Backpacks: Becoming more than just fabric

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Backpacks are a bag with shoulder straps allowing it to be carried on someone’s back and they are usually composed just of fabric and various pockets. Today, with so much technology available to the public, such as laptops, smartphones, and smartwatches, the demand for charging ports has increased. Most of the time when someone’s phone is running low on battery, they may not be near a place where they could sit down, take out their charger and plug it into an outlet. Due to this issue, the more convenient solution is to be able to charge it on the go. Although portable chargers are available on the market, another solution which is possibly more convenient is backpacks which have built-in USB and battery to charge your devices.

One of these innovative, new back packs is the TYLT designed “ENERGI BACKPACK.” It has five external pockets and two internal pockets with a battery, allowing users to charge up to three devices at the same time. It is also “travel friendly,” meaning that it fits on the handle of any luggage when traveling, and getting through airport security is easy, as you could also keep your laptop in the backpack. With this new backpack, people will have a mobile charging station at their access at anytime.

The Elementary Musical

The last weekend in January, Mr. Ashley asked me and a couple other Help Desk students to help design and run lights for the elementary musical. This included coming in on the Wednesday and Thursday before the show to get a script and to watch the rehearsals to get a feel for the show. The day before the show we sat down with Mr. Ashley and the director to put the last finishing touches on the light design, but for the most part we were on our own.

Mr. Ashley wasn’t there for a few of the shows and rehearsals so we had to be ready to improvise when something went wrong, which included a missing cue, the lights not being the right color for the cue, the actor not hitting their spot, the house lights breaking, and many other problems. The whole show was a learning experience I haven’t gotten in high school shows, because there were always adults there to help when something went wrong. But for this show, if Mr. Ashley wasn’t there, there were no other adults who could step in and help us. We had to come up with a permanent or temporary solution ourselves. He entrusted us with a lot of responsibility which also included us talking to the director about his ideas for the show if Mr. Ashley hadn’t created cues exactly the way they should be. I had to create a lot of cues on the fly during the dress rehearsals or during the brief time we had between shows, or I just had to guess what cue to go to because there were several extra cues in the show or cues were written in my script that weren’t saved in the show file.

All of these things taught me how much attention you have to pay to the whole thing, and that it doesn’t magically all come together. In such a short show (the actors had under two weeks to prepare) you really get to see the whole process come together as opposed to middle or high school shows where the process is spread over a period of two to three months. The middle and high school shows, especially middle school, required significantly less time, work, and focus on our parts because everything was done by adults, but partly because we knew less about the lighting board and light design. All you had to do was follow along in the script, and sometimes you didn’t have to do that if you had someone calling your cues. In both of those cases all you had to do was hit the go button to advance to the next cue. “Monkey work” as it has been called. No brain power at all. However, the unpredictability of everything in this show taught me some backup strategies and teamwork skills that will help me be a better help desk student and theater technician.

“Who Are The Hackers?”

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Hackers. It is true that some of them are the “bad guys,” actively gaining access into people’s documents and accounts and stealing personal and valuable information, however, a conversation on hackers can no longer be one sided. Nowadays, many hackers “fight against government corruption and advocate for our rights,” helping us in ways only they can. Many of these hackers work to expose weaknesses in company algorithms, notifying them in exchange for a bounty rather than using the information for personal gain. They constantly force the internet into evolving and improving, becoming stronger and more resistant to further attacks, “wielding their power to create a better world.” For more insight into the world of hacking, how we can protect ourselves, and what we should be aware of, check out the TED playlist Who are the Hackers?

The Home Supply Industry and how it is Overgoing Automation

Home automation has become increasingly popular over the last few years because of its accessibility through smart phones and its modern design look for families. It is one of the fastest-moving segments in the marketplace because it is known to innovate and make your home more “smarter.” By 2022, the home automation system market is expected to be worth roughly $78.27 billion.

The growth in this industry is mainly focused on the safety, security and the environmental aspect of homes. This influences buyers to have a more cleaner home by investing additional money into extra equipment such items like smart locks, wireless video surveillance devices and customizable lighting and more.

The interesting thing about the home automation industry is that the technological infrastructure already exists, said by Greg Roberts, vice president of marketing at Icontrol Networks. This is not evident with many other items in the technology field where companies band together to operate and create products for consumers. This industry of the home suppy demand is booming because consumers want to be in the cleanest and most safest environment as their home. People are willing to pay more for their home devices and equipment instead of having gadgets that they don’t always need such as google glasses or watches. Overall, the technological field of home innovation is constantly improving and we never know when we could be all replaced by robots. As Roberts puts it, just how long it will take for consumers to jump on board is yet to be seen.

By: Mia Gradelski

Bluetooth robots inspire creativity

Sphero is a bluetooth controlled sphere, that weighs just under half a pound and is about 4 inches in diameter. The little ball was first developed in 2010 by two friends, who created the company Orbotix, now known simply as Sphero. Since then, the company has grown tremendously. In 2013 they developed Sphero 2.0, a better, faster, and smarter version of their original robot. In 2014 they released a more cylindrical version of Sphero that runs on two rubber wheels, which launched as “Ollie”. Later in 2014 the company launched SPRK, a ball almost identical to Sphero, but designed for the classroom, to help students learn about programming. Towards the end of 2015 to go along with the movie “The Force Awakens”, the company released a Sphero toy designed to look just like the Star Wars droid BB-8.

I was lucky enough to get to play with one of the 5 Sphero’s the school has during my help desk time one day. Mr. Ashley simply picked one up from its inductive charging base (a curved holder that starts charging your Sphero as soon as you place it in it, no cords needed), tapped it twice to turn it on, handed me and a friend one of the schools iPad mini’s, and let us drive it down the hallway. Since Sphero is a perfect cylinder, you can’t tell which way is forward and which is backward. One of the first things Mr. Ashley taught me was how to adjust the “tail” to face you, so you could easily calibrate and control it. The other thing he taught us was how to easily adjust the speed in 10% intervals (reaching a max speed of over 4.5 mph), simply by tapping the hare, for faster, or the turtle, for slower. The rest we figured out on our own.

While Sphero can pretty easily do figure-eights around desks, it sometimes has trouble getting through doors, and that proved to be one of the first challenges for us. We had lots of fun racing it down the hallways and seeing how fast it could go, but the real fun started when we realized Sphero do so much more. Sphero is as much a device as it is a game. By simply fooling around with the iPads we discovered that it had a feature called quests. We didn’t look too much at this feature. We only looked at the first 3 quests it displayed for us. These quests allowed us to have more fun but also taught us some new things about Sphero. One of the first quests required us to bump into three objects within 10 seconds, teaching us that Sphero was very durable. I was very intrigued by the toy and asked Mr. Ashley if we could take them into the elementary MakerSpace. I knew Sphero could go fast and roll around, but I wanted to see what else we could make it do. Armed with cardboard shoe boxes and paper cups I had the goal of creating a bridge for Sphero to walk across. Creating the bridge was almost as challenging as getting Sphero to cross it, which was my original goal. The first problem we ran into was Sphero crashing into the paper cup support system. We fixed that by taping the cups to the cardboard platform in the middle which served as our main bridge structure. The next problem we ran into was the cardboard not being strong enough to support the Sphero. We also found that I had made the ramp too steep for Sphero to climb. We managed to fix both of these problems by changing the height at which the ramps were angled. After attempting to successfully cross the bridge dozens of times and only succeeding once I realized I had achieved my goal of creating a pretty impossible bridge. Having this goal completed I wanted to move on and see what other obstacles we could make. I wanted to create a complex maze for the Sphero to travel through. We didn’t exactly have access to materials capable of constructing the maze I had in mind, so I use pompoms to make an outline of a maze. Very quickly I discovered that this would take a lot longer then I had originally thought it would, so I quit. After cleaning up the pompoms I looked around the elementary library where we were working and saw we already had a maze. I noticed we could use the row of 3 bookshelves as obstacles in a race course. I challenged one of my other classmates and the Sphero they were using, to a race, but this also had unforeseen problems. The bookshelves served as great obstacles to maneuver around, but they made it hard to see where your Sphero was going. The easiest solution to this problem was to follow your Sphero around, but that created more problems of blocking your opponent and their Sphero. 

Ever since Mr. Ashley first showed me Sphero I’ve been deeply fascinated by this little toy. I’ve never been super interested in engineering or robots, but this guy has got me hooked, and I can’t wait to continue designed obstacle courses and completing quests, all while learning more about technology!

New Program Provides Superior Protection from Hacker Attacks

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For as long as people have been writing software there have always been simple coding mistakes which could open doors to hackers; allowing them to access secure information, delete important files, and “carrying out political mischief.” A new program, created by the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science, called Shuffler presents a new method to providing protection against such attacks. To prevent possible attacks, Shuffler allows programs “to continuously scramble their code as they run, effectively closing the window of opportunity for an attack.”

“‘Shuffler makes it nearly impossible to turn a bug into a functioning attack, defending software developers from their mistakes,'” said the study’s lead author, David Williams-King, a graduate student at Columbia Engineering. “‘Attackers are unable to figure out the program’s layout if the code keeps changing.'”

Shuffler has been developed to randomize small blocks of a program’s code every 20 to 50 milliseconds, “imposing a severe deadline on would-be attackers. Until now, shifting around running code as a security measure was thought to be technically impractical because existing solutions require specialized hardware or software.” Running alongside the code it protects, Suffer even randomizes its own program to provide the best possible security.

The Shuffler program, however, is not yet available to the public. Researchers say they want to improve its ability to defend against “exploits that take advantage of server-crashes” as well as makinging it easier to use on untested software. “‘Billions of lines of vulnerable code are out there,'” said the study’s senior author, Junfeng Yang, a computer science professor at Columbia Engineering and member of the Data Science Institute. “‘Rather than finding every bug or rewriting all billions of lines of code in safer languages, Shuffler instantly lets us build a stronger defense.'”