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Learning to Create Android Apps

First and foremost, I want to thank you for reading our post over this last semester. I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. This is my last post for the year so I thought Id tell you about an IT hobby of mine and how I learned to do it. For the last year or so I had begun programming Android Apps and its something I have done for several hours a week since I started.

Unfortunately it is unlikely you can just jump into programming for Android, but it isn’t something that is incredibly difficult either. First, you need to learn to write code in Java. This may seem like a daunting task, but I assure you that it will not take long to get the hang of. I started by taking my first Java class but that isn’t where I learned most of what I know. Tutorial videos easily found on the internet will help you to learn the basics. This is the video that should get you started on the right path even if you have never even thought of writing code.

The tutorials are very simple to understand and he will walk you through every step including teaching you how to get started with what you need to begin programming. Even if the programs you write in the beginning don’t seem like they are very useful, they provide the building blocks you can use later to make something incredible. I still look up a few of the basic videos when i get stuck on a problem. Like with most things, the best way to learn is to jump in and practice. It’s free and you have nothing to lose!

After you get the basics of Java down, you can start looking into programming for Android. The rules are basically the same with a few different methods. Don’t worry, your not alone on this. There are many different tutorials out there to help with this as well. The best part is, it doesn’t take much to share what you have done whether you offer it for free on the Android Marketplace  or you charge a dollar and try to make profit from it. There is no overhead but the time it takes for you to learn how to do it.

Programming is simply a game of solving problems whether they be mathematical or just a game you dreamed up. Just look at the success of Angry Birds. I hope you give it a shot and good luck finishing up the rest of this semester. Have a great rest of the year!

December 1, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Biometric Security Flaws

Some of you Apple fans out there may have already purchased the iPhone 5S. Some of you may think that the Touch Id fingerprint scanner is a great and secure feature. Apple claimed it was very secure, and it took a long three days before someone was able to hack it. Many believed that these identity based technologies were going to be far more secure than knowledge based securities such as passwords and pin numbers, but is that really the case?

The technology to scan a fingerprint is just one of many different ways to use your body as security authentication. This is termed biometrics and it utilizes any measurable physical characteristic that can be automatically checked. There are scanners out there for your face, hand geometry, retina, iris, hand written signature, vein, and voice. What is the problem if all of these characteristics are basically unique to you? That is exactly the problem. There is no way to change any of these if they become compromised and they can become compromised.

You only have 10 fingers, and If someone gets this data and uses it gain access to financial information, you only have 9 passwords left. It is even worse for a retina pattern scanner. How do you get a new retina? Most of us have seen the spy movies where they gather a persons fingerprint and use it, but this is not limited to James Bond. The German hacking group CCC that broke the iPhone used inexpensive materials found in your home like glue, print toner, and transparent paper. The worst part is we leave our fingerprints everywhere including the device we are trying to protect.

This may not be a huge concern to you considering that most would not put that much effort into getting the average person’s information no matter how difficult or easy it may be. The problem may arise in your future when you become an important government official, upper management of a international company, or even a celebrity of your field. Someone may just want the information you keep on your phone bad enough to use the methods a simple Youtube search can provide.

November 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Deep Learning Neural Networks

Every single time you decide to update your status, you are sending secret messages about your personality that you yourself may not be able to realize. I’m not writing about just the basic facebook like of your favorite band’s page. Companies like facebook are now analyzing the data you harmlessly give them a bit further to understand where you are in your life and what is best to sell you tomorrow. The larger companies are investing large amounts of money into something called a deep learning neural network with the hope of figuring out just who you are and how to best proceed knowing their customer’s personality.

How does this deep learning neural network figure out who I am and what I want? The idea is based on the concept of how our bodies figure things out and make decisions based upon the inputs we receive. The input values can be as simple as your facebook post that you really want some ice cream and your later post that you had a really hard test this morning. These post can be perceived just the same as you seeing ice cream and your decision to purchase it. With the use of the neural network, the computer can realize that during finals time it should to try and sell you ice cream. This is just a very simple example and the technology itself can be used to look at thousands of post to make even more surprising statements about you. Basically, neural networks can be used to recognize associations between what you do with your social network to determine how best to serve and advertise to you.

A_simple_neural_network_with_two_input_units_and_one_output_unit

The associations work nearly the same as neurons in your own central nervous system. Each neuron is attached to thousands of other different neurons. To determine outputs from inputs, your brain takes your neurons and their associations to other neurons to make complex decisions. Computers can do the same thing, but replace the word neuron with node. Nodes can store information themselves and also connections to other nodes. Deep learning algorithms take these nodes into consideration and evaluate the connections between the data to provide meaningful results.

Although all of the data mining of your personal life may sound scary, neural networks do have serious potential to make your overall social networking experience much better. They hope to utilize deep learning neural network algorithms for a variety of applications such as helping you better articulate a post and choose the best vacation pictures from the thousands you have uploaded.

The idea itself isn’t brand new. Computer neural networking technology was used by Google to recognize human faces and helped Microsoft with speech recognition and translation. The same idea has even been used to recognize human emotions from text without you telling it specifically how you are feeling. One company who was later acquired by facebook had claimed they could accurately determine which of your smiles were genuine and which were faked just by looking at your pictures. It is a very efficient and intelligent method of analyzing data and making valuable connections in any application of its use.

November 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Balloon Powered Internet Access

Have you ever needed to check your email or Facebook while camping, hiking, or any other area where there was no chance you were going to get access to the internet? Google aims to fix this. The same lab that is working on the Google glasses and the Google car are also working on a very different project. They want to provide WiFi globally with the use of balloons.

In most areas of this country, it isn’t too difficult to find a WiFi connection. In other countries it can be a different story. Internet access can cost more than a workers monthly income. Imagine holding a second job just so you can shop amazon. In other places, there is absolutely no availability to get on the web. Google claims that for every one person that can use the internet, there are two that can not. Project Loon intends to provide an inexpensive way to grant access to these places, as well as every other place on the planet. Imagine what internet lacking areas can achieve with just this simple connection. Children can get an education where they couldn’t before. Farmers can achieve greater harvest with better access to weather data . You could even stay connected to your professional life while on a camping trip with your family in the mountains.

The main idea is to send these balloons into the stratosphere where Google can steer and control them with the use of wind current and solar energy. The balloons will sail around 20 km in the sky (commercial airplanes fly around 10 km). The stratosphere’s wind normally flows from west to east, however there is ability to use different wind directions to provide some level of control. This allows the Google team to steer only by lifting and dropping a balloon in the different levels of the stratosphere. Keeping the balloon stationary would cost far more than sending many balloons operating in unison over a network, so Google will send multiple to circle the planet in a ring formation. When one balloon leaves an area, another is meant to take its place providing access everywhere constantly and inexpensively.

The technology is still in its very early stages and much work is left to be done before this becomes a reality. At its current state, the speeds are estimated to be similar to our current 3G speeds. While it isn’t perfect, it will provide a solution to a complex problem that we face in this technological era. If we can provide constant communication to everyone on the planet, imagine what else could be achieved by looking for answers in places we never have before.

October 20, 2013 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

On the path to Artificial Intelligence

When I think of the distant future, I think about robots and not of the ones from the movies that usually end badly for mankind. I like to be a tad bit more optimistic and think of a different sort that will help us achieve efficiency in ways we never could imagine. This may seem distant however we are much closer than you think. Many of the mechanics are currently at our disposal although the unfortunate part is we lack the one piece that puts all of our wonderful technological advances into motion. We need a BRAIN!

bender-fry-buddies

The human brain itself is a very powerful computer. It doesn’t use the same methods your laptop utilizes but it is achieving many of the same goals. It makes decisions based from inputs it receives. If you touch something that is hot, your brain forces your body to respond. If I double click my Google Chrome icon, the computer responds by opening the browser. This idea gave birth to the study of artificial intelligence (AI) although the idea of an intelligent machine has been around for a very long time. The problem is that there is a large leap from a simple instruction such as opening a program in which you are the one providing the decision’s result and what our brains can do with the great magnitude of inputs it can interpret.

Most AI researchers define AI as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where the intelligent agents are a system that can perceive its environment and act accordingly. This is something our computers can do on a much lower scale. One method is a simple concept called a decision tree. It starts by answering a simple general question and begins to narrow down actions by making further more descriptive decisions based on the previous choice. The problem is that even with our massive ability to compute information, we still find ourselves lacking. The possible outcomes a human can reach from just sitting on a couch make this tree expand rapidly and outside of our computational reach. Our machines simply are not fast enough to process this information in a efficient setting such as a home computer or the brain in a small robot.

Simple_decision_tree.svg

Computer scientist are and have been working on many different methods to create an artificially intelligent machine and solve these computational problems. A more recent technology aims to solve one of the biggest difficulties our computers face. The best way to understand the problem is to think about when you were a small child and counted using your fingers. You could make it to 10 but a new problem presented itself at 11. You only have 10 fingers and anything additional required you to now remember how many you had used before. A computer only has two fingers represented as a 0 and 1. We can accomplish great task using these two fingers but there are limits. For this reason computer scientist and engineers are developing the concept of quantum computing. The computer still only has two fingers but now instead of just 0 or 1, it can be both 0 and 1. The details are somewhat tricky but the end result is that we have much faster computers to tackle this complex task.

Computer speed is not the only adversary of an intelligent machine but it is one of the major difficulties. Once we work out the problems with computing and achieve something very close to true AI, the world will be an incredibly different place. Robots have no need to sleep, have low probability of error, and require little maintenance. We could have machines to fight crime, put out fires, build buildings, and save lives with near perfect efficiency and no risk to ourselves. There is still much work to be done, and you could even be the one to find a new method that solves the problems behind possibly the greatest invention humanity has to offer.

October 6, 2013 at 11:55 pm 1 comment

Interpreting Information Technology

How would one define Information Technology? A formal definition would state that it is an application of computers to store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data. Most would not find this an exciting concept but taking a deeper look may prove otherwise. We as end users only see the finished products without thinking of the raw data or its implications. With a little help from you, the boring data tables and numbers can be far more than just numbers and tables.

What you may not know is how important information can be found almost anywhere. In this example I will take an otherwise boring set of data and show you how IT professionals turned it into something most would enjoy. Think about your personal fitness and the machines at the gym. While you are running on the treadmill, its tracking and displaying information like distance, time, and possible calories burnt. This is useful information but not in the most useful place. What if you could track all of this and more just from walking up three flights of stairs to your class or even taking a longer route to your car at the end of the day? One such example is a company called “Misfit Wearables”. They have aimed at creating a product that monitors this information from your daily routine and syncs to your smart phone to let you know how active you actually are.

Maybe this still doesn’t excite you. Maybe working out at the gym or jogging isn’t really your thing. This very same information can also pique interest by conveying it to you in a more entertaining atmosphere. Take my previous example and then imagine a game that places you inside of a zombie apocalypse but instead of a game pad for a controller, you are jogging away from zombies by actually jogging. This game does exist and you can find it by the name “Zombies, Run! 2” on the android store. It provides a similar purpose of tracking your activity and creates a fun and motivational way to manipulate that very same information.

These are just a couple of the many examples a data set can be utilized and turned into something entertaining. The exciting part of IT is not the information or even the technology by itself. It is the ideas you come up with to convey it. You can apply it in both your personal and professional lives whether it be in the form of a excel spreadsheet displaying graphical data for a meeting or a game that encourages you and your friends to become more active.

You may be thinking that this is great and all but I have no idea how to write programs or use Excel. Fortunately information technology has you covered. If you are interested, one of the best ways to start learning a topic in IT is to search tutorials on Google (YouTube is an excellent starting point). If you start finding yourself enjoying it then take a few IT classes or make it your major. I once knew a girl who after taking her first java class (with no prior IT experience), compiled her grandmother’s old cooking recipes into an app just as smartphones began to hit the market. Last I heard from her, she was making five figures a year (from her apps alone) while attending college for something entirely unrelated to IT.

The point is that IT is for everyone and you do not have to be a computer guru to get involved. It’s only a matter of conveying some information in a useful or entertaining way. While the formal and less fun definition of IT exist, it does little to show you what it can be capable of. So now it is up to you to think about what you could do with boring data tables or even possibly your grandmother’s old recipe cards you found in the attic.

September 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment


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