flash, Silverlight, and Java, we as users have been able to experience some pretty awesome multimedia features through web browsers that otherwise could not be supported.  For example, without Flash, I wouldn’t be able to waste my hours on Youtube like I normally do.  That’d be terrible.

Now, this sounds all good and great, but for mobile devices like iPads and iPhones, many mobile browsers don’t support these plugins, thus limiting multimedia features.  That’s where the next iteration of HTML, HTML5, comes in to play.  HTML5 adds many new features and incorporates otherwise externally added plugins into the browser from the start.  So instead of having to install a bunch of small files on your machine just to watch a video clip, it will be ready to go immediately when you open the browser.

So that’s convenient and all, but what else can it do?  The first thing you will notice about HTML5 is it’s fantastic ability to have really cool graphics within the browser.  Right now, HTML5 is only supported in Safari, Google Chrome, and FireFox 3.6, with Internet Explorer 8 having very limited support.  If you are using one of the 3 browsers, check out this cool demo with trippy music.  This is a neat demo page that incorporates the enhanced graphics that HTML5 allows for manipulation, while using audio and sensing movements with your mouse.  With new innovations like this, it’s exciting to wonder what new interfaces we can expect to see within the next year or so to major websites.

Thanks for reading everyone!  Here’s the link to the original article. Don’t forget to take the extra credit quiz on Blackboard!


September 13, 2010 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

Welcome to the ISU MAT 120 students for Fall 2010

Looking for the first post of the Fall 2010 semester? Not here yet. Come back on Monday, Sept. 13. Thank you.

September 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

September 2010
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