The best Friday Hacks session so far

Today I attended the Friday Hacks(#68) by NUS Hackers as usual. I knew that the topic today is on NUSMods, a web app developed by a SoC senior – Beng, that is extremely popular and successful in NUS, and there will be a guest Jeff Moss who is a famous security expert. It turned out both talks were interesting and meaningful.

For the first part, Beng mainly talked about the history and design philosophy of the NUSMods. It was an inspiring story considering that he did this in year 2 and the web app went through a lot of changes before it finally become successful and popular among NUS students. In particular, the part on designing the app is interesting, he talked about “hackers who can design the app well enough is as rare as unicorn.” And I found this to be relevant. Sometimes the app may have the best functionality but the poor design may not attract the users or simply render the app unusable. Luckily, there are some books on design philosophies that are useful in designing apps. I figure that I should take a look at them when I have free time and before doing some serious web project. He also mentioned about the future of NUSMods which includes some APIs for new developers to use the data from NUSMods as well as using NUSMods’ existing popularity to transform it into a platform for displaying other apps relevant to NUS(taking the interpretation of NUSMods as NUS Modifications). These ideas may be relevant for me when I do my future projects.

The second part of the session was a short Q&A session for Jeff Moss and some of his colleagues. A lot of insightful questions ranging from personal security, NSA’s surveillance, issue of trust and prospect of computer security were asked and the reply given by the pros were very informative and insightful. We learnt about how strange phenomenons may be related to NSA’s surveillance programmes, the prospect of post Edward Snowden era for computer security. Some even drilled into the fundamental issue of the extent of trust we should give to others. A good point is that in IT industry, we have to ultimately give our trust to some strangers. It is not possible for us to build a functional computer, or in similar sense a full range of software. Hence, whatever we do, we need to trust the other people who developed the building blocks for the technology that we are using, be it the operating system or the processor.

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