Saturday, January 19, 2013

Feeding A Young Science Geek - Free Stuff

I've always thought that a big part of the "educational process" is the active encouragement of young minds.  That's more than just tutoring or answering questions; you can accomplish far more than one might suspect simply by making stuff available.  Toward that end (and yes, one of my daughters is taking AP Biology *grin*), I've been scouring the Internet for science materials that hit the sweet spot of "interest them, challenge them, but don't drown them", and I thought I'd share some of my finds with you.  Almost all of these resources are available in both electronic and print form at no cost to you; my only request is that, if you order printed copies, consider passing them on to your local high school science teacher(s) when you've finished them.

In no particular order, then:


The National Institute of General Medical Sciences offers a series of science education booklets with titles such as The Chemistry of Health, Inside the Cell, and The Structures of Life.  They range from 20 to 80 pages in length, and I find them extremely well-written.  They also offer several posters; I didn't order those, but the PDF versions look really nice.  One may also view, or subscribe to, Findings Magazine, which showcases cutting-edge research and includes puzzles and other activities.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute publishes a variety of science materials, on topics ranging from the age of the dinosaurs (their The Day the Mesozoic Died DVD) to evolutionary biology (The Making of the Fittest DVD) and modern genetics (The Genes We Share with Yeast, Flies, Worms and Mice).  One of the most interesting HHMI offerings is their Virtual Lab CDROM, in which one can "go in the lab" for five different projects.  Want to explore the nervous system of a leech, or perhaps use DNA sequencing to identify bacteria?  You'll do it through the Virtual Lab.  All items in the HHMI catalog are free.

iOS Apps

There are several iOS apps which provide a Periodic Table of the Elements, but I find Merck's to be the most comprehensive by far.  Simply put, this app seems to provide everything a typical scientist (or science student) might need "on the fly."  It covers not only the basics of the table, but everything from states of matter (as shown in the screenshot) to molar mass (as in "enter a chemical formula and see its molar mass breakdown") to boot.  Even if your interest is a first course in HS chemistry, this app will prove its worth in short order.

The Merck PTE is available for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, and requires iOS 3.1 or later.  If you're using the US iTunes Store, it's EMD PTE; in the GB iTunes Store, it's Merck PTE.

Grab this one now; it's that good.

Invitrogen Corporation has created a number of free iOS apps, including 3D Cell.  One can take a 3D tour of a typical cell, with extra information avialable for each major cell structure (e.g. Golgi apparatus, endoplasmic reticulum, et al.).  This app does exceed the "sweet spot" I mentioned earlier, in that it goes into details more suitable for college students and professional scientists, but the basic information is accessible to HS students.  (You can see Invitrogen's other apps in the App Store; scroll down and look for the "More Apps by Invitrogen" section on the left margin.)

Along the same lines, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has produced 3D Brain.  This app should be of interest to students of both biology and psychology (the AP Psychology exam requires knowledge of the relationship between brain anatomy/injury and various mental health conditions), so consider this a two-fer.

Both 3D Cell and 3D Brain offer extensive background information, including videos.

That's all for now; I'm sure that I'll revisit this topic in the future, simply because there's SO much material "out there".   I will say that I'm enjoying these things every bit as much as are my kids (perhaps a bit more!)...have fun.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Where Has All the Bandwidth Gone? Free Apps to Inventory Your Home Network

Everything is Internet-capable these days, from handheld gaming devices to refrigerators with built-in Pandora.  Surprisingly, however, most folks don't really know what they have, or haven't, connected to their home network, especially where Wi-Fi networking is concerned.  Well, this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially if your neighbors are leeching your bandwidth through an unprotected wireless access point (Shame on them, and shame on you for not securing it properly!), so here are three free apps that can, among other things, take a quick-and-easy inventory of your home network.

First, for the Windows platform, the folks at Fluke Networks offer IP Inspector.  This is a nice little app that simply reports every active device on the specified network, and does so rather quickly; it required less than 1 minute to scan my /24 home network.  IP Inspector can also do some limited port scanning; however, it only provides a list of 30 or so commonly used ports.  You can grab IP Inspector from Fluke's promotions page; while you're there, you might want to take a look at some of their other free packages.  (I found that their Switch Port Monitor worked quite well to watch my SNMP-capable DSL router...)

Moving to the handheld/tablet world, I recommend Fing Network Scanner for iOS.  Fing not only does the basic inventory-by-IP-address, but allows you to name individual devices (useful for identifying newcomers), maintain a history and run complete port scans.  If you're using Wake-on-LAN with any of your devices, Fing can trigger them as well.  It will even do reverse DNS lookups and 'remembers' disconnected devices!  Fing runs on any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 4.0 or later.  I've only had Fing for two weeks or so, and I've already inventoried several networks out of idle curiosity (think local McDonalds and hotel wi-fi...)

Finally, for the truly serious, there's Nmap.  Nmap is, in my estimation, simply the best network scanning software to be had.  It does EVERYTHING, from simple IP inventories to elaborate port scans, OS identification through IP fingerprinting, and penetration testing.  One can even write scripts to drive particular test methodologies.  Nmap is so complete that the original author had to write a book to explain it all.  Best of all, Nmap is open source; its download page includes precompiled distributions for Windows, Mac OS and Linux, with full-blown source code distributions to boot!

You may have noticed that I rarely discuss Android apps; well, I don't own an Android device, so I can't test anything on that platform.  If you have a recommendation for Android, PLEASE share it in the comments!

(UPDATE: In the comments, I learned that Fing is available for Android - thanks, Peter!)

ONE WORD OF CAUTION: You should not use ANY of these tools on networks where such scanning/inventories would be unwelcome!  While many public access networks are fairly lax in their security, most enterprises of any size DO run active intrusion detection systems (IDS), and a far-ranging address/port scan WILL set off their alarms.  You do NOT want to have a meeting with Corporate IT Security folks to explain yourself - trust me on this one.

Having said that, I think that any of these tools will do a fine job of helping the typical "I got Internet at my house" user to better understand exactly what devices are using their network.

PS: If you're curious, here's my home network: 1 desktop PC, 3 iPhones, 4 iPads (3 school-issued), 2 iPods, 1 Blackberry Bold, 1 Blackberry Playbook, 1 Nintendo Wii, 3 Nintendo DS/3DS, 1 Lexmark printer, 1 HP laptop, 2 ThinkPads, 1 IdeaPad, plus my "work kit" of 1 ThinkCentre, 3 ThinkPads and 2 IBM xSeries servers.  Toss in the wireless AP and the DSL router, and that's 29 devices...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A Cheapskate Traveling Social Network Geek Gets an iPod - Favorite Free Apps

Two weeks ago, I finally joined the ranks of the iOS-enabled; I'm now stress-testing a 16Gb iPod touch (4th generation).  Being a disciplined kind of guy, I resolved not to go app-happy with paid apps. (The truth is that, with 4 kids, buying apps is WAY down on the disposable-income list.)  I've spent a healthy chunk of time browsing the iTunes store for free apps, and I thought I'd share my favorite finds with you.  Without further ado, then:


Fing - Network Scanner: This little gem has already proven useful on my home network.  It's a full-featured network scanner; not only will it discover every device on your wi-fi network, but it will also perform port scans (and identify the ports found, when it can), allow you to make notes, and maintain logs.  Needless to say, this app appeals to both my "network geek" and "security geek" sides.

Networking Toolkit: The fine folks at Chesapeake Netcraftsmen whipped up this little app to provide a subnet calculator, a network calculator and a wildcard mask calculator.  Whether you're designing a network layout, troubleshooting a problematic server (is that mask right?), or trying to figure out your ISP's network, this app will come in hand for any networking professional.

Pcap Touch: It's really simple - this app reads PCAP files (that is, network packet captures from Wireshark, tcpdump or any other pcap-aware network analyzer) and allows you to "drill down" into individual packets.  It doesn't perform any analysis, so you'll have to know what you're looking for, but I can't find any other iOS app that handles PCAP files.  (No, it doesn't capture packets to/from your iOS device...) Mobile Speed Test: If you've used the browser-based speed tests from, this app will be familiar on first launch.  It does one thing--a quick ping/upload/download performance test against your wi-fi network--but it does it cleanly and well.  It also logs your results to the device, so running comparison tests over time is a simple matter.


IBM Sametime: 'Nuff said.  Point this guy at the Greenhouse (if you don't know about Greenhouse, you should - check it out!), and you're ready to go.  I like the organization of live chats, and response is snappy.  If you're using Sametime in your enterprise (and your BYOD policy allows you to use your device at work), this is a no-brainer.

IBM Sametime Meetings for iOS: I'm on an iPod touch, so working with meeting content on the small screen is a bit awkward at times, but the functionality is there.  (It's REALLY nice on an iPad!) Again, point this to Greenhouse and start working immediately.

IBM Connections: IBM's flagship social software for business defies explanation in this small space.  Let's just say that it provides a toolbox of social applications to fit your style, whether you're collaborating on a document, writing a blog, or lurking in discussion forums; it also allows you to track specific team activities and form dynamic communities of interest to tie it all together.  Test-drive it on Greenhouse!

Dropbox: The ubiquitous cloud storage app is, of course, avaiable for iOS.  I find it useful for everything from showing off pictures of my family to checking my documentation library and reading the odd PDF ebook.  (Incidentally, it's also the easiest way to get PCAP files onto your device for review with Pcap Touch!)

UPS Mobile and FedEx Mobile: I'm one of those work-from-home guys, and it's always frustrating to miss a delivery - especially when it's new equipment!  It can also be a pain to "make sure someone's home" when you're waiting on a package.  Well, these two tracking apps let you run those little hometown errands without worrying about missing a delivery.  If you're using MyUPS, the UPS app will also let you set shipments and pickups, get price quotes on shipments, and generate shipping labels.


Fly Delta: Most airlines have a free iOS app, but I do most of my air travel on Delta.  You can do all the typical stuff - check flight status, check in to your flights, get a digital boarding pass on your device, etc.  It's simple, straightforward and easy to use.

FlightAware Flight Tracker: On those occasions when I'm not flying Delta, I use FlightAware to check the status of my flights.  FlightAware has the two qualities you want in a travel app; it's quick and it's easy.

Weather Channel: I'm often sent "on the road" on very short notice (as in "Can you be in NYC tomorrow and stay through Wednesday?" or "Be in Seoul for 2 weeks starting Monday"), so quick access to weather data is an essential part of my business travel.  The TWC app's "favorites" list also allows me to plan for travel when I have more than one day's notice...*grin*

Wi-Fi Finder: JiWire's wi-fi finder shows you all nearby wi-fi hotspots listed in its database (which you can download to the device); you can filter on free/paid, location type, or wireless provider.  I've tested this in Central Kentucky, and I've been impressed with the accuracy of its database.

Google Maps: Still the best.  The "driver's view" map, as one usually sees with a GPS device, is most useful when driving in a strange city.

KHSAA Scoreboard: My kids are active in high school sports (among other things), and it always stinks to miss their games when I'm traveling.  This app provide a live scoreboard for the major high school sports in Kentucky.  As something of a stats geek, I also use it to see how their upcoming opponents are doing.


UberSocial: This is still my favorite mobile Twitter app; I use it on my Blackberry, and the iOS version is every bit as good.  Yeah, the ads pop up a bit too often for my taste, but it's still a well-written Twitter app with a decent UI.

FourSquare: I'm a big fan of Foursquare; in fact, I'm a Level 2 Superuser, which means I spend time adding details to venues, purging fake venues and merging venues because people thought "Arby's" should be "Arby's Roast Beef Sandwiches".  The iOS app is easy to use, and a growing number of business are offering specials/discounts/freebies to those who check in via Foursquare.

Snapchat: It's a cute idea - take snapshots, write a quick (hopefully funny) caption, and send it to your friends.  I have the app because it's REALLY popular at our high school, and all of my kids are using it.  (It's interesting that my credibility among high schoolers is on the rise because I actually understand how "all this online stuff" works.  *laugh*)  If you want some on-the-fly goofy fun with your family, even when traveling, this is a cute app.

There you have it - my favorite first-impression free apps.  Add yours in the comments!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Planning for #IBMConnect - Maps, Apps & Hotel Points

Well, IBM Connect (formerly known as Lotusphere) is almost upon us, as you can see by the countdown timer on the right margin of this page.  (If you want to see the "countdown timer" JavaScript, check out this post from last month.)  This will be my 15th January in Orlando (I think - they blur together after a while), so this stuff is old hat to me; however, I thought that newcomers might like to get a feel for the layout and logistics of the conference.

For starters, your biggest daily concern will be getting from one session to the next.  We're going to be using the full range of meeting facilities in both the Swan and Dolphin hotels, so you may be facing a rather brisk walk in between sessions.  Here, then, are PDF maps suitable for planning (or downloading to your smartphone/tablet/whatever).  NOTE: These are FTP links, not HTTP!

Swan and Dolphin Resort Map
Dolphin Meeting Space Aerial View
Swan Meeting Space Aerial View

A few key points to remember as you plan:
  • Most of the labs (Meet the Developers, IBM Research, etc.) are on the Lobby Level of the Dolphin, in the Oceanic, Asia, and Europe rooms.
  • You'll be eating in the Pacific Hall, on the Ground Level of the Dolphin.  It's a long walk, so plan accordingly.
  • The Product Showcase (both IBM and third-party vendors) will be in the Atlantic Hall of the Dolphin.
  • Most Birds of a Feather (BOF) sessions are held in the Swan.
For your downtime and recreational use, the Swan and Dolphin hotels have created an iPhone app with a general resort map, information on restraurants, activities and the like.  It isn't really useful for business visitors, but your family may enjoy it.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Iphone App |

One last point - the Swan and Dolphin hotels are not owned/operated by Disney, but rather by Starwood Hotels.  If you're a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program, you can pick up points for your stay during IBM Connect.  If not, you can join SPG here.

Feel free to add other resources in the comments - and I'll see you in Orlando!