Archive for February, 2011

New technologies introduced to patients with missing limbs

Science and technology have come a long way. Especially to help those who can benefit from it the most. One of the newer devices out there on the market that was recently introduced by scientists and computer technicians is a thought-controlled bionic arm. The prosthetic arm has been introduced and used by more than 50 amputee military veterans whose limbs were lost in combat.

Although the product was first developed by a US doctor, Todd Kuiken, in 2002, there have been changes and tweaks to perfect the arm. The technology that’s used is known as Targeted Muscle Reinervation (TMR). TMR works by using the nerves that are still left and reroutes the brain signals there. Retired military sergeant Glen Lehman is one of the owners of these prosthetics and he reported that, “it does feel like my own hand.” Lehman had lost his forearm and elbow in a grenade attack in Baghdad in 2008. With the older technology users were only able to control certain movements by pulsing their muscle. TMR has made it so that users are actually able to squeeze and pinch their fingers in addition to full movement and swing. They are still far from perfect but research is still being done to increase the ability of the new limb. One thing that they’re looking into is how to allow the user know how much strength he or she is using. They are trying to use more sensors to detect how much pressure is being applied when the hand is trying to squeeze something. It’s amazing how far they’ve come so far and how much more they’ll be able to do in the future.

One of the potential projects stemming from more advanced prosthetic arms is the possibility of patients with spinal cord injuries to be able to control a range of devices from computer games to prosthetics. Scientists are researching ways to place computer chips on the surface of the brain to interpret neural activity. In the future they hope that one day patients will be able to put on a special electronic cap that allows them to maneuver objects. Although there seems to be a ways to go in research of this technology it’s impressive to see how far we’ve come so far.

Here is a link to the article that I read up on: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110218/ts_afp/scienceusmilitaryresearch

Don’t forget to take the quiz!

-JP

February 28, 2011 at 3:27 am Leave a comment

2/24/2011 NBA and NHL on YouTube

“NBA games streaming on YouTube? Just a click away from a cat playing the piano?” asks NBC sports writer, Kurt Helin.  While his question is hilarious, the answer is very exciting for many sports fans.  Recently Google, who in 2006 bought YouTube, has been discussing with the NBA and NHL about streaming live games.  Google’s director of content partnership for Asia Pacific, Gautam Anand, says broadcasting live games is a goal for 2011.

Broadcasting live sporting events online is not a new idea.  By purchasing a “League Pass subscription,” NBA games can already be watched online, tennis and soccer are watched live consistently throughout the world, and through YouTube any entertaining feat is usually posted within minutes.  Regardless, YouTube wants to secure their medium as a sports provider.  Their first project was broadcasting cricket matches from the Indian Premier League.  It was profitable by keeping viewers on YouTube for longer sessions which allows for more advertising and expands the fan base.  The Indian Premier League cricket matches brought in “55 million visits from more than 250 countries.”

YouTube sees potential markets internationally for the NBA and NHL.  Bringing in a significant amount of international viewers combined with increased advertising would be extremely profitable.  YouTube’s only competitors are Hulu and Netflix and the live sports broadcast would make YouTube the leader.

I would love NBA broadcasting on YouTube.  To be successful YouTube must provide a flawless stream, reliable servers, and advertising that is not too distracting.  The larger significance of a potential YouTube and NBA/NHL relationship is the increasing connection between technology and our favorite past times.  It encourages consumers to invest in technology and could provide jobs in bringing the broadcasting sphere to technology.  While seeing Derrick Rose on my 16 inch monitor may not have the same delightful effect, the availability and convenience would be great.

See the original story here- Google\’s YouTube in Talks to Stream NBA, NHL Games Live. It is all over the news. Keep an eye out for it as it progresses!  Check out the article or the IPM YouTube Link! YouTube IPL

Don’t forget to take the quiz.

Cheers, Marla

February 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm 1 comment

Your Virtual Footprint

Introduction

Open up your favorite search engine, and type in your name. What is on the first page of results? Assuming you do not share a name with a celebrity, many of the top results are likely links to your social networking pages, blog posts, web pages, and any other web content including your name. I just completed this simply task and six of the ten first results were something related to content I created or was included in.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a future employer, with hundreds maybe thousands of application in front of them. Your choices are interview every candidate or simply go on Google to learn a little bit more about these candidates. I know personally I would choose the latter. In fact in a 2009 survey completed by CareerBuilder.com, 45% of employers acknowledged that they used social networking sites for screening candidates and the trend will only continue to grow. Even more alarming, out of the employers that used the internet and social media resources to research candidates 35% said they did not hire the candidate because of the information they found.

Now, I understand that many of those who are reading this post have not even decided on a major yet, much less where you will be working someday. Contrary to what you may believe, this is actually what makes this post even more relevant to you. The amount of information individuals can find about you online, is also referring to as your virtual footprint. Appropriately named for the “paper trail” you have created. Personally, I have signed up for way too many different social networking sites and now as I am in the job search managing my virtual footprint is much more difficult than it should be.

By actively managing your virtual footprint now, you will thank yourself when you are applying for job opportunities in just a very short amount of time. Especially because a properly managed footprint, can actually help you receive a job instead of being the reason you received the denial letter.

Where to Start

If you are anything like me, you may be asking where do I start? This is a valid question, and today I have supplied several great resources for you.

Socioclean – http://www.socioclean.com/
I used this resource just earlier today, and was surprised how thorough it was in searching through my social networks. After signing up for Socioclean, I connected it with a Facebook profile and allowed it to search for all comments I have ever made or comments anyone has ever made on my wall. It then allows you to view every comment that it identifies as questionable. Simply by running this simple search, you may be surprised with how many potentially career endangering comments are located in the public eye. Depending on how many problems it identified, you may want to consider implementing some virtual footprint techniques immediately. Also the application brings up an important point that needs to be considered in virtual footprint management. While your profile may be private, consider comments you made on friend’s walls or friend’s pictures that are public. Socioclean is a good and free resource to identify problems that already exist in your virtual footprint, but what about new problems that are nearly guaranteed to emerge?

Google Alerts – http://www.google.com/alerts
I believe Google Alerts is a great solution to this problem. I have a Google Alert currently set for my name, and if any new content enters the Google search engine containing my name I am immediately alerted of its location. Having Google Alerts, gives me the assurance that if any untrue or misleading information was posted about me anywhere, I will immediately be notified and can properly manage this aspect of my virtual footprint.

Prevention
The two above solutions are great for damage control scenarios, but generally it is more effective to prevent the damage before it event occurs in first place. Here are some techniques to prevent having to utilize resources such as Socioclean and Google Alerts.

Ask yourself, “Do I need to sign up for this?”
I am faced with signing up for new forms of social media or other web applications every day. I must ask myself, is signing up for this really necessary and will it be something that may potentially harm my image in the future?  For those who claim they only use Facebook, you still actively sign up for many networks inside of Facebook. For example if you decide to “Like Beer,” this may be something that would lead a future employer to eliminate your application. This leads me to my second prevention technique.

Ask yourself, “Would my grandmother be happy to see this?”
This cliché phrase is very crucial for creating a successful virtual footprint.  Before making any post or joining any network, think about how it would look to those who do not actually know you. If someone who did not anything about you, only learned about you through you virtual footprint what would they think of you?

I have only listed a small amount of the potential ways to control and prevent your virtual footprint from representing you unfavorably. Numerous resources are available, and the number one resource is your awareness of the issue.

A Lasting Thought

While 53% if employers said that disregarded a candidate because of posting provocative or inappropriate photographs or information. Employers also said they hired a candidate based on their virtual footprint. Some example reasons are the candidates profile provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality or the candidate was well-rounded. So a lasting thought to leave readers, is this is not meant to say remove yourself from social networks and internet media. These will provide useful resources when connecting with a professional network someday, as long as they reflect you and what you have to offer.

To learn more about the CareerBuilder study follow this link

– Paul

February 20, 2011 at 12:00 am 2 comments

ISU’s Cyber Security Geeks

This Saturday, 7 team members and I will be competing for ISU at the annual Illinois/Indiana Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition held at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, IL.  I have been on the team for 4 years now and it has provided me with some great experience in working with cyber security.  As you may know, there is a huge threat in today’s world called cyber warfare, and the government is constantly looking for people with the skills to defend against these threats.  In case you didn’t already know, cyber warfare is defined as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.”  Our nation recognizes this as a growing issue and they are doing all they can to protect against it.  In fact, the Obama administration just proposed a spending increase of 35% (or $548 million) by next year in cybersecurity research.  The government hopes that increasing research on cybersecurity will reduce the risk of insider threats and ensure the safety of control systems such as those used at power plants.

My role on the Cyber Defense team for the past couple of years has been to protect against security threats on the web servers.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a web server is basically a place where a website and all of its files are hosted.  When you access any site on the internet, you are accessing that website directly from a web server.  The web server holds all of the files (code and anything else) needed to make that website appear and work the way it does.  The web server is responsible for protecting against most of the security attacks that could possibly affect your website.  I will explain a few different kinds of attacks that you probably didn’t already know were possible and explain how these attacks can be mitigated.

SQL Injection Attacks

When you visit a website like amazon to buy an item, you have to enter in a lot of personal and payment information to complete an order.  All of this information is stored in a database somewhere behind the scenes.  SQL (Structured Query Lanaguage) is a language that tells the database to get a certain set of information and display it.  So the application talks to the database with SQL in order to pull that information out again when you want to order something else in the future.  This way, you don’t have to re-enter all of your data again when you want to buy something else.  The dangerous side of all of this is that, if a website is unsecure, a hacker can potentially insert SQL into the input fields on a website, and manipulate data in the database in a malicious way.  For instance, say that I was a hacker, and I inserted the following SQL into the input field that asks for your first name on a website:

DROP TABLE `users`;

This text would delete the entire users table from the database.  So next time you went to the site, your data would no longer be there, and that company would be in big trouble because the user data would not exist any longer.  In order to protect against something like this, the web server would need some security filters put in place to look for specific words such as “drop” being entered so it could block those bad requests.

Denial of Service (DoS) Attack

This method of attack involves saturating a target machine (such as a web server) with external communications requests, so that it cannot respond to traffic at all, or is rendered effectively unavailable because of slowness.  If you have ever been to Twitter when it is over capacity, you may have seen a picture of a bunch of birds trying to lift a huge whale.  This happens because there are too many people on twitter at the same time; a Denial of Service attack is similar because it can render you unable to use a website because someone else is sending it too many requests at a given time.  There are ways to limit the number of requests coming from a specific source on the web server, so that these types of DoS attacks can be avoided.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attack

Without getting too technical, there is one programming language called JavaScript that can be appended onto URLs, or inserted into input fields (much like a SQL injection attack), causing malicious behavior to happen on the website.  For instance, if I were a hacker, I could try inserting something like the following into an input field:

<script>alert('pwnd')</script>

Any time a visitor comes to that page from now on, this would cause an alert message to pop up on that page saying “pwnd.”  This is not the only thing XSS injections can do, but it is the simplest example of an attack.  Similar filters on the web server that would be used to block SQL injection attacks, can be used to block XSS attacks as well.

All of this information, though technical and boring, is here to remind you that nothing on the internet is 100% safe. So, you should keep in mind that every time you provide your personal data on the internet, there is a chance that someone could get that data through malicious means.  I hope that this blog has taught you something valuable about cyber security.  Now don’t forget to go take the Blackboard quiz!

Thanks for reading the article and have a great weekend!  ~ Megan

February 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

Artificial Intelligence – Taking over Jeopardy?!

Will super-computers one day take over Jeopardy full time? Bots competing against other bots for money?? Probably not… but this week the classic game show, Jeopardy is featuring a powerful super-computer named ‘Watson’ who will compete against past Jeopardy champions to see if this computer can outwit the some of the show’s best human contestants. One name you may recognize is Ken Jennings who holds the all time record for consecutive wins at 74 games in a row in 2004. The computer, Watson, has a lot of people talking and many people are interested to see what he can do.

A little bit of history about Watson and the people who made him: IBM is the creator of Watson the super-computer who runs on about 3,000 parallel cores and 16 terabytes of ram which is the equivalent to 6,000 high-end at home computers. One point that surprised me about Watson is that there is no access to the internet allowed. Watson can only search for answers that are already stored in its own memory (storage). For this, creators made sure that Watson was loaded up with tons of encyclopedias, Wikipedia entries, NY Times issues, the Bible, and many other sources of information that could be asked on the show.

The whole idea for the project that gave life to Watson was based on the computer Deep Blue who challenged world champion chess player, Garry Kasparov, to a six-game match back in 1997. IBM had built this computer and that eventually won 2-1 games with 3 ties. The difference and challenges that lay in the path of constructing Watson vary tremendously compared to Deep Blue. Deep Blue was a computer that used based logic of all possible moves that its opponent could make throughout the match and then moved accordingly. The challenge with Watson was that, Watson needed to be able to understand human language, puns, wordplay, and all of the complexities of metaphors that we have in English. It took 25 programmers and researchers, 4 years to put together all of the algorithms that made it possible for Watson to search through massive amounts of data to find an answer that it was confident enough to share with the Jeopardy contestants. There is a whole process that Watson passes all of the data through so that it can finally weigh what options are best suited for the answer. When Watson has a high enough probability of being right he says the answer in his very monotone voice.

One of the coolest parts that I learned about Watson is that with the algorithms that are used, Watson is able to teach himself new information and how to understand what is being communicated to him. When he gets answers right he gains confidence and then learns where he succeeded (or failed if he was wrong).

So at this point you may be wondering, why has IBM wasted so much time on money on a machine that was built to beat humans at in Jeopardy?? Well…

Watson is a great example of how technology could one day help in many different professions. Although Watson would be a device that would be too expensive to build for a small group of people, Watson has given light to greater artificial intelligence that can be used for the betterment of society. Think if all of the doctors in the world had a Watson to go to for answers about a specific person, at a certain age in his or her life with a unique medical history in their family. Watson could theoretically weigh all of the different options for a diagnosis and/or solution to their problem and then give statistics on how likely each answer is. I’m sure that from this you can imagine the endless possibilities that a machine like Watson is capable of solving.

You can all watch Watson in action this week on Jeopardy: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (2/14, 2/15, 2/16) on CBS — the local channel is WMBD, channel 7 or 31.1– at 4:30 pm.

Here are some of the sites that I used for information about Watson, and if you did a simple Google search you should be able to find a ton of other sites as well… Watson on Jeoparty and a Youtube clip.

Don’t forget to take the quiz!

Thanks! –JP

February 15, 2011 at 2:51 am Leave a comment

Second Life

Unfortunately, my first experience with our topic Second Life was through an episode of CSI: SVU.  A twenty-something aged female had gone missing and it turned out she had an online avatar that she frequently used in a virtual community.  Three months later she was reported missing and the suspects were her other avatar friends, I do not remember the conclusion.  Thankfully, my second encounter with creating an avatar in a virtual community was a large improvement.  For GEO 207: Natural Disasters, a class at ISU my roommate recommends, her instructor used Second Life for the entire online course.

Second Life is a 3D online universe where you live via a personally created avatar.  Creator, Philip Rosedale, emphasizes that “Second Life is not a game but rather, a new reality.”  There is the capability to do nearly everything possible from simple daily tasks to visiting the Sistine Chapel.  Rosedale describes the Second Life universe as, “the average of all the things we dream about.”  The user personalizes the avatar through name, appearance, and dress then will choose locations to visit and meet friends.  Commerce also happens through Second Life using “Linden dollars”.  Using accepted currency, mainly the dollar and euro, Linden dollars can purchase products which will later convert to real money.  An estimated $1,000,000 of e-commerce is always circulating within Second Life.

For my roommate’s class, Bill Shields brought students together in a world created specifically for Illinois State geology students.  Each student created an avatar and was given a location for their classroom.  Entering the virtual classroom, the current days power points were posted on the walls and Bill Shields’ avatar would be waiting at the front of the room.  Students would file in whenever they would sign in at home and choose a seat.  My roommate ended up sitting next to a friend she knew previously every day in class.  The avatar Shields directed would lead class from the front of the room, moving, directing, and speaking from his home computer which the students could hear.  Students were able to ask questions in a format similar to AIM or facebook chat. Students could also leave the classroom and explore models and diagrams set up to reinforce concepts.

To better understand Second Life, I made an avatar and by searching for Illinois State University found our campus.

By using avatars people will be able to work from home without losing personal interaction such as choosing a seat in class, dressing uniquely, or asking a question.  The design is capabilities are incredible. The ability to replicate landscape and architecture is impressive while equally impressive is the ability to design a completely new scene.  This allows schools and businesses the opportunity to provide the perfect environment for an event.

IBM has also implemented Second Life into the way they do business.  Employees have created avatars for themselves and use them to work.  Meetings with customers take place in large virtual offices filled with tables and comfortable chairs.  Internal decisions among employees are made in small informal virtual rooms.  One team working on a specific project is lead by Karen Keeter.  She meets with three other team members from Brazil, Germany, and Morocco everyday without ever having met together in real life.  It is saving the company travel times and expenses.  IBM claims it increases communication and is more personal than a phone conversation or e-mail.  The virtual locations provide great ways to format data, give presentations, and hold discussions.

Second Life technology is extremely impressive; however, many question about how it will impact the future of education and business still remain.  Illinois State has discontinued the use of Second Life but recognizes changing technology and how to get the most productive results.  IBM continues to use Second Life with much success.  Visiting secondlife.com advertises its entertainment aspects geared towards the general public.  Applying the functions of communication used for entertainment need to be promoted in business and education.

Check out SecondLife for more information or PBS Documentary.

Cheers! Marla

February 9, 2011 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Battle of the Search Engines

In the competitive technology landscape of today, organizations wishing to stay ahead of other firms in the industry must always find themselves on the leading edge on innovation. The biggest challenge for companies, especially for web based companies, who wish to stay on the leading edge is the tendency of competing corporations to copy their business techniques.

Recently, Google has accused Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, of copying its search results. No clear winner to this battle has yet to be identified, but both sides have a vested interest in coming out ahead. To prove it accusations of Bing copying Google results rather than producing it own unique results, Google did a “Bing Sting.” Much planning went into this operation, and many conclusions can be drawn from its results.

The Art of a “Bing Sting”

How exactly does Google think that Bing is stealing  results? The graphic to the right from searchengineland.com explains Google’s plan to prove its claims.

  1. Google finds a nonsensical word that provides little or no matches in either Google or Bing’s search results.
  2. Google artificially makes the nonsensical word match up with a completely irrelevant search result. At this point, Google claims that individuals who use Internet Explorer and enter Google search queries are being spied on.
  3. Allegedly Bing now adds the Google results to their search engine results for the nonsensical word.

Google claims that a combination of Bing Toolbar and Internet Explorer users are actually sending Google results to Microsoft who is systematically adding the results to Bing. To prove this, Google gave 20 engineers laptops with Internet Explorer 8 and enabled the Bing Toolbar. The engineers searched for the unconventional words on Google.com and clicked on the results Google returned. Some of the evidence is shown below.

Google added the Wiltern theater as the top result when the search term, “hiybbrqag”,  was entered.

Soon after the same result was occurring on Bing

Here is another example.

The tests were done with 100 artificial search queries and rendered many of the same type of results.

Google claimed because many of Bing’s search results are simply copying Google results that they “increasingly look like an incomplete, stale version of Google results—a cheap imitation.”

Bing’s Response

Competing against Google is already enough work, but the search engine giant’s claim that Bing was stealing results started the battle of the search engines. Bing first simply stated, “We do not copy Google’s results.”  Later Bing’s Corporate Vice President Harry Shum gave a much more detailed response. He explained the Bing uses over 1,000 different signals to render search results to users. One of the many signals is clickstream data from Bing users who opt-in to share data anonymously . Basically, the results Bing generated were received from Bing users who willingly shared their Bing search results with Microsoft,  not from spying on those who used Google’s.

What does it all mean?

While both sides are most likely tailoring their message in their favor, several conclusions can be made from the test itself and what it means for the future of search engines.

Firstly, Google has long claimed that it cannot and will not manually rank results based on search terms. A power that could greatly influence the entire market. For example, what if Google linked the  top search result for this year’s most popular toy to a company that Google partly owned? Essentially, Google could direct customers to a website that Google profits from. After publishing these results, the company that claims they can do no evil has proven that they can control results. Google claims they have completely destroyed the technology which allowed them to complete the experiment, but it does not mean they cannot develop it again.

Secondly, if Microsoft really was spying on Google search results and copying them it is not illegal. While some may argue it is unethical, some also may argue that it is a clever use of technology. Google has been in the search engine business far longer than Bing, and that time has provided them a huge technical advantage. Microsoft may have to copy results every once in awhile just to keep up. The larger question is what does this mean for the search engine industry?

At one point in time, there were many competitive search engines that provided a diverse amount of results. The fierce competition has lead to many search engines closing down or, for example, Yahoo!, now displays Bing search results instead of using it own search techniques. With only two big search engines left, how accurate is the information we are receiving from them? If Bing really is copying Google, do we trust Google enough to be the sole provider of all of our answers?

Want to learn more about this debate? Visit the websites below.

Mashable – Bing – Blogger – Search Engine Land – ZDNet

Thanks for reading, and do not forget to take the quiz!

– Paul

February 6, 2011 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

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