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Farewell and Thanks

Well, finals week commences tomorrow.  (Excited?)  I don’t think I can say it any better than Paul and Dr. Machina have already, but it’s quite true that technology has taken an important place in many parts of our lives.  It’s been very interesting following the news this semester, and I’m sure the next year will be full of exciting new developments too.  If you’d like to be a part of it, consider an IT major or minor, or at least a related class or two.  You can even learn more online with tutorials, or at Milner Library with programming manuals, if you have time and a strong desire to learn it.  But whatever you choose to do, I wish you the best of luck with finals – and have a great summer!

See you,

Victoria

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May 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Google’s Augmented Reality Project

Hello again.  As long as we’re discussing recent projects by Google, you may have seen their new video online or in the news recently.  First released on Wednesday, April 4, this video announces Google’s intent to develop a set of augmented reality glasses.  They call it Project Glass.

 

The project is in its very early stages, and the photographs we can see now are only “design photos,” as opposed to working prototypes.

At this point in development, researchers are interested mainly in getting feedback on the design of the glasses. A group of Google X employees including Babak Parviz, Steve Lee and Sebastian Thrun posted, “We’re sharing this information now because we want to start a conversation and learn from your valuable input.  So we took a few design photos to show what this technology could look like and created a video to demonstrate what it might enable you to do. …What would you like to see from Project Glass?”

Some features shown in the video include checking the weather, exchanging messages with contacts, finding directions and details on transportation availability, taking photos of something the wearer is looking at, and video chatting.  All of these features are controlled by voice recognition; the wearer can give commands simply by speaking.

Of course, from the information presented in the video, there are some observable things that could become problematic for users.  Examples might include background noise being picked up by the microphone, errors in speech recognition, the possibility of diminished privacy because the glasses see everything the user sees, and the fact that the video chat feature is not actually face-to-face.  One issue that will need to be solved is whether people who already wear prescription glasses can wear Google’s augmented reality glasses as well – this one is being addressed now, and you can read more here.

But with that said, it remains an interesting concept – after all, to have brought the project this far, Google’s engineers must have put some extensive thought into the design.  Despite an earlier report, there are no plans for a release in 2012; it will be necessary to get more feedback and revise the design while the project is in its early stages of development.  As of now, the release date (if Google continues to move forward) is yet to be known.  I don’t think I’d ever wear them on a regular basis, personally, but I’m curious to know whether a working prototype will be developed and released in the next year or two.  Those interested will just have to follow it and see how things develop.

April 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

The New Windows 8

Hello!  Hoping you had a good spring break.  After reading the last post about innovations in tablets, smartphones, and related applications, I remembered trying out Windows 8, and how different it seemed at first from Windows 7.  It’s in the beta stage of development at the moment, but a friend showed me an early and free consumer preview version that he had been playing around with.

New features in the Windows 8 operating system (or OS) include compatibility with a wider range of hardware, “Windows To Go” which enhances portability, the Windows Store, and a brand-new interface.  Other important capabilities include cloud server connectivity and the use of Kinect sensors to work with webcams.

Windows 8 is the first edition of Windows that can be run on ARM-based tablets, as well as the traditional x86 PCs (in addition, of course, to x64 and x32 PCs).  ARM-based chips are frequently used in tablets and smartphones because they’re generally more energy-efficient.  However, Windows up until now has been designed primarily for Intel chips.  More information on this type of tablet can be found here , if you’re interested.  The idea is to have the system work efficiently and effectively on a very wide range of devices to suit the needs of different users.  It’s especially important because a large number of people seem to be moving away from desktop computers and toward more portable devices like tablets and phones.

“Windows To Go,” in essence, allows the operating system to boot from a USB device (called a “Live USB”) with the user’s programs, settings, and files.  Employees can thus use their managed devices whether working at home, in a different office, or in a free seating environment with other employees.  It adds flexibility, being able to run one’s personal system by using any computer with Windows 7 or Windows 8 capability.

The Windows App store, similar to the Mac App store, enables users to download apps of their choosing and developers to post apps that they’ve made.  In the video on the page (under the heading “Windows Store”) a presenter explains that one of the top priorities of their app store is to make it easy to locate apps without excessive filtering of search results.

When I had tried to use Windows 8, the very first thing I noticed was that a lot of changes had been made to the interface; it’s distinctly different from previous versions of Windows that I’ve used.  The article says that the user interface (or UI) has been almost completely redesigned to a “Metro-style” design, to offer simplicity and fluid interaction.  You can see a video preview showing some of the aspects of the new interface here.  Some of the main differences can be seen in the logon screen, the start screen, the control panel, the task manager, and the interface for playing videos.  For example, to logon, one doesn’t enter a password, but taps the correct areas of the screen in order to gain access.  The start screen, different from the traditional desktop, groups all applications together and allows for new apps to be dragged and dropped in.

Other improvements include better security, faster booting, faster navigation through files thanks to the new Protogon file system, and minimal use of random access memory (less than 300 Mb RAM).  Windows 8 will also make use of cloud computing by being tied to Windows SkyDrive; in this way, users can access their data “in the cloud” via Windows 8 on many different devices.  Prototypes supporting Kinect also exist; if the price of the needed sensors becomes low enough, it may even become a standard feature in the near future.  These last two improvements aren’t new in themselves, but provide an interesting synthesis between commonly used technologies.

Windows 8’s exact release date is unknown, but it’s expected to come out in middle or late 2012.  The original article can be seen at TheTechBlogs.com.

April 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

“All Your Devices Can Be Hacked”

Hello and happy Spring Break!  Thanks again for reading our blog.

I wasn’t certain if we’d stop for a week or if the blog would be ongoing through Spring Break, but I’ve made the Blackboard quiz due March 25 – so whatever was decided, you’ll have the following two weeks to try the quiz.  There’s much more detail in the video (http://www.ted.com/talks/avi_rubin_all_your_devices_can_be_hacked.html) and it’s really interesting if you have a chance to listen to it, but here’s a basic summary.

Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University (and director of its Health and Medical Security Lab) gave a TED talk last October detailing some of the security implications of our newest wireless devices.  This is important because of the number of people it potentially affects, and it shows the importance of security in all IT-related applications.

The first example he gives has to do with recently manufactured pacemakers, with wireless capabilities.  Of course, pacemakers sometimes have to be adjusted or reset, and it doesn’t make much sense to reopen the patient’s chest cavity each time that happens.  Wireless communication is an excellent solution because it allows adjustments to be made as needed, with little interference in the life of the patient.  However, because pacemakers can now be wirelessly controlled, reverse-engineering the wireless communication protocol can make it possible to change data on the device, such as the patient’s name, cardiac data, or the type of therapy.  A denial of service attack can literally be deadly if the appropriate wireless security measures aren’t used.

In addition, automobiles now have a large amount of networking technology built in:  there’s a dashboard interface reporting vital information, a diagnostic port to tell you when to check the engine, signals coming in via Bluetooth and XM/FM/AM radio, and more.  Two field tests were done by other researchers; they bought two cars and simulated two different types of attacks, one on the wired network and one on the wireless network.  The first test fooled the speedometer into displaying 140MPH while the car was in park.  The other showed that it’s possible to apply or disable the brakes from outside any given car.  That entire discussion is at 4:43 in the video if you’d like to hear more details.

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One can jam P52 radios with the right tools; these are commonly used by police and secret service agents.  Denial of service was simulated using “My First Jammer,” built from a texting device made by Girl Tech (which, interestingly, happens to operate on the same frequency as P52 radios).

Using the iPhone 4’s much more sophisticated accelerometer, it’s possible to determine to a certain degree of accuracy what is typed on a keyboard next to the iPhone.  This is according to a project done by researchers at Georgia Tech.  An article from Engadget.com explains their results this way:  “…it [the software developed by Georgia Tech] can use the accelerometer to sense vibrations within three inches, in degrees of ‘near or far and left or right,’ allowing it to statistically guess the words being written — so long as they have three or more letters. It does this by recording pairs of keystrokes, putting them against dictionaries with nearly 58,000 words to come up with the most likely results.”  The full article is here:  http://www.engadget.com/2011/10/21/georgia-tech-spies-on-nearby-keyboards-with-iphone-4-acceleromet/ .  The results say that by simply placing an iPhone 4 with this software on the desk next to your laptop, you risk transmission of 80 percent of the words you type on your laptop.

This particular talk is all about network security and how some of the same principles can be applied to such different technologies as pacemakers and P52 radio transmitters.  We know that hacking isn’t easy in reality, and it certainly isn’t easy to fully protect things from hackers, but it’s clear that specialists in the security field will become very important as technology advances.  There are important government jobs and others that need security people.

At ISU, there’s another scholarship available for IT majors to apply to.  If you’ll be a junior or senior, or going on to graduate school, it’s worth checking out.  Funding for tuition, fees, room & board, and even paid internship opportunities are available to students who meet the qualifications (a 3.0 GPA is one of them, 3.2 for grad students).  It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.  If you’re interested, the contact is Dr. Doug Twitchell.

Once again, the quiz is available on Blackboard, and you’ll have until March 25.  It looks like there are now two pages of quizzes and it will appear on the next page.

March 11, 2012 at 11:15 pm Leave a comment

Zhenjiang, China Implements New Transportation Plan

Hello!  I’ve found an interesting article about one of IBM’s latest endeavours in Zhenjiang, China, involving tourism and traffic efficiency in the city.

With a population of  about three million people, Zhenjiang is an important transportation hub worldwide.  It’s located near the intersection of the Yangtze River and the Grand Canal.

To increase economic development as well as tourism, Zhenjiang initiated the “Smarter Zhenjiang, Smarter Tourism” project with IBM.  The plan is to replace and upgrade more than 400 bus stations and over 1,000 public transportation vehicles.  IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) for Smarter Cities will provide a solution to upgrade the city’s transportation network and improve throughput and efficiency.

IBM supports the Chinese government’s commitment to improving transport systems and accelerating economic growth and transformation nationwide.  City managers will have a consolidated view of the transportation network, and a new bus scheduling system will be initiated using analytics technologies.  This “smart solution” will help in managing the development of traffic solutions throughout the city.

You can read more at http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/36883.wss .

February 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Opportunities and More at ISU

Hello!  I’m Victoria Pershick, another student blogger.  My major is in Web Development, a division of Information Systems.  This will be my last semester at ISU, and so I’m now looking for a full-time opportunity involving web programming.

My next blog entries after this will be about farther-reaching IT developments, but for now I think I should tell you about ways that you can experiment with IT and possibly benefit in the near future on ISU’s campus.  Opportunities go beyond this, of course – I mainly design software and web pages, but there are also points of interest in electronics, mechanical engineering, telecommunications, and more.

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TRAVEL

Ever wanted to live in another country?  ISU has technology-oriented programs in Budapest, Hungary and in Shanghai, China.  There are other opportunities offered by outside organizations, too.  (There are more listings by country available here).

I spent this last Fall Semester in Budapest working for Nokia Siemens Networks.  It’s a brand-new program facilitated through ISU’s School of Information Technology and Eötvös Loránd University.  I was one of the two first interns to go, and that was my first major work experience.  I was part of a team of four university students (the other three that worked with me were Hungarian university students), and our project was to improve an internal task management system.  I also took a few classes and attended some scientific lectures in English.  Later during my stay, I even met a co-founder of “Prezi,” a company that developed a new innovative presentation tool; I might explain more about that in a future blog.  It’s a development that came out of Hungary, and their studio is in Budapest.  Assuming we maintain student interest each semester, we’ll keep sending undergraduate students over and improving the program.

More generally, if you plan to go abroad, college is probably the best time.  It’s a time of exploration when you’re not required to have a full-time job or other such responsibilities.  You might even discover something else you like – you might have the opportunity to learn a new language, for example.

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SCHOLARSHIP

There’s a very significant scholarship available through the National Science Foundation, for those in a Computer Science or Information Systems major, or those who are majoring in Math with a minor in C.S. or I.S.  More details are here.

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CODE RIGHT NOW, IF YOU DARE

Of course, the main reason I stayed in my major was that I found it interesting.  You can always look at some instructions and try coding instantly by going to tutorial sites, the most comprehensive of which is W3Schools.  They have step-by-step lessons as well as a “sandbox” or “playground” feature where you can try to code small pieces in HTML, JavaScript and other languages.

Netbeans is a “development environment” in which you can edit web applications – much like editing a Word document, you can create .html files and more, and then hit the Run button to open the created files in a browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer.  It’s fun to play with and free to download, and there are tutorials available on many programming languages.

HTML5Rocks is another site with tutorials.  In brief, HTML5 is a relatively new version of HTML with a few innovative twists like an <audio> tag and a <video> tag.  I don’t know much about it yet, but I’ve been meaning to look at it in more depth.

This is a mashup that ISU alum Greg Jopa made using HTML5.  If you feel adventurous, you can download the source code and look at it – it’s there for you to look at.  Or try the demo and see if you can play Gary Numan’s “Cars” : )  There’s not enough room allowed in the demo to play the entire riff, I was mildly disappointed.

At any rate, you can see how information is readily available, and you can succeed with it if you have the patience to examine it.  The guidance of a teacher certainly helps, but web programming is somewhat unique because quite a bit of knowledge happens to be available for free (the geekier word for it is “open-source”).  After some experimenting, I thought that decoding these things was rather interesting.  It’s not always easy, but with practice, you might have fun figuring it out.  And clearly, knowledge is power – some of the highest-paying jobs go to people with the skills to engineer solutions for information-related problems.  If you find that you have an interest in this as a field of study, our department website is here.

Please share a comment if you want to – our goal is to create an open discussion, and I’m curious what most people outside my major think about computer-related fields.

Thanks, and I’ll see you later.

February 12, 2012 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment


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