Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

Make: Volume 32 – Zany and practical projects and articles for DIY builders – #bookreview

Make: Volume 32
(O’Reilly, paperback)

Make: is a science, technology, and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects magazine published quarterly in paperback book format. Volume 32 not only has intriguing articles about private rocketeers, flying motorcycles, and human-size replicas of videogame costumes and weapons. It also has about two dozen “complete plans” for a wide array of useful and zany projects.

One of the projects in Volume 32 is “The Awesome Button,” a big red desktop button that you can hit when you can’t think of a synonym for the totally overused word “awesome” while you’re composing email or a letter or a manuscript. The project uses a $16 Teensy USB Development Board made by PJRC, plus some downloaded code. When your fist hammers down on the big red button, the board generates random synonyms for “awesome” and sends them to your computer so you can quickly accept or reject them in your document.

Another project is a catapult launcher that will send a tiny balsa wood glider zooming 150 feet into the air. Beats the heck out of a rubber band looped around a Popsicle stick.

And another DIY article focuses on the joys of salvaging perfectly good electronic and mechanical parts from discarded laser printers, so you can use the parts in other projects.

Make: Volume 33 is due to appear in January. In the meantime, Volume 32 is full of fun reading and intriguing projects, such as how to transform data files into synthesized music.

Si Dunn

Juniper MX Series – A comprehensive guide for network engineers – #bookreview #juniper #networking

Juniper MX Series
Douglas Richard Hanks Jr., and Harry Reynolds
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

This comprehensive, well-written handbook is aimed directly at network engineers who want to know more about the feature-rich Juniper MX Series of routers.

Actually, “handbook” is a bit of a misnomer. It takes two hands to comfortably handle this hefty, comprehensive, 864-page guide.

The two authors, both network engineers themselves, note that the Juniper MX Series is “[o]ne of the most popular routers in the enterprise and service provider market….”

They add: “The Juniper MX was designed to be a network virtualization beast. You can virtualize the physical interfaces, logical interfaces, data plane, network services, and even have virtualized services span several Juniper MX routers. What traditionally was done with an entire army of routers can now be consolidated and virtualized into a single Juniper MX router.”

The book’s chapters are:

  • 1.      Juniper MX Architecture
  • 2.      Bridging, VLAN Mapping, IRB, and Virtual Switches
  • 3.      Stateless Filters, Hierarchical Policing, and Tri-Color Marking
  • 4.      Routing Engine Protection and DDOS Prevention
  • 5.      Trio Class of Service
  • 6.      MX Virtual Chassis
  • 7.      Trio Inline Services
  • 8.      Multi-Chassis Link Aggregation
  • 9.      Junos High Availability on MX Routers

The chapters, organized by feature sets, include review questions (with answers conveniently located nearby), so you can track your learning progress.

The authors have extensive experience with the Juniper MX router series. Douglas Richard Hanks Jr., is a data center architect with Juniper Networks. Harry Reynolds has more than 30 years’ experience in networking, with a focus on LANs and LAN interconnection.

Si Dunn

For more information: (paperbackKindle)

Learn the Kinect API – New Microsoft ‘Start Here!’ guide shows how – #bookreview

Learn the Kinect™ API
Rob Miles
(Microsoft Press, paperback, Kindle)

The Kinect sensor  is a popular peripheral for Microsoft’s XBox 360 video game systems and Windows PCs. The device contains a video camera, a directional microphone system, and a depth sensor.

Software developers are using the device “to advance the field of computer interaction in all kinds of exciting ways,” the author notes. “It is now possible to create programs that use the Kinect sensor to create a computer interface with the ability to recognize users and understand their intentions using a ‘natural’ user interface consisting of gestures and spoken commands. In addition, the device’s capabilities have a huge range of possible applications, from burglar alarms to robot controllers.”

If you want to learn how to program with the Kinect application programming interface (API), this new book in the popular Microsoft “Start Here!” series can get you moving along the right path toward becoming a developer.

But there are three key assumptions that may slow your start. You are expected to “have a reasonable understanding of .NET development using the C# programming language.” And: “You should be familiar with the Visual Studio 2010 development environment and object-oriented programming development.”

Also, “if you are a C++ developer who wishes to learn how to interact with the Kinect sensor from unmanaged C++ programs, you will find that the code samples supplied will not [emphasis added] provide this information.” All of the code samples are written in C#.

Rob Miles, a programming professor at the United Kingdom’s University of Hull, has organized his well-written, 250-page book into four parts:

  • Part I: Getting Started – Provides an overview of the Kinect and how to hook it up and get it working with your PC.
  • Part II: Using the Kinect Sensor – Covers sensor initialization and introduces each of Kinect’s data sources –video, depth, and sound – and how to use them in programs.
  • Part III: Creating Advanced User Interfaces – Illustrates how the Kinect SDK performs body tracking and how programs can use this information. Also shows how Kinect data can be combined to create augmented-reality applications.
  • Part IV: Kinect in the Real World – Focuses on how the Kinect can interact with external devices, such as MIDI devices and robots.

Learn the Kinect™ API offers several ideas for how you can use the Kinect’s video, sound, and depth-response capabilities in your own programs. One example is using the Kinect’s directional microphone feature so that a spoken password “only works when you say it in one part of [a] room, or you could have different [spoken] passwords for different parts of the room,” Miles points out.

It’s a bit of understatement to say that Rob Miles enjoys working with the Kinect device. “I’ve had,” he writes, “more wow moments with this little sensor bar than I’ve had with much more expensive toys that I’ve played with over time.”

Si Dunn

Making Embedded Systems (for things that blink & go ‘Beep!’ in the night) – #programming #bookreview

Making Embedded Systems
By Elecia White
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $31.99)

Elecia White loves embedded systems. “The first time a motor turned on because I told it to, I was hooked,” she writes in her new book, Making Embedded Systems. “I quickly moved away from pure software and into a field where I can touch the world.”

In that world, she has “worked on DNA scanners, inertial measurement units for airplanes and race cars, toys for preschoolers, a gunshot location system for catching criminals, and assorted medical and consumer devices.”

It is a world where “embedded systems don’t have operating systems. The software runs on the bare metal. When the software says ‘turn that light on,’ it says it to the processor without an intermediary.”

So this is not a book about embedded operating systems. Just embedded systems. And the intended audience is intermediate and experienced programmers seeking new challenges.

The author’s basic definition of an embedded system is “a computerized system that is purpose-built for its application.”

She says she wrote her book (and it is well-written, by the way) “almost as a story, to be read from cover to cover. The information is technical (extremely so in spots), but the presentation is casual.”

So she hopes readers will not treat Making Embedded Systems as “a technical manual where you can skip into the middle and read only what you want.” With that approach, “you’ll miss a lot of information…[and] You’ll also miss the jokes, which is what I really would feel bad about.”

Embedded system compilers typically support only C or C++ (and often just a subset of that language), she notes. And: “There is a growing popularity for Java, but the memory management inherent to the language works only on a large system.”

Meanwhile, debugging an embedded system often can be challenging, because it’s not always easy to tell if a problem lies in the software or in the associated hardware.

Elecia White’s 310-page book is divided into 10 chapters, with illustrations, code examples and a good index:

  1. Introduction(Discusses embedded systems and how their development differs from traditional software development.)
  2. Creating a System Architecture(How to create – and document – a system architecture.)
  3. Getting Your Hands on the Hardware(Dealing with hardware/software integration and board bring-up.)
  4. Outputs, Inputs, and Timers(The simple act of making an LED blink is more complicated than you might think.)
  5. Managing the Flow of Activity(How to set up your machine, how to use [or not use] interrupts, and how to make a state machine.)
  6. Communicating with Peripherals(“Different serial communications forms rule embedded systems.…” But: “Networking, bit-bang, and parallel buses are not to be discounted.”)
  7. Updating Code(Options for replacing the program running in a processor.)
  8. Doing More with Less(How to reduce RAM consumption, code space, and processor cycles.)
  9. Math(“Most embedded systems need to do some form of analysis.” Make your system faster by “[u]nderstanding how mathematical operations and floating points work [and don’t work]….”)
  10. Reducing Power Consumption(Your system may run on batteries. Better system architecture and reducing processor cycles can help cut power drain.)

Making Embedded Systems also includes helpful information on how to read a schematic diagram, why it’s best to run tests on three of the same prototype devices, not just one, and what interviewers look for when meeting with applicants for embedded systems jobs.

An embedded system, the author says, often is viewed as a jigsaw puzzle that only fits together one way. But she challenges readers to see the puzzle as also having “a time dimension that varies over its whole life: conception, prototyping, board bring-up, debugging, testing, release, maintenance, and repeat.”

Embedded system design presents many challenges, she says, and demands constant flexibility.

“Our goal is to be flexible enough to meet the product goals while dealing with the resource constraints and other challenges inherent to embedded systems.”

Si Dunn