CS Table

CS Table 12/4/18: Open Source and Security

This week's discussion topic was suggested by an alumna, who writes:

Recently an NPM package author handed over control of his open source project to a stranger who promised to maintain the package for future users. The stranger added malicious code to the package, which was then downloaded by millions of users. This raises questions about responsibility in the open source world. What responsibilities does the owner of an open source project hold? What responsibilities are up to the user? What can developers do to utilize open source projects in a safe and secure manner?
There are two recommended readings for the CS Table discussion; the first is an account of the recent event we’ll discuss, and the second is a perspective on security and open source from Bruce Schneier, written in 1999.

You may also find these resources helpful or informative as you prepare for our discussion:

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:50pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 11/6/18: Tech Company Jobs, Then and Now

This week we’ll look at an interesting article that compares the situations for janitors at two tech companies in two different eras: Kodak in the 1980s, and Apple in 2017. The article paints an interesting picture of how employment at tech companies has changed over the last four decades. In addition to the specifics in the article, I hope we’ll have an opportunity to discuss the role that tech companies (or any employer) might play in economic inequality, the availability of blue-collar jobs, and the changing landscape of career opportunities.

To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now. Neil Irwin. The New York Times. 3 Sept 2017.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:50pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 10/30/18: Secure Voting

In light of the upcoming midterm elections we’ll look at some of the challenges in conducting a secure and verifiable elections with electronic voting systems.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:50pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 10/16/18: Experience of blind software engineers

We will discuss two articles that describe the experiences of two blind software engineers. My hope is that our discussion will wander into a broader consideration of accessibility, the challenges that people with disabilities face when they work in the computing industry, and the responsibilities of all software developers to consider accessibility.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:50pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 10/9/18: The Big Hack

We will discuss a recent report from Bloomberg about a security breach in the hardware supply chain for servers used by almost 30 major US-based companies. Bloomberg’s reporting suggests that a group within the Chinese government’s intelligence agency were able to add a small chip to motherboards manufactured for SuperMicro, a major server hardware supplier in the US. These chips apparently inject malicious code into the server’s operating system, allowing hackers to remotely access compromised servers and bypass security controls within the operating system. We will discuss the mechanisms used to carry out these attacks, the differences between hardware- and software-based exploits, consider the impacts of such an attack, and discuss possible ways to mitigate attacks like this one in the future.

Readings include Bloomberg's original reporting (The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies, J. Robertson and M. Riley, Bloomberg Businessweek, 4 Oct 2018) and two articles providing some additional perspective on this story, which has not yet been independently confirmed (The China SuperMicro Hack: About That Bloomberg Report, N. Weaver, Lawfare, 4 Oct 2018, and Decoding the Chinese SuperMicro super spy-chip scandal: What do we know – and who is telling the truth? K. McCarthy, The Register, 4 Oct 2018.)

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 9/11/18: Fixing Facebook

For our first CS Table discussion of the semester, we’ll be looking at some of the findings and recommendations from ProPublica’s investigation of political advertising on Facebook. ProPublica began by offering a series of proposals for Facebook to reduce the potential for abuse of its advertising system in April, followed by an analysis of Facebook’s first attempt at revising their ad-tracking system. ProPublica then launched their own initiative to collect political ads shown to users who were willing to install a browser plugin. We’ll discuss the challenge Facebook faces with its advertising system, evaluate their work so far, and discuss the broader issues of ad targeting and content moderation online.

Here are the readings for this week:

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224C (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 5/8/18: Classic computers

For CS table next week we will spend time looking at some of the unusual hardware and software from previous eras in computing. There is no reading for next week’s discussion; instead, please send your recommendations to Prof. Curtsinger by email. If you’ve heard of anything particularly funny, odd, creative, or just different from current computing technology, please send it along. It could include examples like gaming consoles, calculators, mechanical computers, and anything else you think is relevant. We will have a projector available at CS Table pictures or videos are welcome, too. Please send suggestions by 5pm on Monday, May 7, so Prof. Curtsinger has time to organize them.

Here are a few examples to inspire you:

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224A (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 5/1/18: SESTA & FOSTA

We'll be discussing the recent passing of the Stop Enabling Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and its implications for human trafficking and digital privacy.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224A (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 4/24/18: The Rise and Fall of the OLPC

We'll be talking about the rise and fall of the One-Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative started by Nicholas Negroponte in 2005. The purpose of the OLPC was to transform education by introducing digital literacy to children around the world, in particular, in developing nations. To do this, the initiative focused on developing low-cost, rugged laptops and software packages that students in low-income countries could use to realize the constructivist dream of learning-by-building, e.g., through tinkering, programming, and creating digital artifacts.While the OLPC started with lofty goals, it fizzled out over the course of half a decade. During this CS Table, we'll analyze what went wrong and what went right with the OLPC movement and what we might learn from it.

The main reading for this week is an excellent historical analysis of the OLPC initiative by Adi Robertson of The Verge.

If you get interested in this topic, here is an additional paper by one of the authors, Morgan Ames, mentioned in the Robertson reading. Ames takes an ethnographical approach to analyzing the successes and shortcomings of the OLPC movement that I think is a great example of anthropology applied to the history of technology. Please note that to access the Ames article, make sure you are accessing it through a Grinnell IP address, e.g., on campus or through an appropriate proxy.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224A (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

CS Table 4/17/2018: Oracle v. Google Ruling

We will revisit the Oracle v. Google case after the recent appeals ruling in favor of Oracle. We will look at the circumstances surrounding the case, revisit definitions of patent and copyright, and try to understand what the ramifications of this decision are for users of Java, Android, open-source software, and the tech sector as a whole.

There are four readings, but if you are pressed for time, we recommend "A Brief History of Oracle v. Google" first and then reviewing the definitions of "Trademark, Patent, and Copyright" as needed.

Computer science table (CS Table) is a weekly meeting of Grinnell College community members (students, faculty, staff, etc.) interested in discussing topics related to computing and computer science. CS Table meets Tuesdays from 12:00–12:45pm in JRC 224A (inside the Marketplace). Contact the CS faculty for the weekly reading. Students on meal plans, faculty, and staff are expected to cover the cost of their meals. Visitors to the College and students not on meal plans can charge their meals to the department (sign in at the Marketplace front desk).

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