Bytes and Beats: A Strumming Engineer

Engineering and Jamming

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The Internet Is Scary

So I was browsing around the internet yesterday when I came across a topic that worried me: ARP spoofing, more commonly known as a form of wifi hacking.

The ARP, or Address Resolution Protocol, is the protocol used by computers and routers to set up network connections to other devices (and typically to the internet). It works by sending and receiving small packets between devices, say a computer and a wireless router, so that both devices have enough information to resolve a connection. Simple and convenient enough, and since packets are typically as small as 28 bytes, the system is very efficient.

Here’s where the problem comes in: essentially anyone can forge these messages between a computer and a router, claiming to BE the router. Your computer, depending on your operating system, probably is open to receiving these messages at all times, and will set up a connection with such an imposter. Then it is only a matter of the attacker continuing to stream the internet to you through his computer, and you won’t notice that someone is spying on everything you are doing.

This scary attack can happen on essentially any wifi connection that someone else is connected to, such as public networks at airports, coffee shops, school, work, etc. For this reason, technical experts suggest that you do not access important information or enter passwords when using a public network. Makes sluguest a little bit more scary, huh?

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The Loeb lecture on Thursday was very interesting, covering prime numbers in terms of factoring them with other composite numbers (not integers). It managed to tie in probability, discriminants, and conductors (the mathematical term), subjects that probably do not usually arise when talking about prime numbers.

In other news, congratulations to Sigma Tau Gamma (woot), Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and Zeta Theta Alpha on a successful Greek Week!

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Loeb Lecture

Today, on the 10th of April, Washington University is hosting an undergraduate lecture as part of the Loeb Lectures in Mathematics annual series. SLU mathematics students have been invited to attend the lecture by Professor Melanie Matchett Wood from the University of Wisconsin. It is called “The Chemistry of Primes”, and will talk about just that: prime numbers. The abstract is given here, which basically describes the lecture as an overview of prime numbers and some interesting things about them; I’m excited because prime numbers are one of the coolest trinkets in mathematics! This is an awesome opportunity and I will update you on how it goes.

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Exciting New Development…

As this is a “professional” blog, I thought it important to mention that I am declaring a second major: computer science.

For clarification, there IS a difference between computer science and computer engineering. Computer engineering is basically electrical engineering with a focus on computers, while computer science is much more software oriented, leaning further towards software engineering and networking. They obviously have multiple overlaps in curriculum, but for the most part have a large portion of exclusive classes and topics.

I should probably explain the reasons for my decision; there are essentially two:

First, I find the classes I have taken in computer science very interesting and simply cannot imagine stopping here. When you have a passion for a subject, it’s hard to just let that go.

Second, I do not entirely agree with the notion that these should be two separate majors at all. Maybe it’s the Jesuit education getting to me, but I have a strong feeling that I cannot just learn about one part of my field, which is exactly what computer engineering is. It leaves out some very important parts of the field of computers and technology, as does computer science, either for the purpose of finding a very specific focus or possibly because of some misguided idea that students cannot take all the classes necessary. I fundamentally disagree and argue that an understanding of the WHOLE picture is extremely important to any field, especially one that is changing as quickly as computer science/engineering, and one that is so heavily design and production oriented. For the sake of my own opinion on the matter, I like to think of myself as not actually double majoring. I am simply majoring in computer studies.

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This far into my blog, I think I should mention what experience I have to be talking about subjects like computer science and computer engineering. I am a freshman at Saint Louis University, and have therefore not gotten too far into the specific curriculum for computer engineering classes. I have, however, taken extensive mathematics (to Differential Equations), and am currently enrolled in Data Structures, a C++ programming class with an emphasis on algorithms and data control structures.

I believe that my experience in these subjects has helped shape my process for logical thinking, as I think it should for anyone interested in programming and computer architecture and design. Computing machines are based upon certain ideas of logic and process, so it is outright necessary to be able to think in this fashion; an organized, goal-oriented manner. I suspect that it is not only helpful in programming and design but also in the workplace as a tool to accomplish goals efficiently.

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Fourth Post: Other Blogs

Upon looking at the other blog in English 400, I noticed that there is a huge diversity of topics just in the realm of the engineering blogs. There are very technical ones, such as “Engineering UAVs”, which includes walk-throughs of (admittedly pretty impressive) projects that the author has been working on. When I read this one I feel like I’m learning huge amounts about engineering itself. Then there are other styles, as seen in posts on “Electric Ladies”, which refer primarily or secondarily to the theme of the blog: minority women in engineering. These posts have no technical jargon, but are also probably on more useful topics to non-engineers than the more technical posts.

Though I’m not much of a handyman, I admire the “UAVs” blog posts for the engineering savvy that is quite obviously apparent in his posts. I recently used Eagle for my ECE class and was interested in seeing a more practical use for it (outside of little school projects). The posts I read made me anxious to find out whats in store for the rest of my engineering education.

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The Blogging So Far

So far, my blogging experience has simply been two posts about topics that were on my mind at the moment, which happened to be somewhat related tot he themes of this blog. But it isn’t just a little school assignment; rather it has become a way for me to compose and organize my thoughts in possibly productive manner on a weekly basis. Even if I may have to search for a topic in the future, this will prove to have a positive effect on my ability to express ideas on the subjects I am most knowledgeable about.

In the process, I have also come across some other blogs (by professionals) that I find interesting. One such blog is written by Terry Tao, a mathematician at UCLA. Though most of the mathematics is graduate level and either entirely over my head or otherwise intimidatingly brilliant, the posts that I can read are extremely interesting and may make me want to take out a pen and paper and work it out, like this puzzle prompt. In this way my blogging experience has expanded my knowledge of relevant fields, and has thus been intellectually productive as well as its obvious purpose as a writing exercise.