The city of Oldsmar, Florida was the source of disturbing news this week, among reports that someone gained unauthorized access to a water treatment facility. In an era where more systems than ever are connected to the Internet, the story is a sobering one for the vast majority of people reliant on grid utilties.
The hacker was first noticed to have gained remote access to a computer system at the plant at 8 a.m. on February 5. An operator at a workstation controlling chemical dosing at the plant observed a remote connection, though did not initially raise the alarm as such access is common practice at the facility for troubleshooting purposes. However, at 1:30 pm, the hacker connected again, this time commanding the dosing system to raise levels of sodium hydroxide in the water from 100 to 11,000 ppm – dangerous levels that would make the city’s water unsafe to drink. The increased level command was immediately overridden by the operator, who then raised the alarm.
The city notes that other safeguards such as pH monitors at the plant would have triggered in the event the original intrusion went undetected. However, the event raises renewed questions about the level of security around critical utility systems connected to the internet. In the last decade, cyberattacks on physical infrastructure have become a reality, not a vague future threat.
Nothing’s known yet about the perpetrator, or how secure the system was (or wasn’t?) before the event. It’s been long known that a lot of infrastructure is simply connected to the internet, as Dan Tentler has been showing us since at least 2012. (Video, ranting.) Indeed, it’s amazing that we’ve seen so few malicious attacks.
How many of you speak more than one language? Since Hackaday is an English-language site whose readership is world-wide, we are guessing quite a lot of you are not monoglots. Did you learn your second or third languages at school, and was it an experience you found valuable? How about your path into software? If you are a coder, were you self-taught or was your school responsible for that as well?
It’s been a constant of the last few decades, officials and politicians in charge of education worrying that tech-illiterate children are being churned out of schools ill-equipped for the Jobs Of Tomorrow, and instituting schemes to address the issue. One of the latest of these ideas has come our way from Florida, and it’s one that has sparked some controversy. It sounds simple enough, make coding equivalent to language learning when it comes to credits in Floridian high schools.
You might think that this idea would be welcome, but instead it has attracted criticism from those concerned that it will become an either-or choice in cash-strapped school districts. This could lead to kids without an extra language being at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for higher education. There are also concerns that the two subjects are not equivalent, and should not be conflated.
It’s difficult from the perspective of an adult technical journalist without a background in education to speculate on the relative benefits to young minds of either approach. It is very likely though that just as with previous generations the schools will discover that there is limited benefit in pushing coding at kids with little aptitude or interest in it, and that the benefits in terms of broader outlook and intellectual exercise gained by learning another language might be lost.
Which was more valuable to you at school, coding or learning a language? Were you of the generation that learned coding through BASIC from the manual that came with your home computer, and should today’s kids be doing the same with Scratch and Python on boards like the Raspberry Pi? Let us know in the comments.
Child at computer image: Nevit Dilmen [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Today was the first of two days of trials at the DARPA Robotics challenge at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Created after the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, The robotics challenge is designed to advance the state of the art of robotics. The trials range from driving a car to clearing a debris field, to cutting through a wall. Robots score points based on their performance in the trials. Much of the day was spent waiting for teams to prepare their robots. There were some exciting moments however, with one challenger falling through a stacked cinder block wall.
Pictured above is Valkyrie from NASA
JPL JSC. We reported on Valkyrie earlier this month. Arguably one of the better looking robots of the bunch, Valkyrie proved to be all show and no go today, failing to score any points in its day 1 trials. The day one lead went to Team Schaft, a new robot from Tokyo based startup company Schaft inc. Schaft scored 18 points in its first day. In second place is the MIT team with 12 points. Third place is currently held by Team TRACLabs with 9 points. All this can change tomorrow as the second day of trials take place. The live stream will be available from 8am to 7pm EST on DARPA’s robotics challenge page.
Continue reading “DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Day 1”