Thursday, April 16, 2015

From touch screen phones, to no actual phone at all

       In November 2014, a video was released by a new company called Cicret Bracelet.  It is a small bracelet that when turned a certain way on your wrist, projects a fully functional version of your phone onto your skin.  You would be able to do anything you want from it, and would no longer have to actually carry around your phone.
      Usually when I write about these new up and coming technologies, I am pretty against it because of the way it will affect us as a general society.  But for this one, I think it might actually help.  If used properly, this can help eliminate the constant checking of the phone and maybe just overall less usage of it.  I'm sure many people, especially people our age, would want this product just because of what it is.  Your phone in a bracelet; it's an unbelievable advancement of technology.  But when you think about it, it's probably a lot harder to play a game on your arm than it is with an actual hand-held  device. It is probably a lot harder to type out texts and make phone calls, too.  But still, when you're on the move and you're not trying to be on your phone all the time, this can be something of great convenience.
        There isn't exactly much to say about this bracelet yet since it is only a prototype right now and will probably be expanding in the future.  But the video gives a really cool view of the product and has over 10 million hits on youtube.  I think this may become a product that actually makes a huge mark in our history, and hopefully for the better!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Parks and Recreation" and Technology

For anyone who has seen the latest and last season of Parks and Recreation, you would know that the main antagonist of the season is the internet company Gryzzl. By setting the last season in 2017, the writers are able to make predictions for how technological trends will evolve in the near future. For instance, Gryzzl provides the whole city of Pawnee, Indiana with free Wi-Fi. Although this sounds like a neat perk that wouldn’t actually happen, there are plans to provide downtown Buffalo, NY with Wi-Fi by June of this year. Many towns have had plans to provide city-wide Wi-Fi, even as far back as 2006, but eventually scrapped the ideas. Now that broadband speeds have increased and the technology to do so is cheaper, providing wireless internet access to a whole town isn’t such an impossible task.

One of the conflicts that the people of Pawnee are faced with is the obtrusive data mining conducted by Gryzzl. In the show, the company goes through residents’ phone calls and messages to find out what they really love and send them care packages containing secret guilty pleasures. Upset by the breach in privacy, the Parks and Rec team set out to deal with Gryzzl’s illegal activities. This issue is prevalent now, more than ever. The secret spying that the NSA does against its own citizens is a huge problem. The government should not have the power to snoop through our private data. Luckily, these horrendous acts have been brought to light and they are currently under investigation. We can also fight these powers by having educated discussions about them, much like the one we had in class last week.

The issue is even more relevant to companies like Google and Facebook. They sell our data to outside companies that try to market themselves to prospective customers. Then, after we are hooked, they use us are their own marketers to spread the word. In the Frontline documentary, “Generation Like” there is an extremely obvious connection between the series “The Hunger Games” and the marketing strategy of the films. Both subjects have teens fight against each other through a popularity contest. Though the actual Hunger Games are much more drastic, the marketing of the films is very manipulative and psychologically twisted.

Finally, there are several instances in the show where Gryzzl uses flashy tricks to try to win over customers, as opposed to arguments with true weight and merit. This tactic is used all too often by companies today. They try to persuade people into buying products that they don’t need by either hyping it up so much or creating a demand that isn’t truly there. Using this with social media is very easy, because anyone can lie on the Internet. With TV and radio, broadcasts need to be approved by someone, but the Internet is completely open to whatever information companies wish to share.

In conclusion, we should be wary of the government and Silicon Valley companies as they try to provide us with cool, free stuff that we may not actually need. As useful as public Wi-Fi may be, it may not be as secure or reliable as one may hope. On top of being a hilarious show, Parks and Recreation teaches us that future technologies must be handled carefully.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hyperloop Transportation Technology

In the United States today there are four conventional modes of transportation: rail, road, water, and air. These modes tend to be either relatively slow (road and water), expensive (air), or a combination of both (rail). In 2012, Industrialist Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, revealed his concept for a “fifth mode of transportation” calling it the Hyperloop. The Hyperloop is seeking to break this paradigm by being fast, inexpensive, and efficient.

Elon Musk’s proposal for the Hyperloop is a futuristic tube transport system that could go faster than the speed of sound. Musk’s proposal describes the Hyperloop as a “cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table” and claims that it can never crash. The Hyperloop would transport capsules or pods carrying up to 28 passengers through networks of low pressure steel tubes at speeds of over 700 mph. This Hyperloop transportation technology (HTT), as proposed, would cut travelling time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to 35 minutes or less. This technology could also be applied to allow for Hyperloop networks to cover distances of up to 900 miles.

The Hyperloop is engineered to overcome many problems that are faced when designing high speed modes of transportation. At speeds of over 700 mph, the use of wheels is no longer viable due to large amounts of friction that would be generated. The Hyperloop looks to overcome this obstacle by using a self-sustaining air propulsion method, similar to an air hockey table, to suspend the pods in the tube. The pods would be propelled by linear induction motors, which is a similar technology that is more commonly employed in rail guns. These motors would be located along different sections of the tubes. This will allow for the pods to accelerate and decelerate to the appropriate speeds needed to travel each section of the tube. This technology makes the Hyperloop more effective then travelling by air. Pods in the Hyperloop network will be able to reach their cruising speed very quickly and would not need to spend time reaching altitudes high enough for planes to travel at supersonie speeds. This allows for the Hyperloop to be the most efficient means of travel within its networks range of travel.

The pods used in the Hyperloop system would have an electrically driven inlet fan and air compressor located on the nose of the pod to maintain the vacuum like effect that is needed for high speed tube travel. This compressor would actively transfer high pressure air from the front of the pod to the rear so that pressure will not build up in front of the pod, essentially slowing it down. This is essential because each pod in the Hyperloop network needs to be travelling at the correct speed to ensure safety within the system.

The ability to travel quickly and for a low cost will allow our country to become more connected and encourage people from rural areas to travel to new places promoting tourism. A Hyperloop prototype is now being built in Texas and will consist of a 5 mile track that will be used for the testing of this new technology. If the tests go according to plan we can expect to see Hyperloop networks begin to be installed as early as 2016. When this Hyperloop transportation technology is finally introduced the way we travel around the country will be changed forever.

Internet Cannon

             With all of our talks about the censorship in the Internet, I stumbled upon and interesting article about China’s newly acquired Internet cannon. Yes….I did say cannon. Now if you don’t know what an Internet cannon is, you are probably wondering what it is. More commonly known in the hacker community as a Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC or WebLOIC), an Internet cannon is a type of computer program used to force traffic overloads (or denial-of-service) onto targeted websites. Basically it uses the Internet to blast out cyberattacks. Although it is called a cannon, it is more like a simple program on a computer, not a literal cannon.
            China is using this LOIC termed the “Great Cannon” to force an overflow of Web traffic and malicious code onto sites its government wishes to squash in the name of censorship.  What happens is that is a website is overwhelmed by traffic, real or manufacture, no one will be able to visit it. This new cybertool is being used in conjunction with China’s Great Firewall,” which already blocks access to sites like Facebook and Twitter on Chinese networks.
            As bad and terrible that sounds, you may be wondering to yourself, what kind of country does that and would build such a weapon. Well…the United States has a similar program. From the information provided in the Edward Snowden leaks outlines U.S. government systems that can intercept and redirect Internet traffic to a site of their choosing. Although there have been no known instances where the U.S. has used an Internet cannon-type attack in domestic censorship.  They appear to uses these systems more for surveillance whereas China appears to blatantly use them for an aggressive form of censorship. The only problem that is really an issue with China’s new Great Cannon is if the Chinese government is found to be attacking U.S.-hosted sites, which would lead to an international cyberdispute on our hands.

Video Game Fantasies

  I stumbled upon an article on The Guardian's tech page about how female video game characters are too sexy for men to fantasize over.  My immediate reaction was, "what the HELL did I just read."  The article, which made me hate humanity one word at a time, went on to discuss how the real problem with video games is that the women in these games are too sexy and not founded enough.  In other words, they look good, but there isn't much going on upstairs.  The article was written by a woman who admitted that she had the hots for a Red Dead Redemption character.  She claims that the real problem women face in video games is that there are just not enough intelligent women video game characters.  This is a severe problem.  This is real.
  This is definitely NOT a severe problem.  As I was reading this article I kept thinking about how it must be a really really slow week at The Guardian because this article was trash.  Why would somebody actually want to write about that?  The reason why it made me hate humanity more and more with each passing work was that it was a voicing a legitimate concern.  Men cant fantasize over their video game characters and we must riot in the streets! But this got me thinking (as most things do nowadays) when did this become an OK thing to admit.
  I feel like we have reached a point in society where technology is so widely accepted that there is literally no reason to hide any of your feelings about it.  You think that girl in that game is hot? Of course you do why wouldn't you!  This reminded me of the conversation we had in class a few weeks ago when Vinsel brought up how going to the comic shop was at one point a guilty pleasure and now its just normal.  The video game subculture is so integrated with everyday society that there is absolutely no reason to hide that you think this totally fictional bunch of pixels is hot.  If you had to name a time that this happened, when would it be?

Congress to vote on Section 215 of the Patriot Act

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is what allowed the NSA to record and store American’s telephone records and all of the relevant metadata for these records such as who called who, when, and for how long. Section 215 is extremely controversial as it was the subject of the very first Snowden leak that brought into light some of the data collection programs that the NSA are involved in. As seen in the Frontline documentary United States of Secrecy the government denied the severity of this program, claiming that it only captured the telephone records of “known terrorists”. This was obviously false, and the program continued to gather the records of all Americans.

Section 215 is also responsible for the ability for the FBI to apply for “an order to produce materials that assist in an investigation undertaken to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” These orders are similar to the National Security Letters (NSLs) that were described in the documentary.

The orders explicitly request “tangible things” such as books, records, documents, etc.  that is held by the person or company receiving the letter.  These orders contain built-in gag orders on them such that you cannot tell anybody that you have received one of these letters:  "No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.” These orders can contain massive amounts of information: “To give you a sense of the scale: the one FISA order published by the Guardian from the Snowden trove compelled Verizon to hand over every phone record that it had on all its millions of customers. Every single one.” These orders are extremely powerful considering the sheer amount of information that the FBI is able to obtain with them.

On June 1st, Congress will be forced to decide if Section 215 should remain active. Unless both houses of congress affirmatively vote for it to be reauthorized, it will expire and will no longer be in effect.

The question that immediately comes to mind when hearing about this is the following: Will this actually change anything?

The programs and practices of the United States government are extremely secretive and confidential. This is only amplified when it comes to national security and information/data collection to stop potential terrorist attacks. Should Congress vote against the reactivation of Section 215, how are we to know that these programs will actually shut down and cease to exist? I don’t remember the law ever slowing down the NSA. The new policies that were created for the NSA were in questionable legal standing and were only passed thanks to the combination of a “reinterpretation of the law” and multitudes of veiled threats to opposing members of government. I don’t see this making a difference.

This of course is assuming that Congress does not reactivate Section 215 on June 1st. It would be hard to imagine that they would, but at this point, who would really be surprised?

The next generation of 3D printing

3D printing has been an up and coming technology over the past few years but has really struggled to deliver on its promise to transform the manufacturing industry. 3D printing technology thus far has really just been 2D printing repeated over and over again which can be extremely long processes. A California based startup company, Carbon3D, have taken the next step in 3D printing by introducing a new breakthrough technology that utilizes UV light to grow objects out of liquid.

Carbon3D has developed a new technology called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) that can be anywhere from 25 to 100 times faster then your typical 3D printer. Where most 3D printers deposit plastic layer by layer onto a substrate, CLIP uses a light projection system to "grow" objects out of a pool of UV-curable resin. The process works by carefully balancing the interaction of light and oxygen. Where UV light activates photo polymerization (hardening) of the resin, oxygen inhibits it. The printer will project light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV curable resin. This special window is the key to how the UV light and oxygen interact with the resin. Sequences of UV images are projected continuously through the bottom of the reservoir. By controlling the oxygen flux through this special window, CLIP creates a "dead zone" which is essentially a thin layer of uncured resin between the window and the object. This allows the object to harden in certain spots and grow without stopping as the object is slowly drawn from the resin pool. CLIP is basically a chemical process that influences the interactions between UV light and oxygen that can eliminate the mechanical steps and layering of traditional printers. The CLIP process will be managed by sophisticated software that controls the different variables needed to grow the object.

There are a few distinct advantages that CLIP technology has over traditional 3D printing techniques. One of the most crucial advantages is that the CLIP technology is dramatically faster then your traditional 3D printing technology. It also produces much higher-resolution prints compared to the traditional plastic layered 3D models. Objects that are produced with the CLIP technology look very similar to injection-molded plastics, and come out of the resin pool without any noticeable layers like that in traditional 3D printers. Another benefit of this process is that it is now possible to print objects from a wide array of materials. Carbon3D is able to draw from the entire polymer family meaning they can make objects out of everything from silicone to rubber to polyester. This would be extremely beneficial for any company that utilizes different polymers in their manufacturing process.

Carbon3D's printer technology isn't officially on the market yet, but the company is backed by some of the biggest venture firms in the game. They have already raised over $40 million to commercialize this CLIP technology as fast as possible. If everything goes to plan these CLIP printers should be making their way onto the market by the end of this year and really changing the game in 3D printing.