HCDE and Alternative Spring Break

This year, for the first time, HCDE is partnering with the UW’s Pipeline Project to offer an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) experience for HCDE undergraduate students.

ASB is an outreach program that provides opportunities for teams of undergraduate students to spend their spring break in a rural or tribal community of Washington State, working with local elementary and middle schools.

HCDE is launching its first ASB program, and will send a team of five undergraduates to lead middle school students in a Human Centered Design Workshop. HCDE students will work with the school and community leaders to identify a problem or need that can be addressed by our user-centered design process. Over the course of a week, the middle school students, guided by the HCDE student team, will research the problem, design and prototype a solution, and present their project idea. This workshop will build on HCDE’s existing UCD Charette for K-12 Outreach program.

Full details, including application information for interested students, may be found here: Human Centered Design Workshop for ASB.

Watch this inspiring video for a glimpse of what ASB is all about:

UW|360: Alternative Spring Break
youtu.be/rENU1ZvGXi4

The smartest bulb in the house

smart-bulbs-for-smart-homes-2

A few weeks ago, there was a fairly massive internet outage, mostly affecting users on the east coast of the United States. The cause was a standard malicious hack called a DDoS attack. It was aimed at a large DNS provider, Dyn. (What We Know About Friday’s Massive East Coast Internet Outage: Wired, 10.21.16)

This was different from the run-of-the-mill DDoS attack in that it appears to be the first time that this technique “… relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices.” (Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S.: NY Times, 10.21.16)

So this means that now vulnerability for massive cyber mischief is not limited to every personal computer on the planet that can be infected by malware. It also includes all of those small, internet-enabled devices that we are peppering the planet with in order to have smarter homes and even smarter cities. (A New Era of Internet Attacks Powered by Everyday Devices: NY Times, 10.22.16)

And, of course, now the standard locking of the barn door after the cows have escaped begins, and the product recalls commence. (Chinese IoT firm recalls 4.3 million connected cameras after giant botnet attack: Wired UK, 10.25.16)

Once again, no surprise, but it turns out that most of these Internet of Things (IoT) devices are not designed with the higher levels of security that are embedded in modern computers that connect to the internet. I’m not entirely sure that I want my house or my car to become so smart. (Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway – With Me in It: Wired, 07.21.15)

And this week, more news about this attack revealed that one of the vulnerabilities was in the ZigBee radio protocol that is embedded in many current IoT devices. (Why Light Bulbs May Be the Next Hacker Target: NY Times, 11.03.16).

In our physical computing classes in HCDE, we often use inexpensive XBee radios, based on the ZigBee standard, for prototyping wireless interactive systems. We’re not designing real products for the market with them, but we should be aware of the inherent security risks in any smart devices.

Seymour Papert: father of constructionism

Seymour Papert. Credit Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

Seymour Papert. Credit Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

Seymour Papert, known for his pioneering ideas about teaching technology, died recently. (nyti.ms/2aY3xKs)

He developed a theory of education known as constructionism that formed the basis of so many project-based and hands-on learning systems.

Papert, whose seminal 1980 book “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas” influenced so many educators, was a towering thinker in the field. He was the creator of the LOGO programming.

Fortunately his legacy, in his work and his students, is strong, and will continue to inspire us all.

The weight of a €500 note

NY Times: Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NY Times: Miguel Medina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Either this is a lot harder than it sounds, or some one needs a better copy editor!

In an article in the NY Times of May 5, 2016, “Europe to Remove 500-Euro Bill, the ‘Bin Laden’ Bank Note Criminals Love,” Jack Ewing discusses the recent decision by the European Central Bank to discontinue the 500-euro bank note. Apparently it had been a favorite of money launderers and other nefarious characters.

In the article, he reports:

The €500 note is also more compact and convenient for evading the gaze of authorities. The equivalent of $1 million, in that high euro note, weighs about five pounds and fits in a small bag, according to a Harvard University study this year.

Did it really take a research study, at Harvard no less, to calculate the weight of 2000 pieces of paper (if my long division is right) ?

Of course, if you look at the study summary, you’ll find that it was about the rationale for eliminating high denomination bank notes, not their actual weight.

Which leads me to wonder what happened to The Gray Lady‘s copy editing in this piece?

Apple Watch: it’s about time ?

image: Apple, Inc.

image: Apple, Inc.

In an article in Fast Company, writer Mark Sullivan presents an excellent analysis of what a new Apple Watch might look like:
Apple Watch 2: How The World’s Best Smartwatch Might Make Its Great Leap Forward.”

He discusses many exciting possible new features, such as a faster processor, untethered network connections (without a paired iPhone), its own GPS, a better battery, encryption for all kinds of key data, a thinner case, etc.

All of these improvements are about Apple trying to reach its design goal for a smart watch, the holy grail: to replace “the three things you don’t leave home without—your phone, your wallet, and your keys.”

Terrific. I use and like many of the features on my Apple Watch. But most of them fall in the category of just saving me the trouble of pulling my phone out of my pocket. Reading text messages, checking my schedule, getting directions, even answering the phone in a pinch.

However, for me, the Apple Watch fails at the most important function it is supposed to provide, the eponymous one—telling me the time.

As a watch, it sucks. Because it has to put the screen to sleep whenever possible to conserve   battery life, I can’t simply glance at my wrist to see what time it is.

I have to adopt all kinds of exaggerated wrist motions in order to wake it up so I can check the time. Surely this is now a recognizably ridiculous gesture in the wild, the lifting, twisting wrist that looks like the beginning of a mangled Klingon salute.

If this watch were really smart, it should know when I’m looking at it and wake up without me having to move my wrist!

So, until they make it work better as a basic watch, I’m ready to throw it in the back of my sock drawer and go back to my reliable, always on, dumb old wrist watch. At least with that one, I can tell what time it is at a glance.

 

Bugs in your devices and cars!

Nest thermostat

Photo illustration by Jim DeMaria/The New York Times and photo by Ben Margot/Associated Press.

In a recent NY Times article, “Nest Thermostat Glitch Leaves Users in the Cold,” Nick Bilton writes about a recent bug in a ‘smart’ home thermostat that left many (millions?) of customers’ homes very cold on a winter night.

He goes on to explain that this sort of issue “points to a larger problem with so-called smart devices that we are inviting into our lives: Small glitches can cause huge problems.”

He’s right, of course: software will always have bugs, and bugs may have serious consequences.

While there are very serious and nasty potential consequences from faulty software in the connected home (just imagine if your home is hacked the way your credit card can be), what really worries me is the smart car, especially the autonomous, driverless ones being developed and tested now.

autonomous car

Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

Buggy thermostats are one thing. But a buggy or hacked driverless car is quite another thing! Especially one with me in it. John Markoff writes, also in the NY Times, of some of the current issues with autonomous cars: “For Now, Self-Driving Cars Still Need Humans.”

You won’t catch me in one of those any time soon. I know too much about software!

Global energy mix

Share of Fuels in the Global Energy Mix Across Modern History
chart of history of energy mix
theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/11/we-need-an-energy-miracle/407881

In a recent article in The Atlantic, ‘We Need an Energy Miracle’, Bill Gates (interviewed by James Bennet) talks about his efforts “moving the world beyond fossil fuels and mitigating climate change.”

This chart, showing the mixture of fuels in global energy consumption, is a really clear depiction of the changing sources of energy in modern history.