Polymathic Scholars Transit Talk

I have been meaning to publish this for awhile, but it sat on my back burner.

On March 3, I gave a talk to my fellow Polymathic Scholars on the importance public transportation. It’s sort of a hybrid presentation that explains both how to use transit and also how it’s planned.

Check out the slides here.

Hacking Piazza with Cross-Site Scripting

Piazza is a free classroom discussion service marketed for science and mathematics classes. It is best described as a hybrid wiki and forum; students can post questions, and other students can collaborate on answers. Like WordPress, content can be formatted with a rich-text editor or with plain HTML with a restricted set of features. Piazza’s distinguishing feature is the ability to post anonymously, which it claims makes underrepresented groups in the sciences more comfortable with interacting with the class. At UT, the computer science department makes extensive use of Piazza for most of its classes.

Piazza is primarily accessed through the web interface on piazza.com. Of great interest, there is also a “lite” web interface designed for mobile devices and accessible browsers at piazza.com/lite. I will demonstrate that Piazza is susceptible to common client-side web attacks, such as cross-site scripting, as a result of its reliance on web apps. (There are also native iOS and Android apps, but they are awful, and nobody uses them.) Continue reading “Hacking Piazza with Cross-Site Scripting”

Self-Driving Cars: a Reality Check

Today, the media is awash with buzz about the inevitable arrival of autonomous automobiles, personal vehicles that could transport passengers under complete computer control. Writing for Forbes, David Galland predicts that ten million autonomous cars will be on American streets by 2020 (Galland). He expects the adoption of autonomous cars to have profound, transformative effects on our society, by “reducing the number of traffic accidents by upward of 90%,” offering new mobility options for seniors and people with disabilities, eliminating the need for expensive and scarce downtown parking, and “[banishing] the whole idea of rush hour … to the history books” (Galland). Ford plans to sell “true self-driving cars” without controls for human drivers such as pedals or steering wheels by 2021 (Isidore). Not to be left behind, US Senators Gary Peters and John Thune have announced they plan to introduce new legislation to foster the development of autonomous vehicles that will “[leave] room for innovators to reach their full potential” (“Joint Effort”). They believe that autonomous cars “have the potential to dramatically reduce the … lives lost on our roads and highways every year and fundamentally transform the way we get around” (“Joint Effort”).

But before we speculate on the long-term impacts of autonomous cars, and especially before we formulate sweeping national policies concerning them, we ought to consider just how soon they will become reality. There are difficult ethical, technical, and human interface challenges that the industry has not yet addressed and hard questions that our society has not yet answered. Should autonomous vehicles favor the survival of passengers or pedestrians in the event of an accident? How will we produce and maintain high-resolution maps of every road on which autonomous vehicles will be expected to operate? How will we keep passengers alert and prepared to retake control in the event of an emergency? We are not five years away from autonomous cars, as Ford claims, much less six months away from “full self-driving” Tesla vehicles, as CEO Elon Musk claims (@elonmusk). The barriers to designing safe and reliable autonomous cars are so massive that they will preclude their mainstream introduction for many decades, if not indefinitely. Continue reading “Self-Driving Cars: a Reality Check”