Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education Networking Technology

Ask Slashdot: Software For Learning About Data Transmission? 79

Posted by timothy
from the take-this-string-and-those-cans dept.
bellwould writes "In teaching information tech to a 13-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I've found she's wildly interested in the details of data transmission but not programming. We've had limited success with command-line tools like traceroute and tcpdump, but now I'm seeking tips/advice on software that may help her explore and visualize things like transmission protocols." What would you recommend?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Software For Learning About Data Transmission?

Comments Filter:
  • Umm (Score:5, Informative)

    by M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:52PM (#42151119)

    Play data games with a wireshark on someones network, and have fun decoding the packets.

    • by _merlin (160982)

      What about OPNET [opnet.com]? I thought it would've been obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned below. It may not be cheap, but it's a professional-quality tool, and it lets you easily design and simulate protocols by drawing state machines. I used this while working on 802.11n proposals back in the day, and I'd still recommend it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zen-Mind (699854)
        Might want to check OMNet++ as well then, it's probably not as complete, but it's free and you can build your own modules.
    • This...wireshark is the most awesome tool for tcp/udp. It even supports custom plugins if you get creative.

      As for a real world data usage. Look up the IEEE DIS standard. That standard is used by many military systems for simulating distributed environments. At least then there'd be a real world example that might get the kid even more into it knowing that the army and navy use it. Make your own dummy DIS streamer, or find one online if a free one exists.

      • by Trubacca (941152)
        Haha, you took the "This" right out of my mouth. At my community college, our capstone Network Ops course was based on packet analysis with Wireshark. It really solidified my understanding of the network flow in a way that gave me a true sense of visualizing The Matrix. I will need to follow up on your suggestion on DIS... a quick Wikipedia jaunt reveals it to be something I would like to invest more time in. Many thanks for the tip.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just get her a job on Wall Street working in HFT. Problem solved all around - she can be exploited, her employer will reap huge financial benefit, and you won't be responsible for her care and maintenance for a lifetime. Sometimes utilitarian philosophy has its place in society. Seriously, if your daughter is autistic then she could be encouraged to pursue a field of study requiring a willingness to stare at data for weeks and months at a time to see patterns and then take those observations and apply them

    • Yeah, Wireshark would be my go-to as well. You might also look at demonstrating ways she might want to triangulate radio locations (ie, wi-fi) using things like WiSpy, and demonstrating the ways in which all of those hidden earthed wires create invisible wireless shields that for some reason no one in the industry seems to grasp (the old 'you only need two of these radios for your entire school' scenario).
  • Nmap with GUI (Score:5, Informative)

    by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Friday November 30, 2012 @09:57PM (#42151163)
    Nmap comes with a GUI called Zenmap. If you want to be visual, the GUI has a tab labeled "Topology". There are also self-explanatory tabs for "Hosts" and "Services". It's also a nice way to teach your child about security.
    • Re:EtherApe (Score:5, Informative)

      by rwa2 (4391) * on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:19PM (#42151325) Homepage Journal

      Careful with the CamelCase, but http://etherape.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] is a fun real-time connection visualizer. We used that for a lot of network demonstrations.

      The command-line based "iftop" is also really nice to get a quick realtime overview of what's using bandwidth.

      I think she'll have lots of fun with any of the Wardriving software, which would also give you maps.

      For Android, there are a few pretty interesting real-time displays. "Wifi Analyzer" will have her running all over the place exploring wifi signal attenuation. "OpenSignal" is also a cool app I just started playing with that will let you do the same with cell towers, which also shows their location on a map. Also look at "GPS Status" to visualize where all of the GPS satellites are, and what kind of attenuation you'd get from each one's signal with trees / buildings / mountains in the way.

      Have fun!

      • e the rape?

        Seriously... naming people - think it through...

      • Careful with the CamelCase, but http://etherape.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] is a fun real-time connection visualizer. We used that for a lot of network demonstrations.

        The command-line based "iftop" is also really nice to get a quick realtime overview of what's using bandwidth.

        I think she'll have lots of fun with any of the Wardriving software, which would also give you maps.

        For Android, there are a few pretty interesting real-time displays. "Wifi Analyzer" will have her running all over the place exploring wifi signal attenuation. "OpenSignal" is also a cool app I just started playing with that will let you do the same with cell towers, which also shows their location on a map. Also look at "GPS Status" to visualize where all of the GPS satellites are, and what kind of attenuation you'd get from each one's signal with trees / buildings / mountains in the way.

        Have fun!

        I think that the child can learn from http://class.stanford.edu/networking/Fall2012 [stanford.edu]
        There are some very basic informations. Pictorial representations, and concepts of flow, etc. I as a 13 year old became fixated on electronics, and this child may be fixated the same way on the TCP/IP.

        Footnote: I pluraled information

  • I use the commercial version, but you can get it as freeware:

    http://netwitness.com/products-services/investigator-freeware [netwitness.com]

    basically, grab a pcap anywhere on the network, dump it into investigator, and then sift through the data. It's really powerful, but may take a little getting used to. Shows you all kinds of neat stuff about the data, lets you slice and dice it however you want by a whole host of criteria. Highly recommended.

  • start from the top (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:14PM (#42151287)

    A Mathematical Theory of Communication [bell-labs.com] by Claude E. Shannon

    • by Cogline (188518)

      Although an incredibly dry beginning, reaching into information theory may be the most rewarding path. A neat thing about information theory is that it isn't all discrete sets and number crunching. You could start with an oscilloscope and just show what data looks like moving around. Such as a serial port--very easy to visualize and a stepping stone to any fancier stream. Also with a scope you can show AM and FM with different phase/amplitude modulations. Which leads right up to a ham radio license. I suspe

  • Firewalls, NIDS, TOR (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Whomp-Ass (135351) on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:16PM (#42151299)

    Use your router to see where things are going. Set it up such that the firewall reports back to your computer (or displays when you log into it's interface), Or do the same with the firewall on the box you are using, or both. Wallwatcher, Syslogd, whatever works best for your situation.

    Set up a separate box to act as a NID (e.g. Snort) and ratchet up it's output to verbose. Behold nearly infinite data to play with.

    Set up a remote host, or log into a remote host you already have available, instruct it to portscan your home network, keep wireshark on, use resource manager to watch the TCP/IP connections come up and down, or task manager, or what have you.

    Use TOR and watch the map screen that shows you your connection route, try to have the kid logic-together why the web takes so long to surf that way.

    Lots and lots of tools that should be pretty much at your disposal with minimal effort are out there...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would say start with the very foundation of telecommunication. Give a history lesson on the telegraph and telephone/circuit-switching. Move on to packet-switching and ip addresses/ports. Give hands-on experience building her own network topology. Once you have the foundations down, you may not need some fancy software to visualize something that is arcane and abstract. Work your way up the OSI layer model until programming becomes neccesary and understandable.

    Network / socket programming would be very

    • by swalve (1980968)
      I was going to say the same thing. Get her a CCNA book from Cisco Press and see how she does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2012 @10:24PM (#42151363)

    I'm an adult female with ASD and I, too, was fascinated by data transmission. I couldn't hack school but for a couple decades I was an excellent (and highly compensated) network engineer, I recommend Wireshark and some books: "TCP/IP TCP/IP Illustrated, Vol. 1" by Richard Stevens, "Data Communications, Computer Networks, and Open Systems (4th Edition)" by Fred Halsall, and "Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols (2nd Edition)" by Radia Perlman.

    She might also be interested in databases, which is where I went when networking started to get dull.

    • by chaosite (930734)

      +1 for the Stevens and Perlman books. I haven't read Halsall's book, but I might now that I see it placed next to those two.

  • I tried to get into programming but just couldn't. I really don't like doing it.

    However I LOVE networking. You might have her go to your local Cisco network academy, and go to one that is offered at a community college. Not all are created equal, but the one I go to the instructors are very caring about their students, and will go that extra mile to help a motivated individual learn better.

    I have a condition that I suspect is autism spectrum, but there's no name for. I have many traits of Asperger's and man

    • Oh also, go get Cisco packet tracer. In simulation mode, it does little visual demonstrations of how the packets traverse the network, and even shows you how the individually layered datagrams are broken apart and what they do. It also does everything you need to get a CCNA.

  • Anyone can understand packet braodcast and transmission but you should get the child interested in the harder stuff: TCP.

    Sliding windows, data-retransmission algoritms, congestion backoff timers, etc...

    It will explain not only how the data gets where it's going but how it gets there, ordered!

    Fascinating stuff, really.

    It's pure computer-science from there on.

    Maybe the kid doesn't want to be a programmer but maybe the kid could end up designing/optimising data transmission algorithms, you never know.

    Understan

  • I ~wrote my ow)n softWare to ddemonst^rate tHe priincipples of comM&uniction sofwware andd %it woRkks likee aa c!harr m ; + ~

  • Because there are a number of them that explore communications theory. Of course you could also just look at the TCP/IP stack on a computer.
  • by funkboy (71672)

    Well, if you've got admin access to a decent sized network, go install NetDot [uoregon.edu], which gives you a visualization of all your gear & how it's connected at the physical & logical level, and will draw nice little network maps for you showing the paths between devices on the fly.

  • by fa2k (881632) <pmbjornstad@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday November 30, 2012 @11:25PM (#42151747)

    Netcat is good for experimenting at the application layer, especially combined with wireshark.

  • People are mentioning tcpdump, wireshark, etc. Why not sniff something a bit more lower level, a bit less documented, and therefore a bit more interesting?

    Buy a cheap logic analyzer (here's one for $50 [dangerousprototypes.com]). For even more fun buy a Bus Pirate [dangerousprototypes.com], which works kind of like the old Game Genie game modification device from the 90's. Connect probes to conductors on various devices and try to figure out how they communicate at the electrical level, then modify the signals themselves to try to make new things happen!

  • First, she needs to read claude shannon's "a mathematical theory of communication"

    http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/ms/what/shannonday/shannon1948.pdf [bell-labs.com]

    Also, this class may help:

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/principles-digital-communications/id341597796?mt=10 [apple.com]

  • Start at the bottom, work your way up. Any local hackerspace should be able to help.
  • by Jmc23 (2353706) on Saturday December 01, 2012 @12:49AM (#42152217) Journal
    Besides all the good tools mentionned, there's probably going to be interest in twiddling bits, or even protocol implementations and algos. Lisp is a little more ASD friendly and it's easy to write tools to interact with networks.
  • and let her write her own client/server apps to talk to each other.

  • I guess it depends what you mean by visualizing communications.

    - An oscilloscope and a spectrum analyzer will show electrical properties at the hardware level.
    - Traceroute, tcpdump, and wireshark will give you path and packet information.
    - NMAP.org has a decent packet header reference for IP (http://nmap.org/book/tcpip-ref.html).
    - NMAP is a very powerful network tool for scanning for open ports, etc.
    - If you want to get deeper into packet headers, you can get into encapsulation such as VPN headers, Layer 2

  • You could try playing with a visual network simulator, which should make things easier to understand (and experiment with). This page [wustl.edu] seems have a nice overview and some screenshots to get you started. Have fun!
  • I am not exactly sure what you mean by "data transmission". But might running SMTP by hand using telnet be on the right path for beginners?

    I have astonished a few friends who think computers are complicated just by "telnet domain.com 25" and running through a simple SMTP session to send a simple email. It's suddenly not quite so mysterious as before.

    You can also do HTTP, but usually the returned data is too complex for a tty window. On the other hand, if you run your own webserver and "telnet localhost 8

  • Set two machines up with their soundcards hooked together - you don't need radio for this, although if you've got an appropriate licence you may as well - and install soundmodem on them. Set it up so it appears as a network device.

    Now when you ping from one machine to the other, you'll see (or hear) the ARP request and response, and the ICMP messages. You'll need to use something like ping -t 5 to make the pings slow enough. You will also need a suitably patched version of tcpdump or wireshark, that supp

  • ...maybe buy a copy of James Gleick's "The Information" and see if any of it piques her interest? I have a sneaky suspicion that some of the concepts described that are broader may catch her imagination. Or read it yourself to explain some of the ideas in your own words to start with. I'd start with getting the _ideas_ across and let that fire up her imagination before trying to explain existing protocols too far. Maybe try and explain why the 7 layer OSI model is why it is but don't start with trying to de

  • I've had some success getting young people interested in reliability and congestion control using tcptrace. See pages 3 and 4 of this document [univ-paris-diderot.fr] for screenshots.

    --jch

  • The clack router is a little old but it's a great idea:

    http://yuba.stanford.edu/vns/clack/ [stanford.edu]

    There might be too much abstraction for someone first starting out, though.

  • There are a few good books out there like "Digital Communications" by Proakis. Try writing some algorithms in MATLAB or python with all the pylab tools.

  • And you'll find some neat things like this: http://www.gns3.net/screenshots/ [gns3.net] .

  • Do you have any local hacker/maker space nearby? May be great and practical way to get introduced to tech and engineering.

White dwarf seeks red giant for binary relationship.

Working...