Public Underwater Video Feed Leads to Scientific Discovery by Public

Just more evidence of the advantages we discussed last semester of making data available to the public.

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Online Education

Something we spoke about throughout the semester was online education and how it is changing how we do school. Professor Gus spoke about the idea that maybe we take our intro classes online and then we come to school to take the more intensive upper level classes. I definitely see this as a possibility, but I also see the possibility of the online education community becoming more of a marketplace to gain skills than to continuously learn about new subjects. 

For example, last year I took a class on coursera about Software as a service using Ruby on Rails. I did not finish the class because I was too busy with schools and extra curricular’s outside of the school. That being said I have taken a class on Udacity and am very close to completing just have not taken the last step and taken the final. The main difference in my mind as a user of the services, is that on Udacity I can take my time with it, but with Coursera you have homework due dates, quizes, and finals. I understand why having a due date is important, but I think the system needs to begin to provide more flexibility  Most people who will be using these services will also be working or in school at the same time. They have responsibilities and requirements that they need to fulfill on a weekly basis and those responsibilities must come before the Coursera and Udacity class. What these due dates do is restrict your ability to learn because you are trying to juggle everything that you are doing all at once. 

Additionally, for those of us in school right now and have taken a class it is hard to point and say yea I took that class online because the question arises well why did you need to take the class online? Is there something lacking your degree or education that required you to take it online? Why did I not take a SaaS class at Michigan? Well they do not offer one, well does that mean that your education is behind or missing? These types of questions are hard to answer to employers and while I have gained skills using these services, I have not spoken about the services in an interview nor have I put it on my resume because I do not have the answers to those questions. Until issues like these are addressed and universities begin to understand where the free open online education fits within their payment model, I do not see the online services revolutionizing the education system, especially if they are relying on the education system for content like coursera does. 

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Data stored on DNA? The solution to our massive data centers

Back in August a couple of researchers at Havard announced that they were able to store 5.5 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA. Each DNA base is encoded as a binary value and then read as a binary value. To read the data you just sequence the DNA as you would sequence any DNA. The advantages of using DNA to store data is incredible especially when you think you do not need air controlled rooms to house the DNA because you can virtually store the DNA anywhere. Additionally, you can have so many backups of the DNA that you can essentially ensure that data is never lost unless there is a catastrophe that affects the entire human race.

There are obvious issues with the idea of having a completely abundant form of storage, namely it can allow oppressive regimes to record everything and further restrict privacy than they already do. Nonetheless, if storing data on DNA becomes the norm it would fundamentally change how we store data, but also society with the result of being able to record everything ever. If we can even store our own data in our own DNA, now that would be pretty sweet.

Check out a summary of the details of how they accomplished storing the data here.

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ITU and Internet Censorship

The International Telecommunications Union is a UN agency comprised of 193 countries and around 700 companies and research institutions.  At the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai there was a proposal to shift the ITU from primarily as telecom-oriented agency to one that specifically deals with the Internet.  The agency is attempting to wrest power away from the United States non-profit the Internet Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers.  ICANN is responsible for the coordination of the global Internet’s system of unique identifiers and ensuring it’s a stable and secure operation. 

ITU is seen as too government-focused, giving a voice to repressive regimes while ignoring other stakeholders. It is fair, though, to say that that ICANN looks for input from a much broader range of stakeholders, and that the ITU’s “one country, one vote” model will give governments final say. This input involves the proposal of countries filtering the Internet for just about any reason, something that web companies and western governments generally oppose.  What the conference in Dubai is trying to do it to shift the governance of domain names, IP addresses, and other Internet policies to ITU. 

Two weeks ago Congress voted unanimously against the ITU in a favor to keep the internet “free from government control.” While we could be cynical and say the United States just wants to keep control to itself, the internet that we have today would look very different under the auspices of the ITU and the oppressive regimes that form the UN. I think it is important for us to understand the possible dangers of these types of resolutions and where it will be taking the internet that we know and love.

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Distracted Driving from Your GPS?

As I was driving the other day and using my phone as a GPS, I thought about how similar it was to texting and driving. You’re looking up and down from your phone, you’re reading text on it, and you don’t have your full attention on the road. What’s so different between the two? Both can easily cause accidents. Is there a differentiation between texting and using your GPS legal-wise? I’ve heard of people getting pulled over for “texting” even though they were using their phones as GPS devices. Is this an extreme stretch of the law?

According to this article, it is not illegal to use your GPS while driving. Different states have different rules about being able to mount your GPS on your windshield. Some states don’t allow the windshield mount at all, but I believe that most states don’t allow you to hold your phone in your hand as a GPS while driving. The GPS must be mounted at least. The NSW states that the phone has be in a commercially designed cradle and mounted. This is so drivers aren’t looking down at their phones but are keeping eye-level with the road.

In at least one state in Australia, using your phone GPS is actually illegal. Even if it has voice turn-by-turn action, if it’s a phone, then it’s not allowed. Australia’s stance is that since the device is ultimately a phone, and you are not supposed to use a phone while driving, then anything being used on that phone is illegal. To get around the law, people mount their phones, which will apparently bypass the police because they usually don’t find it worth it to pull someone over for something mounted that could be an iPod or mp3 player instead of a phone.

I believe that using a phone GPS is equivalent to texting and driving, and I don’t think that mounting a GPS will make it any less dangerous. You’re still reading something else and your mind is preoccupied. But the problem is, how else are we going to find where we’re going when we’re heading someplace that we’re not familiar with? It’s too inconvenient to stop at the side of the road every few turns to look at the map. It seems like there is no good solution for this.

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The safety of storage in the cloud

The cloud has become an extremely useful and influential tool in modern computing.  Storage is becoming a service that is most prominently used by users of the cloud.  Storing data in the cloud is a new concept that puts the responsibility of managing and keeping the data safe in the hands of a third party.  I decided to look into how breaches in security that allow the wrong people to access your data might happen.  One article, cited below, states that accidents have happened in the past where cloud storage companies have allowed easy access to all users’ data, as Dropbox did it in 2011[1].  There are also instances of sites allowing people to alter the URL or web page to give them access to other pages.  When data is stored with a third party, the employees of the company would have access to the data.  It is important that the companies act ethically with the data to keep it as protected as possible.  Encryption is an important step in making it more difficult for the wrong people to get the data.  The article lists 3 ways that encryption; letting the cloud provider know and manage the encryption key for a user’s data, letting the cloud provider only manage the encryption key, or letting only the user manage the encryption key, giving them full control of their data.

Another issue of storing data in the cloud is that the “authorities typically need only a subpoena to get data from Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and other services that allow users to store data on their servers” [2].  No warrant is needed to get the data, since it is not considered communication like email is.  For these reasons, storing in the cloud is not like simply keeping the data in local storage.  There exist problems that could be fixed if users were given full control of allowing access to their data through the use of a user-managed encryption key.  The cloud storage services are not insecure, but do have fallbacks that local data storage does not have.



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The Future of Publishing Houses

An article I recently read on TechCrunch, recently argued that as self publishing becomes increasingly easier, it may be better to create an ebook platform than writing a book!

As the number of books being written constantly increases, and the average number of books read by the average American stay constant (the article cites 17 books a year – putting me way behind the average), there is an essential mismatch of supply and demand, making it harder for journalists and authors to stick out. However, who may be profiting from the increased supply of books is eBook platforms hosting these books, which give a large crowd access to a wealth of information.

Here’s a cool infographic that further explores how eBooks are changing publishing.


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