Saturday, January 31, 2009

Death by Black Hole

I have always been fascinated by the universe and appreciate those who not only delve into space but can explain it in such a way that it's understandable to the rest of us. Neil deGrasse Tyson is one such person.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist, the Director of the Hayden Planeterium in NYC, host of the PBS science program Nova scienceNOW and author of "Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandries". In this interview he ruminates on our expanding universe, the risks of asteroids threatening Earth, and death by black hole among other topics. Who wouldn't want to know about that!

I particularly like his view is that Earth is not an isolated planet -- we are connected to the universe. I hope you enjoy his conversation.

[updated]: this is the first time I've embedded Google video; if it doesn't work for you, please leave a comment noting which browser and OS you're using (e.g., IE7 on Vista). kthxbye.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Photo Fridays

I'm tired of cold and snow and ice.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Protest or Facebook Event?

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article on the rise of political activism via social network sites. In countries that restrict or outright ban such things as gathering in a public place, these sites are the perfect venue for sharing ideas and organizing groups.

From the article:

Members coalesce around a few issues — free speech, economic stagnation and government nepotism — and they share their ideas for improving Egypt. But they do more than just chat: they have tried to organize street protests to free jailed journalists, and this month, hundreds of young people from the April 6 group participated in demonstrations about Gaza, some of which were coordinated on Facebook, and at least eight members of the group were detained by police.

I encourage you to read the full article. It's a good look at how the web is being used in other countries.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Career Direction : Culinary Arts

Culinary Art is the art of cooking. From Wikipedia:

Culinary artists are responsible for skillfully preparing meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Increasingly they are required to have a knowledge of the science of food and an understanding of diet and nutrition. They work primarily in restaurants, fast food chain store franchises, delicatessens, hospitals and other institutions

Why the post on cooking? Well, thanks to Cabrini Connections' tutor/mentor and Board member Mike Hayes, you'll have the opportunity to visit Charlie Trotter's Restaurant, get a great meal and learn about a career in the Culinary Arts. While becoming a chef or cook may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this field, there are other career paths available as well, such as: food and beverage managers, dining room managers (corporate and institutional), food writers and critics, and researchers who develop new food products.

The Charlie Trotter ‘Experience’ is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 10th and will accommodate 14-16 students. The selection process for the students is currently being discussed, but if you have any interest in the Culinary Arts, talk to your mentor or anyone at Cabrini Connections to find out how you can be one of the students enjoying this experience.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From Thumbnails to Code

    <title>test page</title>
    hello world

Last week, Sean and Steve did some thumbnail sketches of the different pages in their site, showing the page layout and how the user would travel between the various pages.

Tonight we started to turn those thumbnails into actual web pages. Sean found some really cool images he's using for background art. Steve is relying more on typography, rather than visual images, to convey his sense of design. Both approaches are valid and acceptable and highlight how the website designer brings his/her own sense of style to a site.

Cazzie and Kaylin have joined Tech Club (welcome!!) and jumped right in with sketching out some ideas for their website. They came up with some very well thought out concepts that are going to look really neat as websites. Next week they will start turning those sketches into code while Sean continues to code along on his website.

All in all, we're on a roll and coding away like crazy.

Government 2.0

In continuation of his pledge for a more transparent government, President Obama is once again turning to the Internet to disseminate information to the American public. This time the information revolves around tracking how and where taxpayer dollars are spent for the economic recovery.

In his weekly address, President Obama talked about a new website that's being setup which "shall provide data on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information in user-friendly visual presentations to enhance public awareness of the use of funds made available in this Act."

The Act he refers to is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Once the Act is passed, the new website will allow us to track the performance of contracts that are awarded to various companies, industries, etc., and see how they are doing with our money. And if we don't like how they're handling our tax dollars, the site is one way we can send in our feedback and let them know what we think.

For now, is a placeholder. Once the Act passes and is signed by the President, this website will be our source for knowing who the contracts are awarded to and a means to holding them accountable for good governance. Transparency via the Internet -- that's Government 2.0.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Downadup/Conflicker worm

Since late last year, a new malicious software program has been making the rounds of cyberspace and infecting millions of Windows computers worldwide. Known as Downadup (also called Downad, Kido, Conficker or Conflicker), this Windows worm spreads in three different ways: by exploiting a Windows vulnerability (which has since been patched); by guessing weak network passwords; and by the use of autorun on network drives and removeable gadgets such as USB keys.

The infection seems to be the first step of a potential multistage attack, although as of now, Downadup's main trick is to block users from accessing antivirus sites to obtain updates or from accessing Microsoft's site to download the necessary Windows patch. However, once a machine is infected, the worm is capable of downloading second-stage code for potentially darker purposes. It might operate in the background, using the infected computer to send spam or infect other computers, or it might steal the PC user’s personal information. "Right now it's not destroying or stealing -- it's just hanging out," comments Tom Cross, X-Force researcher in the IBM ISS division. "It's building its network of hosts."

What to do? Since this worm can spread three different ways, here's the short list what you should do:

  • Make sure your Windows security updates are, well, up-to-date.
    If Windows Update is set to automatically download and install security updates and patches, you should be good to go, but it wouldn't hurt to double check. Verify that the patch has been installed by bringing up Windows Update, then clicking "Review your update history" and looking for a security update labeled as "KB958644." If it's not there, then manually run the security updates. If you're just installing the patch now,
    take Microsoft's advice and run the January edition of its free Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), which was updated last week so that it can detect, and then delete, Downadup infections.

  • Make sure your passwords, especially any network passwords, are strong. The worm relies on people using weak passwords -- dictionary words such as "password", "changeme", "testtest" or sequences of letters or repeated numbers (123123). Strong passwords are lengthy with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. As Microsoft's article on strong passwords states: "A 15-character password composed only of random letters and numbers is about 33,000 times stronger than an 8-character password composed of characters from the entire keyboard."

  • Disable Autorun and Autoplay to protect the spread from flash drives. A USB storage device (typically a flash drive although any USB device can be infected) from an infected computer will have the file "autorun.inf" at its root. When that flash drive is connected to a PC, the file takes advantage of Windows' Autorun and Autoplay features to copy the worm to any machine that it's plugged into.

Network World has the details on how to deal with this potential problem along with a general article on the worm itself.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Masons of Regolith

moon colony

No, it's not a new video game.

If (maybe when?) NASA returns to the moon, the idea of a permanent base camp is not far-fetched. We've all seen the sci-fi movies with dwellings dotting the moonscape, but the reality is how to deal with the logistics needed to transport the necessary building materials.

A team of seven students from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech have been working on that very problem and devised a solution: use the volcanic ash from moon rocks to create moon bricks. Since actual lunar rock is scarce, the students devised a simulated regolith by using volcanic ash from a deposit on Earth along with various minerals and basaltic glass, similar to rock on the lunar surface.

From Popular Mechanics:

The team combined the faux moon ash with powdered aluminum and mixed the two together in a silica crucible. Then the group put a nickel chromium wire into the mixture and heated it to 2700 degrees F, starting a thermite reaction that spread through the mix and turned it to solid brick. All it takes is heating the mixture to aluminum's melting point, about 1221 degrees F, says the team's adviser, professor Kathryn Logan. "It's very much like a sparkler," she says.

The self-named Masons of Regolith then subjected their results to various tests to see how much pressure the bricks could take before cracking. Turns out they're nearly as strong as concrete! One-square inch of the brick could withstand the gradual application of 2,450 pounds, or nearly the weight of a Ford Focus. Fascinating!

I'm bringing this to your attention because (a) I'm a Virginia Tech grad and (b) to point out that college isn't just studying and writing papers and taking tests. There are some great opportunities within any program of study to expand your knowledge with real-world experience, and I hope all of our college-bound students will chat with their professors and fellow students and seek them out.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Koobface : Social Network Virus

To anyone on Facebook or MySpace or, for that matter, any other social network, you should be aware that there is a Trojan worm making the rounds of those various sites. Called Koobface, the virus spreads by having unsuspecting users log into their accounts and click on links posted in comments that are seemingly left by friends.

The links take you to an spoofed page that pretends to offer a video download from YouTube and then states that you have to update your Flash player to view the video. Clicking on that link infects your machine. Once a computer has become infected with the Koobface worm, it spams the friends belonging to the owner of the computer by leaving comments on their profiles. And so on and so on. Here is Kaspersky Lab's details on the worm.

The virus is spreading in part because we don't always have our guard up when it comes to our social networks. By now, we already know not to click on unknown links in unwanted email. But, on a social network because you believe the comment was left by someone you know, you have no reason to suspicious and not click on the link.

So what to do? If you think your social network account has recently been used to send spam, reset your password. If you have anti-virus software on your computer, keep the definitions up-to-date and be sure to run the software often. If you don't have the software on your computer, there are some free, on-line virus scanners you can use to detect any viruses or spyware: Kaspersky, Symantec's Norton Security Scan and McAfee's Free Scan.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Start with the Thumbnail

Our exploration of HTML continues. While we covered a few more tags and attributes, last night's focus was more about coming up with an idea for a website. Creating something out of nothing can be a bit intimidating, so we started off with tossing around a few ideas and turning them into thumbnail sketches.

Thumbnail sketches are very small, rough sketches that let you quickly outline the basic elements of an idea and share your thinking with others. Here's what I've written before about thumbnails:

By their very nature they’re not a pretty or perfect drawing -- you have objects overlaying other objects, lines scratched out, arrows pointing to a different version, a big X to abandon the initial idea which is now evolving into a new thumbnail, etc., etc. They’re small drawings, done quickly in order to work through an idea.

Though quick and small, thumbnails are very beneficial. Not only can
you immediately relay the basic elements of an idea to your audience, since they're visual they’ll help you see what isn’t quite working. You begin to see the holes or realize that one idea would be stronger split into two or wonder what in the world you were thinking in the first place. Rarely is this insight possible without first putting pen to paper (or marker to whiteboard as the case may be).

As for next Tuesday, well, that's when we'll start to transform those thumbnails into a site.

For further reading on thumbnails, check out:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations, Mr. President

Barack Obama
44th President of the United States

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Day

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Field Trip! UIC Men's Basketball

Students, volunteers, and staff have been wanting to take more field trips. You asked and we delivered.

UIC Men's Basketball

UIC Men's Basketball
vs. Youngstown State
@ UIC Pavilion
Saturday, February 7th
Game time: 7:00 pm
Cost: FREE!!!!

The game AND transportation are being provided for FREE!!! All you have to do is sign-up for the field trip. There are over 60 tickets, but we expect them to go fast!! So, if you want to go on this field trip, when you're in for a Club or mentoring night, be sure to write your name down on the posted sign-up sheet; or call in, email or text a staff's cell phone telling them you want to go.

Get a head start on March Madness!!! Hurry Hurry and Sign Up Now!!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Photo Fridays

Gears under Chicago Avenue Bridge
Chicago, IL

The Chicago River has 38 movable bridges of several different types, one of which is a bascule bridge. From Wikipedia: "A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances the span, or "leaf," throughout the entire upward swing in providing clearance for boat traffic." The gears are part of the mechanism used to give controlled movement once the span starts swinging up or down. Pretty impressive!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gaming News - Final Fantasy XIII

For you gamers out there, Square Enix has launched their official website for Final Fantasy XIII. You'll be able to get a glimpse of screenshots, game music and the characters' bios -- unfortunately, only written in Japanese.

However, details (in English) on the Final Fantasy XIII battle system can be found on this fan site.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Windows 7 Beta Release

For those of you interested, the Windows 7 beta release in both 32-bit and 64-bit was made available for general public download as of last Friday.

Based on user feedback, improvements include, among others:

  • Improved taskbar so you can set the order the icons appear; plus they're easier to see
  • Jump list to quickly see the files you've recently been working on
  • Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 release

Normal caveats apply: If you don't know what you're doing, don't mess with it. If you do know what you're doing, let us know what you think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

hello world

A new year ... a new project. Sean and Steve began to immerse themselves in the world of HTML and CSS. Using nothing other than Notepad and their imagination, they started with the basic

hello world

and went from there. Background colors and images were added, font size readjusted, text colors implemented and there was even some absolute positioning going on. All this on just the first night! Crazy.

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood."

~ Daniel Burnham

Their assignment for next week is to play around with what they created using on-line references to expand their knowledge. There will be a show and tell of their triumphs and tragedies. I'll let you know how it goes and work with Vjeko on making their results publicly available.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tuesday, January 13th @ 6pm

Nicely rested from the holiday break, Tech Club starts up again on Tuesday the 13th. For the next couple of weeks, we'll be working with


and learning how to create a web page.

Come join us and have some fun creating your own web site! Tech Club meets every Tuesday at 6:00 pm

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Photo Friday

snowy Chicago
Photo Credit: Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

As a city dweller who walks to work, walks to Cabrini Connections, walks to the grocery store -- well, you get the picture -- a hearty thanks to those of you who clear your sidewalks of snow. It's very much appreciated.