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Comment Re:What do I do with one? (Score 5, Informative) 212

Adafruit has a great series of lessons on how to get it setup and examples of some interesting uses. They also have a ton of useful accessories, cases, etc.

I've done a few Arduino-like experiments using their Pi Cobbler breakout board. I got mine to output status information (date/time, IP Address, network stats) and/or a twitter feed on a cheap 16x2 LCD display. With a cheap wifi dongle and one of those USB emergency cellphone chargers for power, it's completely independent of wires, so I'm thinking about adding some motors and maybe a few IR sensors to create a basic rover. Once you get the distro setup to auto-login and install TightVNC server and enable SSH, you just need to give it a network connection to control it remotely from a PC. I only hooked mine up to an HDMI TV once on first boot to get those things running. Now I just turn it on and wait for the IP to appear on the LCD display and SSH or VNC into it.

I agree that initially it was tough to come up with useful things to do with it, but the Adafruit tutorials went a long way toward inspiring me and walking me through the more mundane details of taking care of the basics (SSH, VNC, WiFi, etc.) so that you can focus on actually doing something cool with it. You can also search around for BeagleBone or Arduino + Ethernet Shield projects for ideas since the Pi can do most of what those can at a fraction of the price. Good luck!

Comment Re:I think that's all college students (Score 3, Interesting) 823

It sounds like you were able to avoid some of the more common pitfalls. Kudos on that. I was always pretty sure I'd stay on the individual contributor path, climbing the technical ladder and writing code for the rest of my career... until I wasn't. At one point, I got a taste of management and became hooked. It rivaled the feeling I got 20+ years ago when I wrote my first program in AppleSoft BASIC and filled up the screen with random colored boxes... I felt like a master of the universe. As much as I have enjoyed commanding electrons to do my bidding, leading a team of talented individuals and pushing them to exceed their perceived/self-imposed limitations, and accomplish something as a team that you never could have done yourself, has also been very rewarding and pushes me to expand my expertise beyond my comfort zone. Now that I only really write code for fun, I think I enjoy it even more than I did when I was getting paid for it.

The other day, I came across a site, that is a free course on computer architecture. In it, you build up a computer system from simple Nand gates, up through an ALU, CPU, Memory, and then the entire software stack, from machine code, assembly (via an assembler), high-level code via a compiler, etc. I took a course like this in college and it was another great "Aha!" moment for me where the connection between software and hardware (and eventually the basic physics of semiconductors) all came together for me. It was great to work through the hardware part of this course again (I got through it in an afternoon, but I was pretty addicted once I started). Give it a look, I think you'll enjoy it.

Comment Re:I think that's all college students (Score 2) 823

I don't look at it that way. One of the things that drew me to engineering was the never ending abundance of challenges. I love solving problems and learning new things. Whenever I start to get cocky or too comfortable, it's nice to remind myself (now that I've learned it the hard way) that there's always more out there... more to learn, more difficult problems to solve, different types of challenges (physical, mental, etc.) that I can strive for.

I don't regret any part of my experiences detailed above, I'm grateful for having had the opportunities that I've had. I think the truly depressing view is the one in which you think you've reached the summit of the mountain and there's nowhere to go but down.

Comment Re:I think that's all college students (Score 5, Insightful) 823

Go Big Red!

Seriously though, I think almost all engineers go through a similar progression. Spend high school overachieving (probably at the expense of social development), work hard and get into a great college, get knocked down a peg when you realize that you're either somewhere in the meaty part of the curve among other prospective engineers, or that you'll actually need to *try* in order to get that A for the first time in your life... once you do succeed (or maybe just fail to fail) you graduate college thinking you're ready to take on the world... enter the business world and realize that the fancy education you paid so much for is only good enough to get your foot in the door...come to the realization that respect is earned by experience and demonstrated value... spend a few years building up credibility and expertise, then realize that being a manager (or director, or VP, etc.) requires some serious people skills (remember all those parties and extracurricular activities you skipped in high school in favor of hacking and video games?) and either choose to stay on the individual contributor path and hone your skills to guru level or take the plunge and start educating yourself (both formally and informally) in how to effectively manage a bunch of cocky engineers.

That's my story in a nutshell, and I think there are probably quite a few people out there who can relate. The cyclical nature of it is somewhat poetic. Just when you think you've reached the summit, you're finally able to see the next peak.

Comment Re:Simple (Score 2) 515

I don't think that's really a fair analogy. Anti-virus software attempts to detect malicious code and prevent it from doing damage. Yes, some malicious code is executed via zero-day vulnerabilities in operating systems (i.e. security guard left a door unlocked), but a lot of virus infections are caused by unsafe user behavior. Users open/execute unknown email attachments, click malicious links, and willingly install sketchy software that purports to do some useful function for free while doing something malicious in the background. In this case, the owner of the building is telling the security guard to give the men in ski masks free reign of the building.

Microsoft's User Account Control attempts to mitigate this risk by requiring the user to confirm any program that requires elevated privileges to run, even if the user is a local administrator ("Are you sure you want to let XYZ program make changes to your computer?"). Even if the user mistakenly grants such privileges, a competent anti-virus package can raise a second alert - hopefully the user realizes they've made a mistake at this point (i.e. security guard says, "hey boss, those guys look like criminals, are you sure you really want me to let them in?). If they override that and let the program run, then all bets are off.

As far as I know, MS has a pretty good track record of fixing vulnerabilities that it knows about (i.e. mistakenly unlocked doors), and the occasional headline about a zero-day exploit shouldn't undermine your trust in their (free) anti-virus product.

Submission + - How The RIAA Lost The Piracy Battle (

nmpost writes: "The RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, is a trade group that represents the recording industry. The group is most famous for suing people who illegally downloaded music in the past decade. Though most people could sympathize with a company being stole from, sentiments quickly turned against the association when it went after people for hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading a few songs. The exorbitant fees were meant to be a warning against file sharing, but it actually had the opposite effect, galvanizing more people to seek free music. The RIAA made a terrible miscalculation by attacking its own consumers. Despite the so called piracy epidemic, the industry was making plenty of money in the early part of the last decade. They went on to spend millions of dollars suing their own consumers, when they should have been trying to innovate and develop a better delivery system. The success of Apple’s iTunes store proved that consumers were willing to pay for music if the delivery system was convenient. To this day millions of people purchase music from iTunes."

Comment Re:This is getting beyond ridiculousness. (Score 1) 217

Both analogies (rental car license plates, theater seats) are great and fit the situation very well... 2 of the best I've heard.

My point is that the case should be focused on determining whether or not there is sufficient evidence that the defendant violated the law, and most cases against a John Doe based solely on an IP address should be dismissed immediately based on that criterion. It shouldn't hinge on which side's lesson in network infrastructure resonates better with a technology-ignorant judge. Instead, these suits are allowed to stand and defendants are shaken-down for settlements without a judge ever getting the chance to be enlightened by biased lawyers on the nuances of TCP/IP. I'm not saying they need to be certified Network Engineers, but a basic understanding of the underlying technology (and how the laws apply to it) should be required.

Comment Re:This is getting beyond ridiculousness. (Score 3, Interesting) 217

Judges need to have a basic understanding (beyond that of your average grandparent) about how the underlying technology works in order to make a fair legal decision. One example that comes to mind are the lawsuits brought by the RIAA against John Does based on records of an IP address downloading or uploading a file. IP Addresses do not uniquely identify a person or even (most of the time) a single computer yet they allow these companies to harass individuals without sufficient evidence linking a specific person to any crime. I'm willing to bet that at one point in your life, you have probably operated a WiFi router either without security or using easily-broken WEP. If a stranger used your network to commit a crime, wouldn't you prefer a judge with a basic understanding of how networks and IP addresses work so that you could make an adequate defense? Or would you be ok with the prosecution dumbing it down for the judge and convincing them that "IP addresses are like social security numbers for computers"?

Comment Re:Comparison of technologies (Score 1) 624

RFID is not a challenge/response system. It's a barcode that is read with RF instead of a laser. There is no microchip, no encryption code running on the passport, or any other intelligence. The only (security) value of RFID over a plain old barcode is that they aren't trivially easy to copy/fake with the average home computer/printer. If you were going to try to modify an e-passport (changing a birthdate or photo, for example), you would need the appropriate hardware and know-how to modify or replace the RFID tag so that the printed data matched the digital data. So it makes it more difficult or inconvenient to circumvent the system, but by no means does it provide the level of security that an active challenge/response sytem (think SmartCard) provides.

The RFID tag typically has all of the information that is visually printed on the passport and some countries encode the person's photo as well. Scanning the tag reads the information, providing a double-check against what's printed on the passport and can also be used to look-up additional information from databases like the no-fly list. The same could theoretically be accomplished with a printed 2D DataMatrix barcode, although if you wanted to encode the photo it would probably need to be pretty large (likely larger than the passport itself).

Comment Re:A few kids might be able to get it (Score 1) 430

7-8 year-olds typically don't have Facebook, Blogger, or any other personal presence on the web at that age. Don't underestimate the inspirational power of creation. A simple drawing or watercolor painting from scratch is much more likely to inspire a young person to take an interest in art than tracing a comic book or coloring in a coloring book. Sure it may not look as great as what they're exposed to out in the world, but it's completely their own, and that can be powerful.

Comment Re:A few kids might be able to get it (Score 1) 430

I think you hit on a lot of great points here - I was 9 when I wrote my first AppleSoft BASIC programs on an Apple IIe on loan from my school. Prompting for input and doing simple arithmetic with somebody's age was ok, but the thing that had me hooked was writing a looping program that drew random boxes and lines in random colors on the screen indefinitely. The thing that really made that great was that at the time (1990-ish) those text prompts and colored lines and boxes weren't visually that far from "state of the art" games like Oregon Trail. It made me feel that at 9 years old, I wasn't that far from mastering all that a computer could do. Nowadays, the bar is set much higher. Kids grow up with Playstation 3 games that are rendered in near-lifelike detail with speech and making the mental jump from your first dozen-line program to something like that is just huge. I've been writing web/DB business applications for 7 years now as part of my job (and have been a computer geek for more than 20 years) and even I have a hard time grasping what goes into creating an A-list console game. The rift between a first program and something useful and/or impressive has unfortunately grown exponentially along with Moore's Law and that spark of inspiration that so many of us experienced in the early stages of personal computing is becoming more and more elusive.

I think the one saving grace is the relative ease with which you can develop and publish a real working website. It may not compare to top sites in terms of design and functionality, but it is conceivable that a young person could figure out enough HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (probably with a little "help" from the web and Ctrl+C) and actually create something from nothing. More importantly, they can easily share their accomplishment with others by just emailing a link or posting it on Facebook and get the encouragement they need to inspire them to go further.

So after my long nostalgic diatribe, my real contribution to the conversation is this: Give them a crash course on HTML (tags, links, styles, etc.) and using input from the class, collaboratively build a simple webpage. Include a photo of the class, a link or two, some student-chosen colors or font style elements, and **publish it to the web, giving the students the link to show their friends and family**. If they can go home to mom and dad and say "hey, look what I helped to make!" I think you have a pretty good chance of inspiring at least a few of them to explore more.

Comment Re:So hackers like it (Score 1) 339

With smartphones, it comes down to a battle between advanced ("hacker") customers and the megacorp wireless carriers. For example, from Motorola's perspective, Verizon is the primary customer. Joe Smartphoneuser comes second at best. The carriers have a vested interest in maintaining control over the devices, especially when they do underhanded things like charge extra for the same data bandwidth depending on whether it's consumed by the phone or by a tethered laptop. Losing that control means losing significant (zero-cost) revenue and they communicate this interest to phone manufacturers, threatening not to carry their devices if they're too easy to circumvent. The flipside of the coin is the small minority of customers who may choose a different phone or different carrier because they like rooting their devices or side-stepping certain carrier-imposed software or controls. This group's buying power and influence over a phone manufacturer is dwarfed by that of any of the major carriers. It's dollars and cents, plain and simple.

Having seen this play out in the smartphone world, I won't be too surprised to see it continue with tablets. The one hope is that since not all tablets are tied to a wireless carrier, the manufacturers won't be handcuffed when it comes to listening to and responding to customer wants and needs. There's no pressure from wireless carriers for tablet makers to lock-down their devices if they're WiFi only.

Comment Re:No, those are not challenges. (Score 1) 405

The Average Joe doesn't understand SSL or public key encryption yet they happily fork over their most personal information to Amazon for the latest paperback or HDTV as long as they see the little padlock icon on their browser.

Adoption will definitely be slow at first like it was with eCommerce but once it hits critical mass and the safety and security of the system is common knowledge (like the padlock icon) it will take off exponentially. Of course all of this assumes that it is implemented and maintained in a way that avoids serious pitfalls and scandals that undermine public opinion.

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