New App Makes Parent Signatures for School Much Easier

A new app called Script allows schools to manage the entire process of field trip planning including creating the forms, and collecting signatures and digital payments from parents, without any actual paperwork. Script lets parents digitally sign all permission slips with their finger through an app, and then pay for the activity right from their phone. School administrators, teachers, and parents all benefit from this modern, streamlined way of handling permission forms for activities and field trips. This app eliminates the risk of a form getting lost by the time the child returns home, as well as the concern that arises from sending cash back to school with the child (often times very young children).

Once schools sign up, they can place the student roster and all information pertaining to each student into the system. Teachers then use the app to create a new activity which gets sent to the school administrator for approval, and then the activity gets pushed to the appropriate parents for the designated class automatically once the administrator approves it. Script is available online as a web application as well as an app on iPhones and Androids. It is still in the startup stages of use, only about 15 schools in Florida right now are connected and utilizing its technology, but to me it seems like this may catch on very quickly.


Olympics Opening Ceremony Light Show Breaks Record

The opening ceremony of the Olympics is always a huge extravaganza with tons of preparation and coordination involved before the whole world can witness it. This year was no different, and Intel played a major role in the record-setting light show performance using 1,218 drones simultaneously flying in patterns to illuminate the Olympic rings along with other images. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the flight set a record for “most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously,” which shattered the previous record of 500 drones flying together in a performance in Germany in 2016 (also done by Intel).

This is a great example of how advanced computer software has become. The coordination of this many individual devices to basically communicate between each other and know exactly where the correct position they should be at is incredible. What’s even more impressive is that the images were not all static, at one point the drones imitated a large bird flapping its wings. They all would have to move up and down simultaneously at the same speed and direction in order to successfully execute the image how it was intended to look. The Olympics is such a large and popular event that the performances and events associated with it have to match up to the same caliber, and I’m sure that a platform of its magnitude will continue improving their performances to incorporate the most modern technology available.

Norwegian Airline Uses Jet Stream to Set Speed Record

An unusually fast jet stream wind has provided the medium for a Norwegian passenger plane to hit an astonishing 779 mph in a recent Trans-Atlantic flight. Norwegian flight DY7014, a Boeing 787, took off in New York City and landed 5 hours and 13 minutes later at a London airport, three minutes faster than the previous record and half an hour faster than usual. Passenger airplanes typically hit cruise speeds of ~550 mph. What’s interesting about this event is that the airplane was not a supersonic jet, but managed to hit supersonic speeds without actually crossing the sound barrier of ~660 mph for typical passenger plane cruising altitudes.

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This is because the 779 mph was measured with respect to the ground, not the air around the plane. Due to the jet stream already moving so fast, the air moving over the airplane’s wing was only moving at an effective speed of about 555 mph, which is much less than the speed of sound. Another way to think about this is to imagine the jet stream as a moving object that contains the airplane rather than a “helping wind”. The airplane flew 555 mph within that object, but because that object was also moving in the same direction the plane got to its destination even faster.

This is an extremely useful concept in the aviation industry, and it has a great impact on flight times so that people can get to their destinations faster. This is a great example that shows how technology and science merge by taking advantage of naturally occurring events and using them to increase a technology’s capability. If the information regarding the jet streams was never discovered by scientists, it could not have been transferred to the aviation industry to benefit pilots and engineers.

Snapchat Spectacles

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Snapchat now has special glasses with cameras included on the lenses that can capture any video instantaneously, without needing to pull your phone out and bring up the app. They have actually been around since November of 2017, but have not caught on with the intended audience very well. This may be due to the whopping $130 price tag, with a design that I wouldn’t consider particularly “trendy”. They are available to buy in black, teal, and coral, and record the usual 10 second video clips that most are familiar with on Snapchat. The camera lens angle is 115 degrees so that it mimics how the human eye perceives things, and the spectacles are linked to your Snapchat app through Bluetooth where the videos are stored in the memories section. You can also use the glasses when not in Bluetooth range, and they will sync to your phone when you get back in range. They surprisingly cannot take pictures. If you’re a bit hesitant to spend the money before you know how they look on you, the Snapchat app actually has a filter that you can put the glasses on your face to preview how stylish you look with them.

Fridges of the Future

One of Samsung's new "smart" refrigerators the Korean electronics giantannounced Wednesday, January 4, 2017, at its press conference in Las Vegas
preceding the annual CES electronics convention. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

Imagine you’re coming home from work after a long day, and you don’t remember if you have milk and eggs for breakfast the next morning…your fridge may now be able to assist. Led by Samsung and LG, the new era of “smart” refrigerators will allow owners to ask their fridge if they’re out of milk, play music, leave digital notes, and even order groceries with just a voice command. With all of our discussion recently on the Internet of Things, this is a great example of a typical home appliance that will revolutionize our daily lives once implemented. The fridges not only can process and assist through only voice commands, they can also respond similarly to an “Alexa” or something else of that communication-natured software.

LG’s featured smart fridge will also have the ability to turn the screen transparent by knocking on it twice, allowing you to see inside the fridge without opening the doors. This will eliminate a lot of the excess cost from heat loss when standing with the fridge open for minutes at a time to see what’s inside. Apps will allow you to send recipes and text messages to your fridge from your smartphone, and cameras inside the fridge can be connected to the app to check the contents of your fridge remotely. The Internet of Things is definitely approaching us very quickly, and appliances with software like this is leading the charge forward.

Your refrigerator is getting a digital makeover

First Detailed Images of the Surface of a Giant Star

This image is the first ever captured of a giant star outside our solar system in detail (even though it looks like resolution from 50 years ago). It is a huge step forward for science’s overall understanding and comparison of the theories and expected behavior of stars different than our own sun. This star is 350 times larger than our sun and resembles what our sun will become at the end of its life (don’t worry, it’s not for another 5 billion years). It is an evolved star in its last phase of life, and believe it or not this simple image gives scientists immense knowledge about the future activity and characteristics of our sun.

Dr. Fabien Baron, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State University, stated “There’s a limit to the details we can see based on the size of the telescope used for the observations. For this paper, we used an interferometer. The light from several telescopes is combined to overcome the limit of each telescope, thus achieving a resolution equivalent to that of a much larger telescope.” This picture displays the star having a complex pattern of convection cells on its surface. Convection plays a huge part in processes like energy transport, pulsation, and solar winds. Its surface is also free of dust, a challenge that has plagued many astronomers who have tried to capture images of giant stars in the past.

Astronomers Create First Detailed Images of Surface of Giant Star

SkyCam Use in NFL Games

Recently the NFL has slowly started implementing the use of a new broadcasting camera technology called SkyCam, which typically hangs above the offense and “follows” the gameplay down the field. SkyCam is a computer-controlled, stabilized, cable-suspended camera system that maneuvers in the open space over the playing field by a computer-controlled cable-drive system. This camera angle is very similar to what the football video game series Madden shows in its default camera settings. Compared to the classic side-view of a large portion of the field, SkyCam allows viewers to see the field from the quarterback’s perspective which the NFL believes immerses them more in the football game. There has been a lot of controversy over the use of it, lots of people both love and hate the SkyCam, but it seems that the NFL is trying to implement it more and more regardless.

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I personally love the SkyCam and I hope the NFL continues using it. I like seeing the game from the quarterback’s perspective, and it also makes the games more interactive and dynamic since the camera isn’t fixed with the gameplay occuring within the large screen. I prefer a camera that follows the gameplay and can rotate around in any direction to show different angles. This system is definitely complex and took lots of planning and design to process the computing needed to move the camera along the cables properly, and shows the technological advancements behind the scenes of the game of football in addition to things like instant replay and immediate medical attention on the sidelines.

15-Year-Old from the UK Hacks Highly Sensitive Intel by Posing as CIA Director

Kane Gamble is not your average teenager… At just 15 years old, he managed to impersonate the Director of the CIA and gain access to passwords, personal information, security intelligence, and sensitive documents regarding military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over his three year spree, he also targeted the FBI Director, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence under Obama by taunting them online, releasing their personal information, bombarding them with calls and messages, and taking control of their iPads and TV screens, sometimes displaying the message “I own you”. He was the founder and leader of the notorious hacking group “Crackas With Attitude”, which isn’t actually a hacking group because they use “social engineering” rather than hacking. Social engineering describes the range of manipulating call center or help desk staff into releasing confidential information.

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He gained access to the CIA Director’s Verizon internet account by first pretending to be an employee of the company, then the Director himself, building up an increasingly detailed picture. At first he was denied access because he couldn’t name the director’s first pet, but on later calls the handler changed the pin and security questions. To think that the CIA and FBI are the most protected, classified, and secure (or thought to be) information systems in the world, it is mind-boggling how this teenager managed to obtain so much information seemingly so easily. This story proves the importance of cybersecurity advancing further than it is now, and the need for IST professionals to continue working to protect the most secure information in the US.

HQ Trivia: Win Money…For Free?

The newest craze in the app community is a live, 12-question trivia game show on your phone called HQ Trivia that runs live games twice per day and gives away a $2,000 pot for the winner(s) to split. On some occasions (like New Years Eve and Christmas) “special” shows are announced and have given away more than $2,000, the most being $18,000, for one single game. With $4,000 on average distributed to the winners of HQ each day, the lingering question in everyone’s minds is where exactly does this money come from? HQ utilizes absolutely no advertising other than promoting its own fan base and some very brief remarks about current culture trends, and the app is completely free to download and play.

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Variety reports that the payouts are supplied by Intermedia Labs, the app’s developer, which is comprised of two of Vine’s co-founders. One of them said that profitability is not currently the company’s focus, but rather to gain lots of interest from brands, companies, and potential large sponsors with a focus on “enhancing the game play”, not making the users feel like they’re the product of advertising. Intermedia Labs has received backing (“a few million dollars”) from venture capitalist firm Lightspeed Venture Partners, but essentially the jackpots are being funded by Silicon Valley investors who believe that one day the app will get big enough that companies will pay to be associated with it.

If Intermedia Labs sticks true to its current beliefs and wants any sort of advertising specifically to enhance the game play, I speculate that companies may begin to pay to have questions regarding their products or services asked on HQ. In exchange for money to dish out to winners, the companies may receive demographic information in return about the users who answered their specific question which they can then use to learn more about their customers and further tailor their business model. So although there may never be any direct advertising on HQ Trivia, it will likely begin implementing some form of under-the-table sponsorship to continue increasing their prize totals.

First Falcon Heavy Rocket Expected to Launch by end of January

The three boosters making up the first stage of SpaceX's

(Photo: SpaceX via Florida Today)

SpaceX. Elon Musk. Colonizing Mars. Pretty much everybody at this point has heard the news stories, seen the “alien spaceship” traveling over Southern California a few weeks ago, and is in the loop when it comes to Elon Musk’s plans for commercializing space travel. Although the Falcon 9 rocket has been launched (and safely landed on aircraft carriers for reuse) many times to resupply the International Space Station, the next step in this groundbreaking era of space travel is the Falcon Heavy.

The Falcon Heavy is projected to make its debut test launch by the end of January, but the static test fire of its 27 rocket engines will occur sometime this week. When successful, the Falcon Heavy will be classified as the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of 2. Each rocket booster on the Falcon Heavy boasts 9 engines and produces over 5 million pounds of thrust (keep in mind, the Falcon Heavy has 3 of these boosters). There is only one launchpad that is capable of withstanding this immense thrust, 39-A at Kennedy Space Center, the same used by the enormous Saturn V rocket years ago.

This feat of engineering is obviously extremely risky, and even Musk himself said, “I hope it makes it far enough away from the pad that it doesn’t cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.” Although the Falcon 9 has launched and landed safely plenty of times, this rocket will be 3 times as powerful and just as, if not more unsafe for astronauts than the Challenger was. Though what would a debut launch be without making it a little interesting? Musk has announced, then retreated, and is back to claiming that his own personal red Tesla Roadster will be attached to the payload at the tip of Falcon Heavy and released into Mars’ orbit upon successful launch. This is obviously bizarre, but just think of how cool it would look to aliens if they happen to come across a bright red Tesla Roadster floating around Mars…I think it’s worth a shot.