Exercising my writing muscle

I was flipping through Spolsky’s Joel on Software today and, perhaps because I spent the morning working with our college-wide curriculum and some of our documentation of its outcomes, this passage jumped out at me: So why don’t people write specs? It’s not to save time, because it doesn’t, and I think most coders recognize this. […] I think it’s because so many people don’t like to write. Staring at a blank screen is horribly frustrating. Personally, I overcame my fear of writing by taking a class in college that required a 3-5 page essay once a week. Writing is … Continue reading Exercising my writing muscle

Rescue Robots in the News

This semester my intro programming students are doing a very scaled down model of how search-and-rescue robots might very stupidly explore a space while trying to keep themselves from clumping up with each other. It’s a first programming course for most of them, so have I mentioned that these simulated robots are very stupid. However, since I’ve been playing around with their project, I seem to be seeing interesting content about search and rescue robots cropping up all over the place: Last week (on April 23rd), there was a great NASA JPL livestream of a talk on Rescue Robots focusing … Continue reading Rescue Robots in the News

Where’s my plow?

The snow situation isn’t as bad here in Western PA as it is on much of the east coast, but while waiting for things to lighten up enough for me to go out and shovel, I’ve been playing around with Pittsburgh’s new snow plow tracker. The system itself is only live while snow is falling – access it through the button on the right. I like the use of the “multiple vehicle” icon to keep things legible when zoomed out. It took me a bit of playing around to realize that if you adjust the “history display” slider at the … Continue reading Where’s my plow?

Lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum lorem

“While Google translate may be incorrect in the translations of these words, it’s puzzling why these words would be translated to things such as ‘China,’ ‘NATO,’ and ‘The Free Internet,’” There is so much to love in this exploration of what happens when you feed lorem ipsum text into Google Translate from Krebs on Security (or, at least what used to happen). Automatic translation algorithms, data sparsity problems, covert information channels… A bizarre, must-read article.

Free Service Botnets

How Hackers Hid a Money-Mining Botnet in the Clouds of Amazon and Others: a couple of security researchers build a botnet out of free accounts, potentially legally they claim, rather than from hijacked computers. They proof of concept tested Litecoin mining, suggesting they could have brought in $1750/week with their constructed botnet if left running. While the article cites Amazon and Google’s services as examples, the following suggests an alternate source for these vulnerable accounts: Choosing among the easy two-thirds, they targeted about 15 services that let them sign up for a free account or a free trial. The researchers … Continue reading Free Service Botnets

Buy your donuts with cash

I read this story wanting to understand if the data mining they’re doing is really appropriate for making individualized statements in the way they are claiming when they suggest that hospitals will get risk assessments based on patient shopping data through credit cards, store cards, etc. Will receiving doctors get sufficient training in the ways in which these predictions are like and unlike the predictions that medical tests make about health risks? Additionally, I read through the list of hypothesized triggers for heath risks and they seem to bank on the idea that everything I’m purchasing is for myself. Just … Continue reading Buy your donuts with cash

Summer fun with data

With the semester over, I’m looking to what projects I’ll be taking on for the next couple of months, and I know many of my students are as well. Here are a few fun options people may want to consider, particularly focused on opportunities to get involved with data analysis: Try out Mortar, an open source recommendation engine platform, described a bit here Take part in Kaggle’s Acquire Valued Shoppers Challenge, playing around with their 22GB of anonymized sample data of 300,000 shopper’s data; this is a massive dataset, Revolution Analytics offers some pointers to tools to help you manage … Continue reading Summer fun with data

I’m not confused I lost my glasses

I am always fascinated and creeped out by these stories about adapting system behavior to user emotion. The system described here is being tested out by analyzing facial expressions to detect engagement with educational materials which are then used to predict test performance. I’d love to see some extracted data of what engaged expressions look like. I’ve had too many conversations with colleagues where I’ve asked “You teach X a lot, is that angry look they get their thinking look?” to expect that engaged expressions must look like entertained or pleased expressions, and I know my students have that conversation … Continue reading I’m not confused I lost my glasses

Sparkleponies for all

IEEE’s prediction that 85% of the tasks in our daily life will include game elements by 2020 sounds to me like a prediction that requires thinking about game elements broadly enough, it might already be true. Considering this quote in particular, “by 2020, however many points you have at work will help determine the kind of raise you get or which office you sit in”, if you’ve ever had a performance review rating you on a number scale for different job functions, congratulations, your job is gamified! Does grocery shopping get you gas points? Your errands are gamified! Students, grades … Continue reading Sparkleponies for all

Most fun you’ll have debugging all day

Weird Bug starts off for the first, say, 30 seconds looking like your standard puzzle-maze game, until you realize the first maze isn’t beatable, and that the real puzzle is how to go into the source code for the maze and fix it so the maze can be beat. The mazes are implemented in PuzzleScript, and the bulk of the game you’re in an IDE interface, changing the code, rebuilding, and playing your fixed level to get on to the next, broken level. If you’ve ever coded before, you’ll be able to figure out PuzzleScript in just a minute or … Continue reading Most fun you’ll have debugging all day