“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.'”

Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning

Not only teachers are switching from chalkboards to Google Classroom which is more efficient, but students are using iPads and other electronic devices which help them improve their attention span and their general interest in learning. Technology ushers in a fundamental structure in changes that can range from achieving significantly higher grades to advancements in student’s productivity.

Technology is becoming popular throughout the globe and is seen almost in every teaching and learning environment. Technology infused classrooms with a different type of positive attitude compared to boards or books. These learning tools such computers and handheld devices “expands course offerings, experiences, and learning materials; supports learning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; builds 21st century skills; increases student engagement and motivation; and accelerates learning.” It transforms teaching in a different way because student feel more engaged and participate more by knowing their is a sense of communication at school and at home.

According to statistics at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, this new system benefits student’s minds by being provided resources and systems to help them improve their own instruction and personalize learning. The US Department of Education also states “Online learning opportunities and the use of open educational resources and other technologies can increase educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning.” Not only in the classroom but at home students have felt less stressed being able to check their assignments online instead of worrying they lost the sheet of paper they copied it from the board.

Overall, technology has greatly impacted both teachers and students minds both in the classroom and at home by feeling connected and less stressed from their academic work.

By: Mia Gradelski

2016: A Tech Retrospective

As the new year rolls in, it’s time to take a look back and see just how technology has evolved in the past year.  Although many technological leaps were made in the past 365, 2016 was overall fairly disappointing from the consumer’s standpoint.

With Samsung recalling more than 2.5 million Note 7 smartphones, hover-boards being banned in all public areas, and fake news spreading like a wild fire on social media, this year has been far from dull.  However, this year has been exciting in the negative sense.  With the presidential campaign having taken center stage for the grand majority of the year, news outlets were pressed in hoping to publish all important content as fast as possible.  However, this led to an increase in “fake” news being published all across social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.   With the help of fact-checking sites, these news publishings were noticed.  These sites were under heavy criticism, and for good reason.  The “news” seen by millions potentially altered the outcome of this year’s historic election.

Continuing on, a lackluster performance was given this year by virtual assistants.  These include Google’s Home, Amazon’s Echo, and Apple’s Siri.  Overall, despite all of the advertisements put in place by these companies and hype within the consumer world, these products ended up subpar.  Several basic functions and tasks were unable to be handled by these products, delivering an overall disappointing result.  That being said, the more use put into these machines, the more development and improvements will come in the upcoming months/years.

Although many products did not end the way we would’ve liked, there were some improvement across the technological world.  These included Wi-Fi, virtual reality (VR), online streaming, among others.  Of course, there were many positives that came out of this year.  Massive strides were made in the fields of virtual reality and online streaming.  Virtual reality, a concept once thought of as impossible, has completely taken over.  The tremendous potential behind these devices has yet to be completely uncovered, as it is mainly gaming as of now.  However, keep an eye on these devices, as they become increasingly available.  Live streaming has also taken massive strides in the right direction.  Facebook and Twitter have taken this and ran with it, making live video streaming truly a new medium for sharing and exploring information.  Anyone has the ability to stream, making this a very practical way to connect.  These are just two examples, but this year has been very kind to certain types of technology, while leaving others behind.

Here’s to a new year full of new technology, new opportunities, and new realities.