TED Talk: “Are droids taking our jobs?” — Yes, but also making new ones.


hen you start programming smartphone apps, you start thinking about the impact you’re going to have. And make no mistake: they’re going to have a huge impact.

Check out this interesting new TED talk about how human workers are going out of style, thanks to things like smartphone apps.

He concludes that, with these technological developments, the biggest industry is going to be the programming and computer science industry—the people who design the software and tell the robots what to do.

Our personal favorite line from this video: “Nobody cares where these kids grew up, where they went to school or what they look like. All anyone cares about is the quality of the work—the quality of the ideas.”

And he brings up an interesting topic for you to consider. Knowledge workers—what are they? A knowledge worker is just like it sounds: it’s someone who thinks for a living. That includes lawyers, doctors and scientists, but to us that sounds an awful like “engineers and computer scientists.” Because, chew on this, they’re the makers.

Lawyers, doctors and scientists do a lot of great work. They’re great professions to have. (Really!) But the majority of their work involves researching what has happened in the past. Engineers and computer scientists? They look to the future, and get to decide what happens in the future.

We’re going through a revolution a lot like the one that took place in the late 1700s. We’ve said it before: don’t just ride the wave. Surf it and push it to its limits.

Everyone Needs A Computer To Survive: Near-Portland Students Can Get Them Free.


ou may have heard that computer science is important to study, but have you really heard the why?

Today we’re going to talk about why you need to study computer science to be successful. And then we’re going to talk about why getting a computer is not a problem for anyone near Portland, thanks to a great group called Free Geek. There’s a fair amount of reading, so skip to the parts which are interesting to you.

Why You Need Computer Science And, Therefore, A Computer.

Software Development: Your Future Job

Software developers have bad posture, according to this picture from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What are they trying to say? Be the cure. Sit straight.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Software Development is one of the fastest-growing highest-paying jobs. Read: It is one of the highest-paying jobs, and of the category of highest-paying jobs, it is is the fastest-growing. And many of those jobs require only a bachelor’s degree. (Source). That’s pretty wild. And it means if you want to hop on board with one of the most accessible and lucrative jobs in the US, you need to start programming.

About Software Development

Read a little bit about software development, as described by the US BLS. Here’s the gist:

  • The job growth from 2010-2020 is projected to be 30%. The average is 14%.
  • The median pay is $90,000 per year.
  • Entry-level jobs require a B.S. in computer science. Similar-paying jobs often require a Ph.D.

That last piece of information is important: if you want to become a high-paid software developer, you need to study computer science.

Obstacles for Computer Science Students

Charles Babbage, the first computer scientist, didn't have a computer but was still great. You can be, too. But since computers are, you know, invented now, we recommend picking one up.

Don’t even get us started on the number of non-programming jobs which require you to use a computer (most of them). That said, computer science what you need to survive.

So why are some people skeptical about CS majors, or hesitant to study it? Well, there are a couple things which, at first, seem scary:

  • A CS major involves a lot of mathematics classes.
  • It’s hard to get one’s hands on a computer with which to program at home.

Here’s the problem with math: it usually involves a lot of pencil-and-paper computations which are tedious and just plain annoying. That’s how math often gets taught in school. But the kind of math you learn for CS is less about computing and more about concepts, and you can have your computer do the computing (appropriate, isn’t it?). Check out this great TED talk, from one of the guys in charge of Wolfram Alpha, about how to revamp your math education:

Math is not about tedious calculations, it’s actually about logic and problem solving.
Plus, when you’re learning to program a computer, you can make it do all of the

Given that a CS student needs to focus on conceptual math, and can make their computer do the calculating, that means that the biggest problem for CS students is getting a computer.

How to get your hands on a computer.

Linux is popular among programmers because it's completely open-source and completely customize-able. That's why there are custom distributions like Ubuntu.

For a lot of people, getting a computer can be hard. A decent one is a couple hundred dollars, and good ones can be over a thousand. Some people are lucky enough to get one as a gift or hand-me-down from family or friends, but other families just don’t have computers. That’s fine for a family, but not for you. You need one to study CS, or even just to get by in the professional world.

In Portland, there’s a company called Free Geek, whose goal is to get computers in the hands of as many people as possible. They believe computer skills are essential for the future, and have a number of programs to get computers into the hands of people who may not be able to get them otherwise.

The Ubuntu logo. Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions of Linux.

Free Geek has two programs to get computers at no cost: the Adoption Program, where you donate 24 hours of time in exchange for a free computer; and the Build Program, where you build five computers for Free Geek, and then a sixth for yourself. Click the above links to learn more, and then apply.

The best part: the computer you get is loaded with Ubuntu Linux, a great operating system both because it’s free and because Linux operating systems are great for programming learners, thanks to their customization and their shell. Plus, they offer free classes for their volunteers.

Read On

How to live in the open world.


heck out this video about what the future of the world might be like, with an open internet. An open internet means open ideas, and the free sharing of ideas, with the intent of spreading knowledge to everyone.

Listening to his story starting at 9:54, about the Tunisian revolution,
and how the internet was creatively used by civilians,
shows the real power of the internet. 

We like to remind you that we don’t support breaking piracy, or breaking the law. At all. Illegal = bad, folks.

Here's what one version of Linux looks like. Pretty classy! Also remember that the Android smartphone OS is Linux-based.

But we strongly believe in the openness of information for the betterment of humankind. We believe in freedom, one of the principles the U.S. was founded on. Read about Ben Franklin’s stance on patents, the pieces of law which declare that someone ‘owns’ any given idea.

This is why GetReal so supports free and open software, such as the Linux operating system, and programming languages like Python. If you want to get connected with other people using Linux, or other people programming with Python, give Internet Relay Chat (IRC) a shot. And dive into the world of open-source programming…

…where any idea can be created by one, and then improved by anyone.

Genetic engineering: not just viruses.


here’s no question that genetic engineering has a lot of moral and ethical controversy. But genetic engineers come from every background, for any number of reasons. We at GetReal don’t advise one way or the other on what you should do as a genetic engineer, but we think that a clone army sounds an awful lot like something you’d see in Star Wars. Which is equally impressive and scary. We don’t need supervillians, do we?

Still, it’s interesting to think that the next generation may be a new species, or may be on the verge of becoming that new species—or may already be that new species. And if Homo evolutis is what we’re to become, then we think you should be the one to help make it happen. We know you have the potential.  Give this interesting TED talk a watch:

What he basically says is that we’re becoming a new species: Homo evolutis,
a species which can consciously control evolution, both of itself
and of other things.

As a researcher on genetic engineering, you would have to face some moral decisions like this: is it right to alter someone’s genes to make them more resistant to disease? That might sound obvious, but as a genetic engineer, you have to think of the big picture. Does the human race, which already faces a population crisis, need more people living? Is it wrong to let those same people die of a disease which you could have saved them from? If you become a genetic engineer, you can do work to help answer these tough moral questions, and ultimately help the human race. And that’s what engineering is always about. We talked about genetic engineering of viruses, recently, and we think it’s pretty relevant.

For example: cancer is something which affects all of us, in some way. Unfortunately, it’s a disease which touches almost all of our lives at one point. If you want to help the human race fight cancer at its source, rather than treating it with chemicals and radiation, becoming a genetic engineer may be a good choice. You will be able to learn more about what causes it, and perhaps find ways to make us more stable and resistant to the harmful carcinogens which cause cancer.

So where would you start? Well pay attention to your biology classes in school, because that’s the foundation for a genetic engineer. But if you want to get a head start on actual human genetics, we think Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters is a good place to start reading. This book is interesting, and though it doesn’t have many pictures it’s really informative. You can also watch one of Juan Enqriquez’s other TED talks, about how genetic engineering will save the economy. Skip to 9:50 to get straight to the good stuff.

“Medical Engineering” uses CAD and 3d-printing to fix a man’s aorta

Tal Golesworthy has a medical condition where his aorta, the biggest artery in one’s body, lacks elasticity and swells with pressure—eventually leading to a lethal rupture. The only way to treat the problem, once it gets advanced enough, is to surgically remove the aorta and implant a plastic replacement.

This funny looking thing is a 3d-printed CAD model of Tal's aorta. They used this to construct his support wrapping, which he named 'exovasc.'

At least, that was the only surgical solution. Tal really didn’t want to spend the rest of his life taking an anti-coagulant medicine called Warfarin (which was originally made to be rat poison, and causes a whole slew of medical problems). But what was a boiler engineer to do? His expertise was plumbing.

He applied a simple plumbing concept to his complex medical problem: when certain parts of piping start to swell, you wrap tape around the outside (rather than replacing the pipe) to support it and prevent further swelling.

Check out this captivating TEDx talk, where Tal discusses how he worked with both doctors and engineers to implement his clever idea.

When working with people in other fields, the greatest potential danger lies in
mis-communication. He briefly mentions it when he talks about his mirrored aorta.

Start simple, keep it simple.

If there’s one thing we can learn from past scientists, it’s that learning all the complexities of modern science can be seen as a necessary ordeal to understanding the universe simply. And that’s not to say that knowing esoteric scientific principles isn’t important, but that just that those principles aren’t the essence of engineering.

Part of coming up with a good solution is to keep the most important thing the most important thing. Focus on that and that only, and consider every complexity secondary—keep an open mind, in case the solution you start with isn’t the best one.

Check out this video from TED Education, by Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, talking about simple ideas leading to big things.

Having the capacity to be a good engineer just takes curiosity.
But even the world’s best mechanic needs tools.
Science education is your toolbox.

We’ve moved from learning that the world is round to studying the possibility of time travel and subatomic particles. We’ve moved from designing telescopes that can see the moon to telescopes that can see galaxies unfathomably far away. From discovering simple chemical reactions to discovering new states of matter. From designing internal-combustion-engine-cars to designing hydrogen-powered cars.

You can’t fight the fact that things might be more complex than they were in the past, but you can count on the fact that these complex designs probably started with something like, “I wonder if there’s a better way…”


Link Dump 1-27

Not much to say today, but please enjoy these great engineering and computer science links!