Tag Archives: programming

Wink is a low-cost, Arduino-powered pet robot

This bug-like bot enables Makers to easily migrate from graphical style programming to written code. 

Pet rocks were all the rage in the mid-’70s, and then came the Tamagotchi in the ’90s. So what could be the next craze in the current millennium? Pet robots? It’s not a far reach. Robotics has been a disruptive innovation in STEM education, with a growing number of kits being deployed by K-12 educators to teach science and engineering. These easy-to-build and even easier-to-understand sets continue to provide students with a basic overview of programming concepts, with hopes of inspiring more children to pursue STEM disciplines. However, students will eventually need to move on to writing “real world” programming languages like Java, Python, C, and C++. Plum Geek saw this need, and came up with the next logical step to prepare the next wave of hackers, tinkerers and Makers.


Meet Wink — a low-cost, Arduino-based robot that instructs students how to write code, while programming the robot’s behavior as well. The project was originally conceived by a team of Makers who wanted to help transition students from graphical programming to more powerful written code languages. With Wink, students will learn the foundations of the C programming language, which is widely used to control microprocessors used in all manner of robotics, embedded systems, automation, and the growing Internet of Things revolution.

The Wink robot includes a free and open curriculum with lesson plans and guide videos that could be easily adopted at home, in the classroom, and at workshops. Students will train their new pet robot by programming common robotic tasks such as line following, light seeking, barrier detection, and autonomous roaming, while also leaving room for students creative experimentation.


If Wink looks vaguely familiar, that’s because the bug-like bot is the sibling of Plum Geek’s earlier Kickstarter success Ringo. These palm-sized pet robots may be small, but still pack quite a punch. Built around an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) at its core, Wink runs on a fast motor and each motor can be independently driven forward or backward. At full speed, it can zoom across the floor or table in the ‘wink’ of an eye — surely quicker than any pet rock you ever had!

What’s more, the bot is equipped with three sensors on top to measure any light that’s straight ahead and 45 degrees to either side, an infrared barrier headlight tucked under its nose to detect obstacles that stand in its way, four more sensors underneath for high-speed line following and edge detection, as well as a piezo buzzer to emit simple chirps and alarms. Onboard is a rechargeable 240 mAh LiPo, giving you hours of fun and experimentation.


Interested in a new pet robot for your house or classroom? Head over to Wink’s Kickstarter campaign, where its creators have once again stormed right by its initial goal. The first batch of units is expected to ship sometime in January 2016.

Which hardware, languages and APIs are used the most at hackathons?

Devpost ranked the APIs, languages and technologies that student hackers used during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Thanks to the burgeoning Maker Movement, the number of hackathons has surely risen in recent years. The next generation of programmers, engineers and designers all come together for a few sleepless days, fueled by pizza, Red Bull and coffee, to devise new and exciting gadgetry either of their choosing or based on parts provided by one of the sponsors. These weekend-long events organized by and for students are surging in size, scale and frequency, popping up in some of today’s booming tech centers ranging from Silicon Valley to New York. At hackathons, time is a valuable thing. This, of course, means that participants must strive to generate code and piece hardware together as quickly as possible.


Which programming languages are the most popular? What has become the go-to hardware? Which APIs and platforms do people utilize most frequently? This is what Devpost —  formerly known as ChallengePost — sought to find out. In order to accomplish this, the online community and competition platform collected data and ranked the technologies and programming languages that student hackers have turned to the most throughout the 2014-2015 academic year.

Devpost examined project tags from a sample of over 13,000 student hackers who participated in 160 hackathons and submitted 9,898 projects, either in hackathons or on their Devpost portfolios. The technologies tagged in projects include languages, various APIs, frameworks, databases, IDEs, libraries and hardware, among several others. For each category, the company reported the top five tags.

While you can check out the entire report here, we’ve highlighted some of the more interesting findings below.

When it came to mobile platform, the crowd favorite was Android with 38.2% followed by iOS at 22.7% and Windows Phone at a distant 4.9%. As for programming languages and frameworks, HTML and CSS topped the list with JavaScript, Python, Java and C/C++ not far behind. Outside of the top five included PHP, Objective-C, C#, Swift, JSON, Ruby, XML, Ajax, Shell and Processing.


In terms of hardware, the easy-to-use Arduino unsurprisingly found itself atop the leaderboard ahead of Myo, Pebble, Leap Motion and Oculus Rift. Other notables included Raspberry PI (#6), Intel Edison (#7), Particle (#9) and Tessel (#18).


The use of standard libraries and preexisting tools is paramount in getting a project up and running quickly. And so, many developers rely upon popular APIs and SDKs. According to DevPost, the most popular programs used by students included Twilio for messaging, Facebook for social, Venmo for payments, Google Maps for geo, Spotify for music and Unity for gaming. The rankings reveal that Node.js was extremely popular during the academic year, more so than app frameworks like Flask, AngularJS, Ruby on Rails and Django.


Interested in more? You can explore Devpost’s complete findings here.

These friendship bracelets will introduce more female programmers to the world

Jewelbots is reinventing the classic charm bracelet as a Bluetooth-enabled wearable that will teach girls how to code.

Developers Sara Chipps, Brooke Moreland and Maria Paula Saba have noticed that there is an extreme lack of women in the STEM-related fields. And although research has shown that 75% of girls were interested in such disciplines, a vast majority are choosing not to pursue computer science. In order to help combat this downward trend, the team has designed a new product that they hope will introduce the future generation of female engineers to coding. Unlike other wearable gadgetry on the market today, which track steps, count calories and monitor heart rates, Jewelbots are programmable bracelets that enable its young users to personalize and build their own custom features.


Originally inspired by the popularity of Minecraft for the predominantly adolescent male crowd, the entrepreneurs wanted to establish a similar environment for girls that would also allow them to explore their creativity and write their own mods.

Makers begin with a simple IFTTT-like statements on an accompanying mobile app. Once they are ready to advance, girls can plug their device into a PC, and using the open source Arduino IDE, customize their bracelets to their liking with sample libraries on the startup’s website. For instance, they can program their jewelry to illuminate with every new Instagram follower, when they receive a text from mom, their favorite TV show is about to start, or even if there is a change in the weather forecast. However, the possibilities are only limited to the imagination of its wearer.


Beyond that, the bands help keep girls stay in touch with their friends. Connected through Bluetooth Low Energy, the bracelets create a mesh network that lets users communicate with other Jewelbots wearers nearby, even without a paired phone or Wi-Fi. The Jewelbots can blink, vibrate and light up to communicate in Morse code. In terms of hardware, each unit is packed with a BLE SoC, a vibration motor, four LEDs, a button and a battery which can be recharged via USB.

“The numbers of women in computer science have actually shrunk since the mid 80s. At the same time, engineering and tech jobs are growing like crazy,” Moreland explains. “We want to inspire a deep curiosity and lasting love for computers and programming. A love that these girls can take with them throughout their careers and lives.”


As a way to test their theory, the team launched “Take Your Daughter To Hack.” During these daylong, bi-coastal events, parents and daughters (sons, too) were given the chance to devise wearables using the highly-popular Arduino GEMMA (ATtiny85) as well as a HTML/CSS workshop using Tumblr to make fun and engaging projects together. Safe to say, they were a success!

While its prototypes are currently being finalized, the end product will make its debut at the tail-end of summer, with widespread delivery expected to get underway in March 2016. At that time, the bracelets will come in a variety of colors — including pink, green, lavender, red, garnet, blue, teal, gray and back — and will be just as fashionable as they are fun! Interested? Head over to Jewelbot’s official Kickstarter page, where the New York City-based startup is seeking $30,000.

Roby is an Arduino-based, 3D-printable robotic platform

Young Makers can build their own customized, self-balancing robots as they explore programming and 3D design.

The brainchild of Seattle startup Socially Shaped, Roby is a 3D-printed robotic machine that not only drives on four wheels, but can walk on two. If it falls, it can even pick itself up again with its two arms.


The open-source robotic platform features a programmable on-board computer along with an Arduino remote controller. Developed as a way to introduce young Makers to programming and basic electronic principles, users can customize a personality for their bot, as well as add new attributes like computer vision, sensors and voice recognition.

“Roby is not just an entertaining robot, it’s a robotic learning platform. When you build Roby you will have an opportunity to learn in a fun and engaging way,” its creators explain.


In piecing together one’s very own Roby, Makers will have the unique ability to master programming languages, explore Arduino and Raspberry Pi, acquire rudimentary skills in Linux-based operating systems, and dabble with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication. Moreover, a child can leverage 3D printing to put a personal touch on their design.

For its Kickstarter launch, the team has unveiled three Roby kits — Roby Junior, Roby Standard and Roby Genius — each varying in price, capabilities and levels of complexity. What’s nice is that the Maker-friendly platform is also entirely upgradeable, so that a a user can graduate from one stage to the next.


Designed for novices, Roby Junior is an autonomous, RC robot controlled by an Arduino. Aside from the Atmel based board, the kit includes a pair of DC motors, a shield to drive the motors, an ultrasonic sensor to help Roby avoid obstacles and a remote control for enhanced entertainment.

Meanwhile, Roby Standard is an intermediate set for those seeking a little more adventure. The self-balancing bot can walk (well, sort of) on two wheels and is equipped with a pair arms to help it stand up should it fall. Beyond that, it can speed down a driveway in race car-like fashion or be outfitted with a set of tracks for some off-road fun. This Roby, which is a step up from the Junior model, features an Arduino, a custom shield, an ultra-sonic distance sensor, a gyroscope for self-balance, high-grade NEMA17 stepper motors for precision, servo motors for its arms, in addition to a few other electronic components.


As a Maker progresses with their Roby, they will ultimately arrive at the aptly dubbed Genius. Like its name would suggest, this gadget packs an on-board Raspberry Pi that can carry out countless actions and respond to voice commands. Not only does this kit ship with everything found in the Standard, Genius boasts a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module for IoT exploration, a color graphical screen, a video camera, a microphone and a speaker.


It’s always refreshing to see new DIY platforms, such as mBot to LocoRobo, emerge in an effort to introduce children to STEM-related fields. Is Roby right for you? Head over to its Kickstarter campaign, where the Socially Shaped team is seeking $25,000. Shipment is expected to begin in August 2015.

BBC to give out 1 million devices to kids as part of new initiative

BBC launches a UK-wide initiative to inspire the next generation of programmers and engineers.

It’s no secret that the Maker Movement has transcended well beyond the garages and workspaces of a few tinkerers. The phenomenon has proliferated the walls of schools, libraries, museums and retailers, among countless other establishments. Academic institutions and startups, particularly those seen on crowdfunding sites, have developed new projects in hopes of spurring the pursuit of STEM-related fields for the next generation. Maker Faire attendance is also on the rise as thousands of DIYers come together at one of 80 community events spanning across 10 countries. Looking to continue carrying that momentum, BBC has launched a new project — in partnership with over 50 organizations — which is looking to give a personal coding device to every child in year 7 across the country. That’s 1 million free devices in total to students, generally aged between 11 and 13, as part of the campaign they’re calling “Make it Digital.”


Back in the 1980s, the BBC launched a Computer Literacy Project which aimed to support the learning of computing — at the time a relatively new concept for a vast majority — in schools and the home. This included a commercial partnership with Acorn Computers to produce a microcomputer as the backbone of the initiative: the BBC Micro. While nine models were eventually made with the BBC brand, the phrase “Micro” is usually used colloquially to refer to the first six (Model A, B, B+64, B+128, Master 128, and Master Compact). Well now, the news giant is reimagining its popular 1980s campaign by introducing its successor, the BBC Micro Bit.

Based on a processor which would appear to be an ATmega32U4, the Micro Bit will give students a physical companion in their path to coding competence. While merely a prototype at this point, it will be a standalone, palm-sized device equipped with an LED display and compatible with the Touch Develop, Python and C++ languages.


Young Makers will then be able to create text via a series of lights as well as devise basic games. What’s nice is that the final version of Micro Bit will feature a Bluetooth link and will be able to sync up with other incredibly-popular boards like Arduino, Galileo, Kano and Raspberry Pi, in addition to other Micro Bits.

According to BBC, the Micro Bit will be distributed later this year, most likely the fall. The program was designed as a response to a shortage within the digital industry, given that nearly 1.4 million professionals will be needed over the next five years. BBC is hoping to aid in building the country’s talent pool and arming them with the requisite coding skills through a range of new partnerships and projects.

Interested in learning more? Head over to the project’s official page here.

LocoRobo is an IoT bot inspiring the next generation of Makers

LocoRobo offers a modern, cutting-edge robotics kit and a technology-rigorous learning experience.

Drexel University professor Pramod Abichandani and a team of three undergraduate students have developed LocoRobo, a low-cost robot capable of being wirelessly programmed with minimal to no effort. Born out of his own frustrations with bots, Abichandani aspires to advance programming and robotics education for everyone — from first-graders to experienced Makers — by combining a world-class programming ecosystem with a high-quality device.


Abichandani hopes that educators and students alike will be able to utilize the ATmega32U4 based LocoRobo to increase awareness and excitement around STEM. While younger Makers can wirelessly control their robot through the companion mobile app, experienced developers can use various programming languages.

“We have developed open-source application programming interface (APIs) in C, Python, Matlab and Node.js which will allow you to dive into programming LocoRobo beyond the apps. Using these languages you will realize a higher level of control of the LocoRobo robot. While working with our APIs, you will be exposed to several robotics exercises and concepts including multi-robot motion planning and multi-sensor fusion.


As seen inside the Atmel CES booth, the little WALL-E-like gadget is equipped with two wheels, sensors for eyes and antennas in the form of ears. Recently launched on Indiegogo, the Arduino-compatible LocoRobo comes in two separate models: the LocoBasiX and the LocoXtreme. While each possess the same custom main board, status LEDs, differential drive, ultrasponic sensors, lithium-ion battery and BLE, the LocoXtreme model boasts a number of additional features such as motor encoders, an on-board accelerometer and a gyroscopic sensor for those seeking some more sophisticated movement.

Abichandani hopes that every school throughout America (and the world) will one day have a solid robotics program. And, LocoRobo may be able to make that dream possible.

Rewind: 13 products inspiring the next generation of Makers

With Computer Science Education Week in full swing and the holidays just around the corner, we’ve decided to list some of our favorite creations from this year that are inspiring the next generation of Makers to not only tinker around, but pursue STEM disciplines.



Created by Ayah Bdeir, littleBits was launched with hopes of making DIY hardware accessible to everyone of all ages. While making things with electronics can be a difficult feat, the company’s open-source, modular components easily piece together to form larger circuits. Young Makers can even connect real world ’things’ to the Internet, program IFTTT recipes, and sync it all to an Arduino using its ATmega32U4 powered module.



Drexel University professor Pramod Abichandani and a team of three undergraduate students recently developed the ATmega32U4 driven LocoRobo, a low-cost robot capable of being wirelessly programmed with minimal to no effort. Born out of his own frustrations with bots, Abichandani aspires to advance programming and robotics education for everyone — from first-graders to more experienced Makers — by combining a world-class programming ecosystem with a high-quality device.

Chibitronics Circuit Stickers Starter Kit


With Chibitronic stickers, young DIYers are able to make nearly any surface glow, sense or interact. An imaginative and simple way to create fun electronics projects, the kit not only allows users to easily affix their circuit sticker to a number of materials, but can even connect conductive materials like copper tape or even conductive paint to create elaborate designs, art project and entertaining birthday cards. What makes Chibitronic unique is its ability to converge the familiarity of stickers with electronic components, such as LEDs, sensor circuits and programmable MCUs (ATtiny85).

MaKey MaKey


Think of MaKey MaKey as an invention kit for the 21st century, which gives young Makers the power to transform ordinary objects into Internet-connected touch pads. Powered by an ATMega32u4 MCU, the MaKey MaKey has been on the scene since Jay Silver successfully funded the project back in 2012, attaining nearly $570,000 in Kickstarter pledges. When a user touches an object that is hooked up to the board via alligator clips, i.e. a banana, a connection is made which sends the computer a keyboard message. In essence, the computer considers MaKey MaKey as a regular keyboard (or mouse), meaning it can work with pretty much all programs and webpages.



Developed by UX design from Slice of LimeNübi aims to teach basic programming skills to kids of any gender. The creation is described by its creator as an Internet-enabled toy that takes the form of a creature who just arrived on our planet and needs to be taught about everything, from colors to music to temperature. The toy is embedded with a series of sensors that enable it to wirelessly communicate like an RFID chip with other devices in its environment, such as a motion detector or light sensor. Kids use an accompanying flower-like wand, equipped with an [Atmel basedArduino-controlled RFID reader, to talk to Nübi.



A group of Harvard University researchers have developed an $11 tool to educate young Makers on the fundamentals of robotics. Dubbed AERobot (short for Affordable Education Robot), its team hopes that it will one day help inspire more kids to explore STEM disciplines. The bot  can move forward and backward on flat surfaces, turn in place in both directions, detect the direction of incoming light, identify distances using infrared light, as well as following lines and edges. With a megaAVR 8-bit MCU as its brains, most of its other electronic parts were assembled with a pick-and-place machine, and to reduce costs some more, used vibration motors for locomotion and omitted chassis. AERobot is equipped with a built-in USB plug that also allows it to be directly inserted into any computer with a USB port.

ArduSat Space Kit


Ask any classroom of kids what they want to be when they grow up, and undoubtedly a few imaginative youngsters will answer emphatically with “Astronaut!” With that lofty goal in mind, Spire (formerly Nanosatisfi) launched its ArduSat program to bring space exploration to the classroom. ArduSat is the first open satellite platform that enables the general public to design and run applications, games and experiments in space, while also steering onboard cameras to take pictures on-demand. More specifically, ArduSat is designed to give ordinary people – like students  – the chance to conduct experiments by controlling over 25 different integrated sensors including spectrometers, magnetometers, radiation measurement devices, gyroscopes, accelerometers and thermometers. With its space kit, ArduSat is supplying individual classrooms all of the tools they need to carry out space exploration. Each set contains an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), a series of sensors, LEDs, and other components. By linking the sensors to the Arduino, students can measure levels of temperature, luminosity, and magnetic fields. Currently, more than two dozen schools are using ArduSat, with plenty more to follow.



While the team may not have been able to garner its $105,000 Kickstarter goal, ScratchDuino is an incredibly customizable and accessible robot-building platform that any young Maker would find helpful in their tinkering endeavors. The educational platform’s ease of use will help foster the robot design process for Makers both young and old. Featuring plastic encased parts designed for extended durability and kid resiliency, ScratchDuino includes two light sensors, two contact sensors, two reflective object sensors, and an infrared eye. At its heart lies an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) programmed with the Scratch language, which was developed by MIT.

XPlorerBoard Student


Recently launched on Kickstarter, the XPlorerBoard Student is described by its creators as a fun and quick way to learn electronic circuits and programming. This revolutionary electronics system easily plugs into a Mac or PC, which enables Makers to run programs on its built-in ATmega328 MCU, which is also preloaded with the Arduino bootloader. The XPlorerBoard’s iPad and Android InventIT application features over 50 inspiring experiments, ranging from motion-activated burglar alarms to ping-pong video games.

Bare Conductive


When you think of painting, electricity isn’t probably the first thing that comes to mind. However, Bare Conductive is changing the game with its ATmega32U4 based Touch Board that lets Makers transform nearly all materials and surfaces into a touch sensor. Simply connect anything conductive to one of its 12 electrodes and trigger a sound via its onboard MP3 player, play a MIDI note or do anything else that you might do with an Arduino or Arduino-compatible device. Meanwhile, Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint — which works with a wide-range of materials from plastic to textiles — provides a great platform for discovering, playing, repairing and designing with electronics.



Coming off an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Pi-Bot is a uniquely designed and affordable kit for anyone interested in building and programming robots. Designed by the STEM Center USA crew, the hands-on learning platform is based on the versatile ATmega328. 

According to STEM Center USA CEO Melissa Jawaharlal, the team designed the Pi-Bot from the ground up to optimize functionality and ensure affordability to its widespread audience, ranging from students to experienced engineers. The kit currently uses standardized C programming language (specifically meant for its Maker-oriented audience), and offers flexibility with its modular chassis, and line following and ultrasonic distance sensors.

Hummingbird Duo Robotics Kit


BirdBrain Technologies (a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff) recently debuted its Hummingbird Duo, a robotics kit powered by an ATmega32U4. The Duo controller serves as the core of all new Hummingbird kits, with a second Atmel chip, an ATtiny24A, tasked with controlling motors and servos. Part of the fun of constructing a robot with this innovative kit is that it’s building material agnostic, meaning a Maker can anything that may be lying around!



Mirobot – created by Ben Pirt – is an an ATmega328 powered DIY robotic kit designed to help teach children about technology. Not only is the open-source bot fun to build and simple to start programming it to draw shapes, the chassis is laser cut and snaps together quite easily. Once connected to a Wi-Fi network, Makers can browse through its on-board webpage and experience its Scratch-like visual programming tool. In fact, Mirobot can even be be programmed in several different ways, including a web-based GUI which is similar to LOGO, albeit with drag and drop.

Nübi is ushering in the Internet of Toys

As previously explored on Bits & Pieces, the Maker Movement has paved the way for new gizmos and gadgets in an effort to increase awareness around STEM and lower the barrier of entry for coding. UX design from Slice of Lime has now taken the initiative one step further with their latest connected toy prototype, dubbed Nübi, which aims to teach basic programming skills to kids of any gender.


Nübi is described by its creator, Slice of Lime CEO Kevin Menzie, as an Internet-enabled toy that takes the form of a creature who just arrived on our planet and needs to be taught about everything, from colors to music to temperature.

“All of the teaching and programming of Nübi is done through a magic flower, specially-designed Nübicards, and Nübi itself. There are no screens or other electronics involved.”

The toy is embedded with a series of sensors that enable it to wirelessly communicate like an RFID chip with other devices in its environment, such as a motion detector or light sensor. Kids use an accompanying flower-like wand, equipped with an [Atmel based] Arduino-controlled RFID reader, to talk to Nübi.


Using the wand-like device, kids begin with basic color mixing and sounds, and eventually learn to customize Nübi to react to light and dark, hot and cold, motion, as well as other Nübis.

There are four types of Nübicards: Program Nübicards, Sense Nübicards, Action Nübicards, and Game Nübicards. These aid a user in teaching the connected toy what to do. Simply touch the flower to the Nübicard and then touch Nübi’s head.


For instance, if a child wants to teach Nübi about colors, they would tap the wand against the specific color Nübicard, then touch it the Atmel powered flower. An LED located in its stomach would then emit the color selected. Tap the wand on a pair of colors in succession, and Nübi will even glow the color they make when they’re combined. Come on, that’s so much better than simply mixing paint, not to mention, less messy!

There are also more sophisticated cards as well, which include IFTTT recipes. Using these conditional statements, young Makers can begin programming their Nübi to carry out more complex actions, ranging from glowing blue when it’s cold outside or playing a lullaby when the lights turn off.

Interested in a Nübi for your child? You can check out Nübi’s official website here. Or, you can read more about the connected toy in its latest Gizmodo article.

Computer programming tips

I ran across a neat article in Forbes (of all places!). Titled ”What Does It Take To Be An Expert In Computer Programming?” When I went to look up the author, Eric Pepke, there was not a lot of information other than he worked in Atlanta. Then I noticed he posted a YouTube video titled “DimiDraw v. 0.1”. The description explains “DimiDraw v.0.1 is an as yet unreleased graphics library for the Arduino and similar microcontrollers.” Well anyone that writes code for Atmel-powered Arduinos is OK in my book. So I sent the article to a couple crack programmers I know. Michael said:

Before reading it, I was also thinking that having a basic understanding of hardware architecture was important.  Also, for me, learning Assembly code back in the day gave me a very good understanding of how a processors “thinks” especially when it came to registers and writing complex arithmetic operations.

Back then we didn’t have these fancy development environments with debugging tools, breakpoints, stepping, etc.  Well, actually we had some of that but we were also taught the basics to understand programming better.  Speaking of “basics”, I actually taught myself that in the early 80s.

And Andreas over on the 3rd floor noted: “All I can add is that of all the classes I had during my education ‘algorithms and data structures’ was by far the hardest one. (But also really useful.)”


And regarding Basic, I note Peske was a contributor to the NS Basic language. Modeled on Microsoft Visual Basic, and meant for phones and mobile platforms, a code snippet might be:

Function OKButton_onclick()

   MsgBox “Hello World”

End Function

Now that is a language I can endorse—less gibberish and more directness. I never thought there was any shame in programming in Basic. Especially once I came across complied Basic, QBasic I think it was. I did an little program that spit stepper motor commands out the printer port to exercise a wafer elevator that was in a million-dollar semiconductor etcher I was working on. Once I compiled it, I had to add loops to slow the thing down. It ran so fast the motor could not keep up.


I remember BASIC programming in 9th grade back in the 1960s. Yeah, the Brecksville Ohio school system was really that advanced (still is). One of the problems was to take 5 numbers from the keyboard and then print them out in order. We all slogged into it– a bunch of if-than compares. I think most of us ended up with 200 lines of code. Except for one kid. I think it was Gooding, can’t remember his first name. He just counted from 1 to 1000 and printed out when a match to any of the input numbers hit. There there were, printed out, in order. I think it was 10 lines of code. We all went ballistic– pretty much accusing him of cheating– “It only works for integers!”  or “It won’t do negatives!” or “It stops at 1000!” The teacher was probably trying to get us to think more than to reward Gooding, but she gave him full credit– saying he solved the problem, and in a very elegant way. Yeah, merit badge for Gooding– that is thinking outside the box, and he deserved more than full credit. I hope he is rich and famous now.

And as an added bonus, that Forbes website as a good privacy tip about never giving out your zip code when you shop.

What is the Difference Between Encryption and Authentication?

By: Gunter Fuchs

Not considering how to actually do encryption or authentication, it is fairly simple for a native Latin speaker (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=authentic, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=crypto) to distinguish between the two. We authenticate something to prove to the receiver of the “something” that it actually came from us. We encrypt a message so nobody, including us, can read it. Why do we authenticate or encrypt? We authenticate so that the receiver is assured that what she received came from us and not from an imposter. This “thing” can be an item – a coin or painting for instance, or a piece of information, an email attachment or a speed command to a uranium centrifuge. We encrypt information so that only the intended receiver(s) can understand it.

So that was simple. But why do computer gurus go through great efforts to provide means of information authentication? Wouldn’t encrypting information be enough? Couldn’t the sender just include its name and address in the information and then encrypt? Well, no. The problem is that although a “man in the middle” will not understand the information, he will still be able to change it. For instance, in computer communication protocols a destination address (port) might be at a fixed position in a message. An adversary could copy such a message when it is on its way through some wire, change this value randomly, and monitor its own port/s until one of these messages – though still garbled – arrives. Once the adversary has received one message, he can now inject the encrypted port value for his own port for every message. One message would not be enough for a hacker to perform decryption,  but many makes this possible.  Not only would an adversary then be able to decipher messages that were not meant for her, but she can now also “break the code”, meaning deduce the encryption key. And with that key in hand, she can now send messages that are not authentic.

Therefore, a secure communication consists of authenticating the message and encrypting it.  To learn more about the importance of protecting your trade secrets, check out this white paper.