Small Basic


Who didn’t cut their first programming teeth on the BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) language.  It’s known for a lot of things:

  • ease of use;
  • powerful yet simple;
  • teaches a certain programming paradigm;
  • available on virtually any platform.

I know that it was one of the first languages that I learned and I still have a copy kicking around on my computers.  Every now and again, I’ll need to write a quick little ditty to do something and I’ll fire up BASIC to do the job.  I still think of it as a great personal programming language and can see many advantages of using it as a first programming platform.

To help the process, Microsoft has developed and released a product called Small Basic.  It’s in a section that they call Kid’s Corner but this big kid likes it too.

It’s a small download but the MSI package lands easily and installs in a couple of minutes.

And then, you’re ready to begin!

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The development window is nice and friendly and there is contextual help every step of the way to help you with the language constructs.

It’s more than just your MSBasic memories though!  Included in the language is the ability to manipulate graphics, play music, and manipulate turtle graphics.  I think it’s the perfect language to interest young programmers.

Small Basic gets social as well.  In the best spirit of collaboration, you don’t have to email code or the like.  The “publish” button sends your work into the cloud and you get a token in exchange.  Share that token with your collaborators and you’re off to the races.

The program comes with a good PDF reference file to learn the language and the syntax.  From a teachers’ perspective, there is great support for learning materials.  Blogs and forums allow for the discussion of materials and there are Powerpoint files to support the teaching of Small Basic.  Even if you’re not looking to use the program itself, the support files should inspire you in ways to create your own lessons.

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If you have a few megs of storage space on your hard drive, this is a handy package to download and have available.  Quite easily, you can hammer out a solution to a problem on a personal basis.  And, for the family computer, it’s a nice place to introduce programming.

Dangers in Public Browsing


I think that we’ve all heard about the dangers of connecting to open networks.  It’s the stuff that spy stories thrive on.  You’re at your local coffee store doing some internet activity and a bad guy attaches to the same network and steals your identity.  After all, you’re both sharing the same wireless connection.  Futuristic, eh?

Not any more.

If you have the Firefox browser and an appropriate add-on, you can do it yourself.  A great deal has been written about the Firesheep add-on lately.  It’s reportedly a proof of concept utility that Mozilla allows to be downloaded and installed to hijack http connections.  Once installed, the curious can monitor the connection for logins and passwords so that you might assume someone else’s account.

In this day and age, I think many of us are quite comfortable with online banking or shopping.  We’ve all been trained to “look for the lock” or whatever the equivalent is for your browser.  That is a visual that you have a secure connection with the other end for the purposes of doing these sorts of things.  You may notice that increasingly more websites are using the same technology for just regular use.  If you head to the Mozilla web presence, it’s all presented securely for you.  So, what’s the issue?

Check out this story.  Watch the CBC report here.

Increasingly, we’re using social networking sites that do require a logon and a password.  The issue becomes one of security.  Is the connection secure or is your logon/password combination open to anyone who happens to be listening.  An article that I read yesterday from the Digital Report Card provides a nice summary of some popular services like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, etc.  The report card is an eye opener and the descriptions about SSL and hijacking are important reads for anyone who wants to go online and use these services.  You need to open the link about and read the article, focussing on your own online habits.

Thankfully, the online services involved are responding.  Here’s a report on Facebook‘s concerns.  The claim of over 500,000 downloads is kind of scary.  Especially, if one of the downloaders enjoys the same coffee as I do.

What can you do about it?  FireShepherd (and a tip of the hat to the humour of programmers) is a utility designed to jam Firesheep with random data to make it useless.  But, a better solution is to be aware of the type of connection that you’re making with these services.  More and more of them are offering secure options which you should always opt for.  To help the cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation offers its own solution – an add-on called https Everywhere which should take the guessing out of the process and force a secure solution when you access the services thereby protecting your credentials.  There is a startup switch that you can apply to Google Chrome to force https connections as well.  That’s been around for a while.

It’s not just coffee shops that you should be concerned about these things happening.  How about a school network where you invite guests to attach?  Not necessarily related, but this report from London should give some pause for thought. Can we ensure that everyone who is attaching to the network is playing nice?  How about a hotel with complimentary internet access?  How about a conference centre like you’d find at an ISTE Conference?

Do we take our online sessions seriously enough?