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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How 12 men stole a billion passwords

How in the world did a crime ring of about a dozen Russian men hack 1.2 billion user name and password combinations - plus a half billion email addresses?

They did it by exploiting two major vulnerabilities many major online services have to hacking - 1) poorly stored usernames and passwords, and 2) something called "SQL injection".

I'm not going to pretend I know my way around these two issues. But Tom Scott, a regular contributor to the Computerphile YouTube channel, does.

The man's a genius at explaining these vulnerabilities in language that even people like me can understand.

See if your jaw doesn't drop as you start to understand how scarily easy these thefts are to engineer if you're bent on malice and know what you're doing.

Tom Scott on the right and wrong ways to store usernames and passwords.

Tom Scott on SQL injection.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spout: Gorgeous Twitter Visualizer on the Cheap

What would you do if you were charged with getting a tweet board up for an important event, you had no budget, and it had to be something that would grab attention?

Sure, you could Google "Twitter visualization" and find a few finicky and not-so-flashy free products. You could also pay outrageous amounts of money to unlock a premium product.

Or you could pay $2 for Spout, the remarkable flexible tweet visualizer for iPad and iPhone. Spout gives you 15 highly customizable themes, modes, display times, animation controls - and more cool features than you can possibly use at one event.

Spout doesn't allow you to display multiple tweets, just one tweet at a time. But it's guaranteed attract eyeballs and draw your participants into the Twitter conversation. Hit the video below and feel your jaw drop.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cynic tells us TED talks are American Idol, presentations junk

Benjamin Bratton has taken a lot of heat since he published a scorching piece called We Need to Talk About TED in the Guardian on December 30, 2013.

The thrust of his argument is that "so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens." This he argues in his intelligent but astonishingly cynical op-ed which contains the entire text of the 11-minute TEDx San Diego talk below.

Listen as Bratton deflates the enthusiasm behind the reception of TED talks by the great unwashed (read us and the audience immediately in front of him) and rips presenters for not dealing with more difficult and substantive issues. Are those who take to the stage really Gladwellian, American Idol-styled sell-outs?

I can't begin to argue with Bratton point for point. But this I do know. For the longest time, TED's signature tagline has been "ideas worth spreading" - a simple promise, and in my experience, often delivered.

Would love to hear your views below.

Friday, January 3, 2014

How IBM's jaw-dropping classroom of the future will 'learn' you

IBM's vision for the classroom five years from now is wrong on so many levels. When I came across this infographic and the accompanying video today my jaw dropped.

I added the numbers to the graphic above and keyed my bullets below to them to help unpack what the good folks at International Business Machines are thinking. But you'll quickly see many more flaws than I can point out. And if you're insulted by the six copy points in the graphic, just wait till you click on the video below.

1) Yes, the classroom will "learn" you - providing you are a student lucky enough to participate in Big Blue's dream of grabbing a utopian chunk of the world's public education pie. This "classroom" of which they speak? Basically, it's a hardware/software/cloud combo IBM wants to sell your school division after its research project with Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the US, is complete.

2) Now, what Dr. Frase is really saying here is the classroom will learn about every student in your class, providing you enter copious amounts of standardized test and other data (the more numbers the better) about them and brief the software about their aptitudes and learning preferences. Notice, too, that this not-quite-human helper will actually provide you with a tailored curriculum for each student from kindergarten all the way through high school until they get their first job at McDonalds. Hmm.

3) If you thought "The classroom of the future" was some corny Popular Science / Jetsons / 1950's news reel fabrication, not so fast. Consider that this classroom will be so darn smart, it will help your kids master skills critical to meeting their goals. Not to make light of students genuine interests and desires, but it's only the kids goals that count right? Not yours, their parents or even Society's. But can hardware and software even DO that? Looks like the classroom of the future can.

4) This classroom is so clever, in fact, that it will substantially lighten your load by developing a syllabus based on every child's learning style and pace. Sure, you may have to push a few buttons and stuff, but that classroom computer will do the real grunt work. And you know that flipped classroom experiment? Well, this will be even better because now your students will be able to learn everything on their terms and their schedule.

5) Now, read carefully here. If there's anything getting in the way of any of your young charge's educations right now - hunger, poverty, gangs, violence, teen pregnancy, a bad home life - the system will take make these barriers less of a deal in how they do in school. Yup.

6) Finally, if you're wondering what exactly will fuel this magical helper of yours? Why, numbers of course. And don't feel too insulted when you read that last paragraph. IBM knows things like identifying kids most at risk and finding measures to overcome their challenges are really your job. But they also know you could use a hand from their version of Hal.

Ok, your thoughts? Have you ever seen a more clumsy attempt by a multinational to engineer its way into heavier profits at the expense of good pedagogy and teacher autonomy? Now, we know IBM will have to duke it out with ed behemoth Pearson and other players for market share, but can you get more disingenuous and disrespectful? Is it really a matter of sitting back, punching in the numbers and reaping the benefits of individualized machine-generated curricula for students? Is this really a vision for the future, five years out?

As you watch the video below, you'll form more impressions. Mine actually boil down to a simple question. Honestly IBM, who do you think you are?

Your thoughts, dear reader, would be most welcome.