The Internet of Things

I think this video is an absolutely fascinating view of how we can maximize our internet usage. In the video, Dr. John Barrett explains how the internet has progressed from the very first public web servers in the late 80’s and early 90’s to the web today– which contains over 4000 exabytes of data. He explains how the internet now, or in the near future– the “internet of things”– is an internet in which the physical world is entirely connected and monitored by the internet. He talks about how some of our applications like traffic, news, travel agency, and restaurant apps can tell us exactly when things are available for us to use or not. For example, you can use a restaurant app to not only see how long the wait will be at a particular restaurant, but to book a table as well. In a similar manner, he says that the “internet of things” could be used in the future to improve the quality of life for everyone, especially those living in cities. For example, to send feedback from a patient’s heart monitor to a hospital, no matter where the patient is. He talks about how we can expand the use of green energy by limiting nonessential electricity use through the internet– your washing machine only turns on when there are enough clothes in it, and when energy levels are high enough to warrant it. This way, no one goes without energy, and no one has a surplus. Essentially, Dr. Barret talks about how far we’ve come, and how far we have the potential to go.

Barrett addresses the idea of “big brother” in the video as well. In order for his “internet of things” to work, basically everything important has to be monitored. But he says that he would hope that the benefits of such a system would outweigh the lack of privacy. He also addresses concerns about security risks, where one hack could bring down a vital system and cause loss of life or limb.

In any case, I think it’s good food for thought.


How to Create an App

In a world where everyone is glued to a smartphone, the market for Applications, usually shortened to Apps, has exploded virtually overnight. Apps allow users to do… well… pretty much anything. “There’s an app for that,” after all. Apps have been created to serve what seems like every form and function: mobile gaming, mobile banking, and mobile learning have all become phrases commonly used in our vocabulary today. It seems like things we once had to go out and do in the “real world” can just as easily be done from a phone’s touch screen, and you can bet that people are making a profit from it. But what exactly is an app? And how does it work?

As explained in the article, How to Create an App, Apps can divided into two categories: Native and Web apps. As you might be able to guess, Native apps take advantage of built-in hardware and software on the device to perform whatever functions they were designed for, and Web apps use the internet to do the same thing– that is, they actually function in the web browser, but “look and feel like a Native app”. Many apps are a combination of the two, having features that can be accessed with just the phone’s hardware, and additional features that are only available with an internet connection.

Apps are written in programming language, just as all computer programs are written in programming languages. For the Apple iOS, Objective-C is the primary Native app language. Android apps use Java, and Windows apps use C#. Web apps across platforms use HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript.

Once past learning and writing the basic code for the app, app builders can use storyboarding design tools to format the layout and look of the app. Next, they program the logic and data storage of the app, which ensures that the app functions as you would expect it to. For example, you press a button and the button responds by leading you to a new page, where you then enter information, press another button, and have your information stored in the app for future reference. Once this is complete, the app can be tested, and then published for public consumption.

The article goes more in-depth about the programs available for app creation and development, and concludes by stressing the importance of continued development of mobile apps as people continue to demand these applications on their mobile devices.


What is Cloud Computing?

I have to admit, I hadn’t given a second thought to what the cloud actually was until it was brought up during our brainstorm. Can you tell that I literally just googled “What is cloud computing?” I can say that without embarrassment because I know I am not the only one.

From what I’ve read, both in the article by Eric Griffith for PC Mag and various other academic papers floating around in the library database, the cloud is exactly what you would imagine it to be– a nebulous, intangible thing that still manages to hold bytes upon bytes upon bytes of information. We might not know what it is, but we know that our iTunes is in it, so it must be cool in our books.

Joking aside, the cloud is essentially a hard drive without the hard. It’s a location on the internet where information is stored or synced with other information elsewhere– all without the physical storage unit that we’re accustomed to having. Think DropBox, Google Drive, or Windows SkyDrive. Most cloud storage is provided by Google, Apple, Amazon, and Windows (both on a commercial and individual level) as well as by companies that are specifically dedicated to providing online data storage.

Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic shift towards greater use of the cloud for storage. For big businesses, it means that files can not only be shared over long distances with many different people, but that each of those people now have permanent access to those files and any changes made to them by all the people with access. Instantaneously. On a smaller scale, it means that you have access to your Chemistry lab report on your phone or your laptop or your iPad and can pull it up for your professor when you forget the hard copy after only getting 45 minutes of sleep.

The benefits of this are pretty clear: instant access to your information from various locations, the ability to share it seamlessly with others and receive feedback, and peace of mind that the nudes saved on your phone won’t be gone when you drop it in the toilet.

On the other hand, according to Griffith, there are some cons that potentially outweigh the pros, the main one being that there is no cloud where there is no internet. That means that your access to your information is entirely dependent on your internet service provider, and you are therefore a slave to their rates, fees, and inconsistent bandwidth speeds. Ultimately, if the servers that provide cloud storage crash, you’re out of luck. Like my dad always says, “Did you back up your stuff on the external hard drive yet?”

“No, Dad.”

“Well did you put it on a thumb drive?”


Mapping the Internet


Image credit to Nicolas Rapp for Fortune Magazine

This article by Andrew Blum provides a terse but relatively complete description of how “the internet” makes it from your friendly neighborhood ISP to that little box on your desk– or pad, if you’re into the whole tablet thing. He tells us about the infrastructure of the global fiber-optic cable network that oh-so-speedily transmits all of your favorite cat videos (if you’re still confused on how that works, I recommend this video from the discovery channel). He talks about the “middle-mile” and “last-mile” problems that plagued internet providers in the 90’s and 00’s– which is essentially when ISP’s asked themselves “How are we going to quickly and cost-effectively convert digital information to analog information to digital information while also moving it from Point A to Point B?”

One thing that I frequently find myself forgetting is that “free Wi-Fi” isn’t actually free. Blum explains that the cost for this magical, invisible thing we call “the internet” varies with direct proportion to the distance of Point B from Point A, i.e. the farther you are from an internet exchange point, the more you have to pay to instagram your blueberry overnight oats complete with recipe.

You’re probably thinking “Well yeah, that’s pretty obvious and totally logically sound, so why is it important and/or relevant?”

Good question, Friend! The implications of this distance to cost proportion mean that companies who can afford to purchase spaces that are physically closer to internet hubs immediately have an advantage over their competitors, who have to wait longer to receive their information. Not to mention that fast internet equals less waiting for your page to load equals more time to actually get things done, and we all know that time equals money. Q.E.D., fast internet equals money. In the grand scheme of things, this means that the speed of the internet literally has some power to dictate which companies will be successful. Spooky thought, right?

That’s not all, either! As Blum states in his article, “‘Internet¬†exchange points’ […] for the most part, follow geography and population,” meaning that where there are people there is internet, and vice versa. This means that “boom towns” tend to crop up around new internet hubs, giving the nigh-omnipotent internet the power to physically shape our world around itself. Forget ghosts and goblins, I’m being the internet for Halloween.¬†