Author Archive

Embrace the Matrix

Hello MAT 120 students! I am Chris Higgins, application developer and server administrator at Illinois State University, masters student, former blogger for this site, and now I am back doing a guest posting! Many thanks to Dr. Machina for reaching out and asking if I would be willing to come back and do a guest posting. I was in this same class four long years ago as a freshman, struggling to get every answer right and pass the class with the best grade I can get. Now I’m sitting in my office writing this blog post while I have various programs end editors open, spending most of my working day coding and coding away.

Programming and coding is taking the world by storm. Everywhere you go, there are hundreds of devices around you being run by some program that a developer wrote. You cannot go anywhere without computers being around you. So, why not embrace what is happening around you? Why not become part of the change? The world of information technology is rapidly growing, creating both new jobs and new technologies. There will always be jobs in IT out there, and jumping into IT just helps to lead you to success.

One of the best things you can do for yourself is learn how to code. It is like learning a new language, the sooner you learn and more you use it, the better you will be at programming. Gabe Newell quotes “the programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future”, and he is exactly right! I remember being young and working on my own Windows 95 computer thinking how cool it was, not even imagining the amount of progress that would be made in the coming years to where we are today. Now it is not even the nerds that say coding is in the future, famous celebrities such as singer/rapper Will.I.Am and basketball player for the Miami Heat Chris Bosh are joining the party and learning how to code. They are taking the initiative to basically enter the matrix.

I hope that I have convinced some of you to become interested in coding and working in IT, if you were not already thinking that could be your future! Always keep an eye for student IT job posts on the ISU jobs website, and don’t forget to take this weeks quiz now available on ReggieNet! Thanks for having me everyone, I hope you enjoyed the read!

November 6, 2013 at 11:59 pm 1 comment

Privatized Internet Through Tor

As secure as you think you might be while browsing the internet, you are still able to be tracked. When you visit a website, talk over Skype, use an instant messenger, or stream music from Spotify, whatever services you’re connecting to are able to see who you are through your IP address. Your IP address is basically an address back to your network, where you can be traced back to. If Facebook or Spotify can see who you are, that doesn’t really matter. Right?

Say you’re living in China and want to go to Facebook and interact with your friends. Nope, cannot do. China blocks Facebook with their firewall; no one in the country is able to access the site. What about if you are a journalist in Iran that wants to expose some big news but don’t want it to be tracked back to you? How would you privatize who you are? One of the best ways to do that is to use a program called Tor. Tor is a proxy service that routes your internet traffic through six different computers on the Tor network. So, when you make a request to http://www.facebook.com, your connection to Facebook is encrypted, sent through three random computers on the Tor network, unencrypted at the exit node (the third computer), and sent to Facebook. When Facebook sends back the page you request, it is encrypted and sent back to you through three other random computers on the Tor network. This way your traffic is  totally encrypted and your source IP is hidden (except when you connect to the first Tor node and when the request makes it all the way back to you from the sixth node).

Tor

There are plenty of good and bad reasons as to why you would want to stay anonymous on the internet. If you’re a journalist in an unstable country that has an overpowering government, you would probably want to stay hidden. But the Tor network is highly used by hackers to keep themselves hidden as well. The Tor network is a double-edged sword in that fact.

Because of the nature of the Tor network, they need a huge amount of support from the community. The organization that makes Tor doesn’t run all the nodes on the network–they are run by people running software on their computers, who want to help out. A list of these computers are in an address book on the Tor site so the clients know who to connect to when routing traffic. There are also computers called Bridges, which bridge the Tor network onto the actual internet. The address list for Bridges is more privatized because of the nature of what they do. If someone in an oppressive country like Iran is found to be running a Bridge, they could face trouble from their government since they are allowing users to hide themselves and stay in secret. Because of this, the amount of Bridges is highly dropping and the Tor community is desperately asking for help to get more up and running.

Well, with that I’ll be ending my last blog posting here on the site. I’m going to be graduating in a few weeks and I must admit, I’m excited but it’s a bittersweet feeling. I had a great time writing for you guys this semester and last, I hope I was able to get some people more interested in information technology. Good luck on finals you guys, and hope you have a fantastic summer!

(Oh by the way, don’t forget to take the quiz!)

April 18, 2013 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

Today the Cell Phone’s 40th Birthday

Forty years ago today, engineer at Motorola Marty Cooper made the first phone call on a cellular phone. So, of course, be sure to treat your cell phone nicely today, give it a hug and feed it some cake!

Phone Cake

The call that Marty Cooper first made was to a rival engineer at Bell Labs, Joel Engel, saying “Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cell phone, a real handheld portable cell phone.” Imagine being Joel, researching the same technology, and hearing that what you were working to accomplish was just accomplished, and you received the first call from a cell phone ever. That just blows my mind. Over forty years, how many cell phone calls do you think have been made? Even think about yourself, how many cell phone calls have you made in your lifetime? For most of you reading this, and myself included, we have been alive for only half the life of the cell phone. My mind is officially blown.

Now I want you guys to think about how far the cell phone has gone and how much it has grown. The call that Marty made was on a big Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, which weights a whole 2.5 pounds. Now you walk around with your phone in your pocket or purse, and it is virtually weightless. Imagine texting using this big phone, your arms might get tired holding this thing up if you are a constant texter.

Now on our nice and slim phones, we basically are carrying around mini computers. We can access the internet, we can take pictures, we’re totally plugged in. We can use apps to stay in contact and always be on Facebook and Twitter, we can receive our emails right when we get them (how nice was that waking up to the snow day email in the morning!), and we can have tons of conversations at the same time though text messaging. If I wanted to, I could develop my own apps for Android, iOS, or Windows phones, I would just have to download some software, do some research, and get to coding. If I wanted to make a small security app that notifies me whenever my door is opened in my house, I would be able to do that with not a whole lot of work. Trying something like that forty years ago would basically mean that I would have to be an electron engineer with a ton of knowledge in the field.

So, today of all days, be sure to thank your phone for everything it has done for you. It keeps you connected to your social media, you are able to play Angry Birds and Fun Run, make sure you get all of your welcome “WARNING: Your ULID password expires in X day(s)” emails, and stay in constant contact with all of your friends. Happy 40th birthday, cell phones. ISU students, don’t forget to take the quiz on ReggieNet after reading this!

April 4, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Wifi and Football, a Perfect Combination?

Wifi is one of the greatest emerging technologies that have come out in the past decade. You see wifi practically everywhere, from your houses, apartments, schools, coffee houses, airports, and now football stadiums? Wait, what? You read me right, wifi in a football stadium, and it is looking impressive.

49'ers Stadium Model

Defending NFC champions the San Francisco 49’ers are going to be bringing in the 2014 season strong with a new stadium that is supposed to have one of the most advanced wifi networks around, being able to support every single user, simultaneously, and not have to limit their bandwidth. With the current designs, that is 68,500 users. Statistics are that current stadium wifi networks can hardly even handle one fourth of stadium capacity, where this new plan is going to blow that out of the water. The network is being designed by IT Director Dan Williams and CTO Kunal Malik, who both previously worked at Facebook, so they understand the need for a huge architecture.

Why would you want to have wifi at a football stadium, you ask? There is a football game going on, why not pay attention to that instead of your phones? One of the driving reasons behind putting wifi in the stadiums is to reduce the stress on the surrounding cellular network towers. If you end up having too many devices in one area trying to connect to the internet on a cellular tower to Tweet about the game or upload photos and videos, the network will end up getting too clogged and users will have a degraded time. Adding a wifi network with virtually unlimited bandwidth to its users will help to free up the cellular network traffic so that they will have a better experience and can better Tweet and Facebook about the game. The tech team also plans on having mobile applications created so that the users can watch video streams or order food, directly on their phones from within the network.

I think it is really interesting that now sports stadiums are being brought into the age of the internet. The world is starting to more and more become one with IT, but who knows how far we will go! Food for thought! ISU students, be sure to take the quiz on ReggieNet so you can get your extra credit!

March 21, 2013 at 12:02 am Leave a comment

Staying Connected Even Faster with Google Fiber

What is Google Fiber, you may ask? Is it a health supplement from Google to increase your fiber intake? Nope, good guess though. Google Fiber is an experimental broadband internet service provider to utilize fiber-optic technology. That is a lot of technological mumbo-jumbo, so what does it mean exactly?

Google Fiber Logo

Do you know what your current internet speed is? Let’s do an experiment really quick to understand the impact of how cool Fiber is. Go to SpeedTest.net and run a speed test to find out how fast your internet connection is. If you’re on campus or in the dorms, you’re going to have some pretty decent speeds (imagine campus internet over the summer when no one is here, it’s fantastic). The download speed for my house is 20Mbps, a respectable speed. Now let’s compare to what Google Fiber will provide. Their free plan will allow for a download speed of 5Mbps, which is 75% slower than what I’m currently running. That’s nothing too impressive, so why is Google Fiber such a big deal? If you move up to their next plan, you get download speeds of 1Gbps! That’s a lot! If you don’t know the comparison between Mbps and Gbps, my 20Mbps would equal 0.02Gbps. The speed increase would be beyond ridiculous, just imagine being able to watch videos without needing to buffer or have a flawless connection through Skype. This, my friends, is the future of the Internet Service Provider.

Even though Google Fiber is really cool, currently it is still experimental and limited to certain cities. Various cities across the nation put in a bid to have Google Fiber be put in their town, some being more ridiculous than others. On March 30th, 2011, Kansas City, Kansas was selected to have Google Fiber, and seventeen days later Kansas City, Missouri also was decided on to have Google Fiber. Since April 2011, engineers have been hard at work bringing Google Fiber to the various Kansas Cities, and on September 2012 the residences were able to experience the mind blowing connection speeds.

I don’t know about you, but I’m half way ready to pack up and move to Kansas City just so I can have my own gigabit internet connection. These are the kind of connections that corporate businesses and large datacenters have, it’s never been available to the consumer at the magnitude that is is now, and it’s only going to keep on growing. If you’re wanting to study networking and telecommunication, Google Fiber is definitely something to keep tabs on, it’s a real exciting new technology that is going to expand exponentially within the next few years.

I hope you all enjoyed the read, and ISU students be sure to take the quiz on ReggieNet!

February 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Watson, Big Data, and Doctors

Who remembers in 2011 when IBM’s super-computer named Watson took on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a match against the “brains” on Jeopardy? Watson, using practically the entire internet, was able to beat both contestants in an exhibition game. Months prior Watson was analyzing texts throughout the internet, including all of the text on Wikipedia, creating a database of knowledge of over four terabytes. According to Wikipedia, Watson is based on IBM’s DeepQA technology for “hypothesis generation, massive evidence gathering, analysis, and scoring”. You ask Watson a question and it goes through a step by step process to figure out its answer. It first analyzes the question, breaking it up into various parts that can be used to more easily search its database. It queries its candidate answer database to find its preliminary answers. Then it takes the answers and compares them against their evidence database so that it could back its answer up. Finally, it ranks its answers with the best evidence in order to determine which one it wants to return as its final answer. This process, combined with the amount of big data that Watson has analyzed and indexed, is how it was able to win the Jeopardy $1,000,000 first prize. Now after Jeopardy, IBM and Watson have been up to a lot of work. The two biggest improvements to Watson is that now it’s a lot smaller and has had a huge speed improvement. Before, Watson was so big it’d take up a small bedroom with all the equipment. Now Watson is has slimmed down and lost some weight so that it could fit into a regular sized server rack. Processing speed has also increased 240%, so now you can lose at Jeopardy against it just that much faster.

IBM has also been in contact with a number of other companies, mostly in the health field. Watson has been doing a lot of analysis of various medical materials and cancer treatments, among other things. Because of all the research that has been happening, Watsons first real job is going to be assisting medical professionals in the field. With the amount of knowledge stored in its database and with how fast it can be processed, Watson is going to be helping make tough medical decisions with the doctors and nurses. In the heat of the moment they can interface with Watson using an iPad, and it’ll help them make faster and smarter decisions. With IBM and health care professional WellPoint, it is planned to have Watson interfacing with 1,600 health care providers by end of 2013. Watson isn’t just going to be a cool question and answer machine to showcase on Jeopardy, it’s going to be helping out medical professionals all throughout the world making bigger and better decisions.

February 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Big Data with Facebook

Hello Spring 2013 MAT 120 students! My name is Chris Higgins, a senior IT – Web Design major, expecting to graduate this May! Just to give myself a brief introduction so you know a little bit about me… I enjoy all aspects of information technology, I work as a programmer for the College of Arts and Sciences, I’m the President of the IT security club ISUSec, I like just having fun with my roommates and friends, and also quite enjoy long walks on the beach. I hope that you enjoy reading our posts this semester, and feel free to leave comments! Now, onto the meat of this posting.

The key of information technology is the data that is being stored. Your social security number, grades, drivers license, Facebook profile; literally everything is data. Data is what drives the world of information technology. Systems analysis focuses on how data flows throughout the designed systems. Information quality and assurance makes sure that data is kept safe and is only accessible to the necessary entities. Web application development enables both you and the end user to interact with the data in your system, adding updating and deleting what necessary. Telecommunication is the travel of data throughout a network to various endpoints. Each field of information technology acts together in order to create a very effective system that allows data to be used and interacted with in efficient ways. What is really important when you have data, is how you treat it and allow users to interact with it.

Facebook recently announced a few feature that they are going to be rolling out within the next few weeks called Graph search. Graph search is different from your traditional search; it bases its results on a number of dimensions of users’ profiles and their interactions. You can dynamically search through users based upon what they post, what pages they ‘like’, what locations they ‘check-in’ to, and various values in their profile. For example, you can type “my friends who went to Illinois State University” and Graph will search for your friends who have ISU as their education and have graduated. You could also search for “female friends of friends who live in Normal, IL who like Dexter”, to find any girls that are friends with your friends that have their location in Normal and have ‘liked’ a Dexter page or made a posting about Dexter. This kind of search could be useful to, ahem, expand your social circle.

As most of us already know that Facebook collects a huge amount of data about us with our profiles, and through what we post, probably know more about us than we would feel comfortable with. These are the matrices that Facebook’s Graph search is going off of in order to return results based on the things we show interest in or the places we’ve been. Now, being able to search on all of these dimensions sounds like something that could be an abuse of information, but Facebook gives users various settings in order to secure their information and only display what the user makes public. I personally have my Facebook profile pretty secure, only my friends can see my activity or actions. If you and I are not friends on Facebook, all you could really see is my name, picture, and cover photo. I wouldn’t show up in one of my friends searches, unless I’m friends with this person. Even though Facebook HAS your information, it is put in YOUR hands to secure how much you want people to be able to search off of.

This is Facebook using data correctly in information technology. Its system analysts had to design the graph system, the telecommunication team had to network together the servers, the information security staff had to secure the system and set up correct guidelines, and the web designers had to program the feature and make sure that everything worked. Big data is a big thing in information technology, and Facebook introducing the Graph search brings this out and more relevant to the general public.

Hope you all enjoyed this first blog post of the semester, and if you are in MAT 120 don’t forget to take the quiz!

January 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm 1 comment

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