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November 5, 2014

A ‘Doctor Who’ game to teach kids how to code

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 1:48 AM

Those who know me know that I am a big fan of Doctor Who and have been a fan for a while. It is one of the most iconic Science Fiction shows out there along with Star Trek and Star Wars. Now BBC is planning on using that popularity to encourage children to learn coding. Yes, you read that right: “Dr Who is going to help kids learn how to code”. The game is called “The Doctor and the Dalek” and it aims to get children to use logical reasoning, variables and loops and repetition to help the Doctor save the universe from the Daleks, teaching them the basics of programing while having fun.

Unfortunately the game is only accessible if you are based out of UK :( which is not surprising considering this is BBC we are talking about. They are famous for restricting content based on geographical boundaries. But from what I have read about it online, it looks like a lot of fun and even though I know programing I want to try it out. Hopefully they will open it up to a broader audience in the near future as I would love to have my Nieces and Nephews take it out for a spin. (and I will of course be there to ‘help’ them play the game)

If you are located in UK you can check it out at the cbbc site.

– Suramya

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November 4, 2014

The Underhanded C Contest 2014 is open

Filed under: Computer Related,Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:43 PM

Do you think you have the skills to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet somehow exhibits evil behavior that cannot be seen even when staring at the source code? If so then you should take a look at The Underhanded C Contest. The contest has been running for about 6 years now and it is amazing how easy these guys make it look to create code that does something but looks like it is doing something else.

The 7th Underhanded C Contest is now open.

The goal of the contest is to write code that is as readable, clear, innocent and straightforward as possible, and yet it must fail to perform at its apparent function. To be more specific, it should do something subtly evil. Every year, we will propose a challenge to coders to solve a simple data processing problem, but with covert malicious behavior. Examples include miscounting votes, shaving money from financial transactions, or leaking information to an eavesdropper. The main goal, however, is to write source code that easily passes visual inspection by other programmers.

Check it out at: The Underhanded C Contest.
Source: Slashdot.org

– Suramya

A Cardboard Computer that actually works

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 12:31 AM

No, this is not a joke or a toy for a 5 year old. In the 70’s the computers were still not in the affordable range for 99% of the population so a bright chap by the name of David Hagelbarger working at Bell Laboratories designed CARDIAC (CARDboard Illustrative Aid to Computation) as an educational tool to give people without access to computers the ability to learn how computers work. Basically it is a micro-processor made out of cardboard.

The CARDIAC computer is a single-accumulator single-address machine, which means that instructions operate on the accumulator alone, or on the accumulator and a memory location. The machine implements 10 instructions, each of which is assigned a 3-digit decimal opcode. The instruction set architecture includes instructions common to simple Von Neumann processors, such as load, store, add/subtract, and conditional branch.

Operating the computer is fairly simple–the cardboard slides guide you through the operation of the ALU and instruction decoder, and the flow chart shows you which stage to go to next. The program counter is represented by a cardboard ladybug which is manually moved through the program memory after each instruction completes.

Even though the CARDIAC is dated and very simplistic, it is still a useful tool to teach how microprocessors work. Although modern processors include multi-stage pipelines, finely-tuned branch predictors, and numerous other improvements, the basic principles of operation remain the same

You can print your own by visiting Kyle Miller’s Site. More information about CARDIAC and how to use it is available at cs.drexel.edu and on it’s Wikipedia site.

Thanks to Hackaday.com for the story.

– Suramya

October 12, 2014

Take Orders From A Cat And Learn Cybersecurity

Here’s an interesting site that teaches Cybersecurity to folks in the form of a game. As you know cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated and the best way to counter that is to train more folks on the basic principles of Cyber Security. It is targeted towards children but is good fun for adults as well.

Take cybersecurity into your own hands. In this Lab, you’ll defend a company that is the target of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. Your task is to strengthen your cyber defenses and thwart the attackers by completing a series of cybersecurity challenges. You’ll crack passwords, craft code, and defeat malicious hackers.

Check it out at: NovaLabs Cybersecurity
Source: Popsci.com

– Suramya

September 21, 2014

India’s Mangalyaan races to MARS

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:30 PM

Did you know that India’s very own Mangalyaan is racing to Mars and about to do the final course corrections to enter Mars orbit? If the corrections work then India will be the first country to successfully enter the Mars orbit on the first try and the first Asian country to make it to mars.

The Indian Space Research Organisation has published a handy slide deck (PDF) explaining what happens next. There’s lots of little chores like uploading of commands going on at the moment, but things get interesting on September 24th. :) The PDF has a breakdown of what is expected when the action starts so do check it out.

I am going to try staying up at night to see if there is live coverage of the event. This is a great day in the Indian Space age. :)

Now, there are a lot of folks who are making comments to effect of “India should spend money on feeding the poor, instead of launching space rockets”. I have seen multiple comments to this effect on various blogs and forums. What these folks don’t realize is that spending money on the poor is all well and good but we need to start spending money on the Space program as well because end of the day we don’t have that much room on earth and the only place for us to go once Earth is full is out in space. There we have a lot more resources, enough space to expand and figure out new technologies that will make it easier/cheaper to feed the folks on earth.

Well this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

Links:

1. India vs America: Earthling invaders in race to MARS
2. India’s MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
3. ISRO Website

September 17, 2014

Register for a Free MIT Photojournalism Course to become a better photographer

Filed under: Interesting Sites — Suramya @ 1:58 AM

Too many so called photographers today think that putting a black and white filter on a photo of food makes it an artistic photo. Unfortunately that is not true. If you are interested in Photojournalism or just want to learn how to take good photographs (and I am not talking about selfies here) you should check out this free MIT course: Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: Still Images of a World in Motion.

Check it out if you have some time.

Thanks to Lifehacker.com for the link.

– Suramya

March 4, 2014

MIT wants you to Peel a Pine tree branch if you need a water filter

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 1:12 AM

Boffins at MIT have run some tests and found out that if you peel the bark off a Pine tree branch and pour water through the stick, then it will block upto 99% of e-coli bacteria and a host of other bad stuff giving up to four liters of drinkable water per day. This makes it a lot cheaper than any current commercial water filtration implementation in the market and a lot more scalable.

Dirty water is a major cause of mortality in the developing world. ‘The most common water-borne pathogens are bacteria (e.g. Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae), viruses (e.g. adenoviruses, enteroviruses, hepatitis, rotavirus), and protozoa (e.g. giardia). These pathogens cause child mortality and also contribute to malnutrition and stunted growth of children.’ People have been working on engineering cheaper and cheaper filtration systems for years, but now a group of researchers has found a promising and simple solution: a tree branch. ‘Approximately 3 cm^3 of sapwood can filter water at the rate of several liters per day, sufficient to meet the clean drinking water needs of one person.’

Of course there are some caveats; the system can trap most types of bacteria, the smallest of which measure about 200 nanometers but currently cannot trap viruses most of which are much smaller in size. Also, the stick needs to be kept wet or the filtration is not that effective.

The researchers have published a paper in this week’s journal PLoS ONE where they go over their findings and demo this functionality. Check it out if you have some time.

I am definitely adding this to my things to know in case of an emergency list. :)

Thanks to Slashdot for the initial story.

Additional reading: Need a water filter? Peel a tree branch – MIT News Office

– Suramya

March 30, 2013

Will you get fired over your Twitter history?

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 6:00 PM

Ideally you should know if you have posted something online that will get you fired, but as we all know there are people in the world who are a bit slow and need extra help in figuring out stuff. So for these people there is a new web service called “FireMe! Who wants to get fired?” that goes over your tweets and uses an algorithm to figure out the chances of you getting fired if you boss reads your Twitter history.

Personally I think that if you need help figuring out whether you said something online that will get you fired then there is a high chance that you actually did post something which will get you fired. :)

According to the site, they are doing this to raise awareness about the dangers of public online data. Plenty of folks have been fired for things they posted online. Don’t become another statistic, post responsibly.

Thanks to PopSci for the initial Link,

– Suramya

November 25, 2012

Social Media At Work

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 12:05 AM

There are plenty of companies in the world who have an open policy in regards to social media and a lot of companies which block these sites. Personally I don’t spend much time of Facebook, Google+ etc so for me it doesn’t matter if the sites are blocked or not. However other folks do spend a lot of time of FB and to these folks it does matter if the site is blocked or not. If you spend some time on the web you will see loads of posts for each position but more and more companies are slowly blocking these sites citing productivity losses and bandwidth hogging.

Learnstuff.com has an interesting info-graphic on the Social Media At Work that Kayla Evans shared with me and since the numbers looked impressive I decided to share them with my readers. According to the site the average college student spends three hours checking their various social media sites, but only two hours studying, which is scary. Workers aren’t faring much better, either. Every time someone at work gets an IM, a Facebook message or a tweet, it takes them a whopping 23 minutes to get back on task according to the research.

A little while ago I was part of a focus group for cell phones and we were discussing what do people need in a smartphone and one of the comments other folks in the study made that I found interesting/scary was that Facebook is a lifeline for them and if they can’t check it then they don’t know what they would do. Obviously I am paraphrasing but the sentiment is clear.

A lot of People are spending more time on FB ‘liking’ their friend’s posts instead of actually spending time with them. Go spend time with your friends, if you don’t want to end up like this guy:

Well this is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

July 19, 2012

Sensordrone brings us one step closer to having a real life StarTrek Tricorder

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 10:56 PM

Anyone who has watched Star Trek would love to get their hands on a Tricorder, but till recently Tricorders have been the stuff of Science Fiction. However slowly but steadily the technology to build them is getting there. We have the Tricorder Project which gave us the blue prints to create a basic version of the tricorder. It was cool and let you watch Magnetic field fluctuations etc (among other things) but still required you to build the thing yourself. Now comes Sensordrone, a project that pairs a sensor-heavy dongle with your smartphone and then opens them up for use using different apps. Me Want! :)

Its basically a sensor package that you pair with your phone and then run apps to visualize the various data, with no need to build the hardware yourself (I am more of the software building person.) Sensordrone is a Kickstarter project so its not really a real product yet but since people have pledged $153,655 for the project already (target was $25,000), it does seem like this is going to be an actual release pretty soon. They are aiming for an Oct 2012 release and it would cost about $200 or so. When it comes out I think I probably will end up buying it… Does that make me a Geek? Hell yeah… :)

Excerpt from their website:

If you have a Sensordrone, you can run apps on your tablet or smartphone to monitor carbon monoxide and air quality, find gas leaks, measure your child’s temperature, log the weather, and much more.

For example, apps using the capacitance sensor can work as a stud finder, a proximity monitor, or a liquid level monitor. Apps using the pressure sensor can work as a barometer, an altimeter, calculate elevation differences so you can measure the height of a building, be hooked up to a pressure cuff to work as a blood pressure monitor, and more. Humidity sensing is not just for weather, it determines comfort level for infants, finds the optimum conditions for storing foods, and could even help prevent mold from growing in your home

Sensordrone makes any sensor application as easy as running an app!

Thanks to Engadget: Sensordrone lets your smartphone monitor temperature, air quality, inebriation for the heads up.

– Suramya

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