23 Jan 2014

Grow your own

Author: will | Filed under: Cork, investment, Ireland, resource, start-up, technology, venture capitalist, what if

Want to play with biotechnology in the same way that others are playing with programming and 3D printing? More and more people are grappling with this question as DIYbio becomes a household word, but the first project is always the hardest.

Well Cathal Garvey, and yes he’s Cork based, aims to change that, and create a beginner’s kit for biotechnology that not only makes it easier to accomplish, but gives you the scope and fundamental knowledge to take it further at your own pace, learning by making.

To make this happen, he need your help, and your cash. He’s put together an IndieBB campaign (think KickStarter for Indie projects) to get a kit in people’s hands. In return for your commitment (and cash) you can opt to receive the bacteria and DNA that you need to undertake your first experiment in genetic engineering. You can even receive a kit containing equipment and extra goodies that set you on your way to a personal or community biolab! Or just some cool stickers.

Take a look at the project, because I know I’m probably going to try to arrange a visit to the lab, but maybe not resist uncomfortable Dr Frankenfurter jokes to his face.

The link is http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indiebb-your-first-gmo?

Embedded Link

IndieBB: Your First GMO
IndieBB: a DNA system designed to help you and your friends to explore genetic engineering and synthetic biology by making fluorescent bacteria at home.

16 Jul 2013

Can you trust a copy cloud?

Author: will | Filed under: cloud computing, Links, privacy, security, technology

Given recent headlines, I'm not sure that I can trust +Copy . But I'm going to use them for a while.
Copy are, yet another online cloud based file storage service, like +Dropbox and Microsoft's Skydrive. Or rather they are yet another American on-line file storage company. You get 15GB if you sign up and if you use a referal link like https://copy.com?r=F2qATm you (and me) get an additional 5GB of storage space.

The reason's for not trusting? Its hard to say. I mean +Barracuda Networks , the parent of Copy.com make the open source Clam Antivirus product. But back doors were recently discovered in their VPN product. Then again a lot of big multinationals trust them for their backups.

The other thing is that its yet another American storage database for perusal by certain three lettered groups.

Then again, it is 5GB, and it is a reason for me to start playing with encryption.

Trust is a tricky thing, it takes years to build, and its destroyed within a single second. And once doubt exists, its hard to accept. Still I must look in EU and Scandinavian based solutions like Norway's JottaCloud. They are outside the jurisdiction of a lot of folks.

You just need to trust all the steps to the cloud first. Or pre-encrypt. The search of security is not over yet…

This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “It’s not over yet”, but it may as well be on “Trust”.
To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, …
Delirious, Maria/Gaelikaa, Maria SilverFox OCD writer, Padmum, Paul, Ramana, The Old Fossil, Grannymar.

Embedded Link

Sign up for Copy and get 20 GB free!

Malware is a useful catch all term, but sometimes things are nastier than viruses and auto-deleting thingamajigs.

For example; Ransomware put simply it is a nasty program which put itself on your machine and refuses you access to it unless you pay someone.

There is a version doing the rounds in Ireland purporting to be from An Garda Síochána (The Irish Police force) saying simply pay up since we found naughty files on your computer.
The give-away is that its in both Gaeilge and English, or rather badly translated versions of both. Like it or lump it, but since, legally at least, all Irish laws are written in Gaeilge and translated in to English then the Gaeilge should be correct. In practice however the laws are written in English first, translated in to Irish and sometimes translated back to make sure the meaning hasn't changed.

So its a fake. That and the fact that the Irish Authorities prefer to prosecute after a forensics team have paid a visit to your hard drive (for the moment).

Its also fairly easy to remove this version, there are nastier ones which encrypt on the go (so go and back-up your datas now).

The steps are taken from Jimmy Collins' blog (link below) who I used to work with in a computer security company that I'm not going to mention in case it gets both of us in trouble.

"The infection itself is quite simple to remove. After booting into safe mode and checking the usual places like the Windows folder I came across a suspiciously name folder in ‘C:ProgramData’. It was a randomly named folder with a name like ‘ajklvnksnvsdfvfv’.
Inside, a 158mb HTML page, and all the necessary images, and CSS files etc. There was also an .exe in the root of the ‘C:ProgramData’ folder, the name of which I can’t remember, but it was name similarly to the folder with the HTML file, images etc. (I didn’t have a USB key handy regretfully).
Deleting these files and folders removes the infection, so it doesn’t seem too complex in the methods it employs to evade detection."

Still it would give you quite a shock to be suddenly presented with this. Automatic shutdowns rarely have an appeals process which works in a reasonable time.

Play safe out there…

This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “Panic”.
To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, …
Delirious, Maria/Gaelikaa, Maria SilverFox OCD writer, Padmum, Paul, Ramana, The Old Fossil, Grannymar.

Embedded Link

Beware – Ransomware
So this evening I was sitting at home when I get a panicked call from a friend in some distress. When he eventually explained what he was seeing on his computer screen at that moment, I immediately suspected a Ransomeware infection.
Ransomware, for those who have been living on the third moon of Jupiter for the last few years, is a type of malicious software that basically holds your PC for ransom. The user is prompted to pay a fee to ‘free’ thei…

I've known for a while that the international telecoms companies have wanted to put the Internet genie back in to its bottle so they could charge for access in the same way they make deals between themselves for international calls  (they are loosing calls to Skype and more) but I didn't know that the proposal had actually gone to the UN.

If they succeed the internet could get very expensive, and start-ups may be forced away from the market entirely.

So this shot is being fired at anyone who can access the internet then.

This wasn’t meant to be a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “Fire”, but given my infrequent postings, I think that I should make it count.
To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, …
Delirious, Maria/Gaelikaa, Maria SilverFox OCD writer, Padmum, Paul, Ramana, The Old Fossil, Grannymar.

Embedded Link

The fight for control of the internet has become critical | John Kampfner
If plans to put cyberspace under a secretive UN agency go through, states' censoring of the web will be globally enshrined In horror movies, the scariest moments usually come from the monster you can't see. So the same goes for real life, or at least online life. Over the past few years, largely out of sight, governments have been clawing back freedoms on the internet, turning an invention that was designed to emancipate the individual into a too…

The Kahn Academy has been talking about doing a full Computer Science course for a while. While they have a nice introduction to Python, its only now that things are flying with its JavaScript course.

The sections are divided up well and there are examples with interactive code-and-play areas side by side so you can see the efects you cause in near-realtime.

But…

I think the course needs a bit more instruction. Still its only launch day, and things will flesh out more soon.

And yes I'm going to be playing there, and +Code Academy and +CoderDojo and the Kickstarter and +Git projects I'm watching. I'm just hoping that a time machine is built for me to catch up with everything soon.

Embedded Link

Redefining the Introduction to Computer Science
I’m incredibly excited to take this opportunity to announce a new project that I’ve been leading here at Khan Academy: Khan Academy Computer Science.

We’re releasing a completely new platform that targets people with no programming knowledge and gives them an engaging and fun environment to learn in.
Over everything else we wanted to emphasize creativity and exploration and make it approachable for people of all ages, including young kids.
Sal K…

Its just a sim (for now) but NASA have released a downloadable XBox 360 Kinect game where you can control the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars by waving your hands around.

OK its a bit more than that, and the reason its a sim is due to the time delay in signals between the Earth and Mars, but… I want to make a Kinect controlled Parrot drone or RC car now.

Embedded Link

Kinect: Mars Rover Landing
On August 6th the Curiosity Rover will set down and begin it’s exploration of the the fourth planet from the Sun. Why wait though! Try and control NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity yourself with this official NASA KINECT game that is now available in Kinect Fun Labs?
It’s a free download that should keep you occupied until the real thing happens in a few weeks.

More details on the game and your mission are it over at NASA

Google + introduced games (possibly to compete with Facebook games and apps) and they messed up.

Trust is not something you give freely and still expect to survive. I hate it when it appears that my trust in someone or something is being abused. That potential abuse is abundant in Facebook games.

watching robot

Harsh, I know, but when you give your trust to any Facebook app, including games, you are granting them permissions to pull in your details, write to your wall, hover up your friends list and so on. While Facebook application developers can limit what they have access to, you can create a fully evil application that copies everything from your Facebook account, including private information.

I’m being particularly harsh on Facebook at the moment as I discovered that their Facebook app for Android did not take the contact details my friends on Facebook had publically posted (or granted to their friends) and copy them to my handset, but it copied my entire mobile phone contact list off my handset and uploaded them to Facebook. I never put my phone number in Facebook, and it copied it from my phone and made it public.  The iPhone version does something similar.

Google + rolled out their games… their attempt at competing with the highly popular Facebook games. And they did some things right.

Firstly, if someone plays  game, their “achievements” don’t appear in your main stream of news, but they appear only in a separate games notification page. This page only shows up if yo want to play a game.

This is useful purely because it stops the people in your circles, who don’t play the games, being annoyed by your updates. I for one block games notifications when they crop up in Facebook, after all, since I don’t trust the Facebook games I’m not about to play them.

However when I start to play any of the Google + games I get a pop-up window asking for permissions.

  • View basic information about your account
    • View your name, public profile URL and photo. View your gender and date of birth. View your country, language and time zone.
  • View a list of people from your circles, ordered based on your interactions with them across Google
    • View a list of people from your circles that you may want to engage with
    • The list is ordered based on your interactions with these people across Google
    • View public profile information for these people

Some of the games also want your e-mail address. That’s a lot of information just to try out a game!

I have issues with this list. Social gaming is sometimes akin to nagware. Nagware was a nickname for free software that kept displaying a message, or advert, before you could play unless you paid for the game (and entered a “stop nagging” code). The difference is that, for many games, you nag your friends with how well you are doing. Sorry, that might be “friends” if you nag them too much.

I can understand a game wanting my name, Google + public profile URL and photo. This stuff is public, and there are probably access reasons they want it for. I can forgive it asking for my gender as its part of the public suite too. My date of birth should only be an issue if I am playing “adult” games, games related to controlled substances (I’m talking about legal drinking age) and gambling. Given the legal limits are different in each country they’ll need the country too. For localization reasons they may want my language preference (if over 50% of the players speak German, do the German version first).

I can’t figure out why they want my time zone.

Actually the “basic information about your account” details aren’t that worrysome.

I object to them wanting to harvest my friends at the start!

Wouldn’t a better option be, ask about me, and only me. Be able to add custom information to the permissions notice. The android apps allow this, and knowing “why” something wants access makes it more acceptable. (Of course they might lie *cough* Facebook sucking my phone book out of my phone *cough*).

Let me try the game. And if I want to get past a certain level, I have the option of leaving or sharing. Its sort of similar to the way arcade games work on Xbox Live. You download a trial and you can only get to the first (or another arbitrary) level. If you want to go further you have to buy the game. Also, only people who have bought the game can share their high scores. I’m sure the download statistics (and maybe some profile information) is shared with the games developers. Something like numbers of bought without trailing, trial downloads and purchases after the trial along with basic demographics.I suspect they also get level information, as in what point you stopped playing the game.

In this case, they get some of my information (some, just the public stuff, if there isn’t a reason for an age limit then they don’t need to know where I am and my age. They may have a good reason to know my language so I’ll grant that one) and is I want to play past the first level / screen / puzzle then I have to grant more permissions.

By then they have earned a bit more of my trust. And lost some of my animosity.

This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “Animosity”; chosen by Padmini. To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie 11, Noor, Padmini, Ramana, Rohit, The Silver Fox Whispers, The Student Diaries and joining us this week for the very first time are Nema, Paul & Plain Joe.

The internet is based on unintended and uncertain consequences. And that’s in its design.

Now I’m not talking about how the web escaped from the really useful tool in CERN. I’m not talking about how the parent of the internet, ARPANET is a direct consequence of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.* (Mainly because it isn’t++.)

The internet, or rather the Internet Protocol on which the internet runs is based on three concepts:
1) Packet routing; moving small chunks of information around at a time
2) Protocol hierarchy; a careful and clear organization to the structure of the data that moves across the Internet (mostly through Babushka doll like wrappers)
and
3) Best effort is good enough, which means living with unintended consequences.

At the time, best effort was the exact opposite of how things were done. The network of computers at the time was based on point-to-point circuit-based communications. That meant a dedicated (if sometimes temporary) “physical” connection 100% of the time while connected. This is very similar to the old telephone system, there had to be an actual phone to phone connection for the length of the call. There may be an uplink and downlink satellite connection (or more) along the way, but it was a dedicated connection, and there were a few colleges that have dedicated pipes between them. This dedicated connection granted one thing; 100% guaranteed transfer of data.

There were no packets, routing information wasn’t needed once the connection was established, and every bit was acknowledged since the dedicated connection meant no congestion.

But it was very, very expensive. You needed to have enough modems (remember them) for every call you expected to need at any one time. TCP/IP meant connections could be shared, as the data was split up and routed through, so you needed fewer modems, or routers.

Other network protocols have packets and embedded routing, but best effort is the scary part, because its designed imperfection.

Best effort means firing off the packets dressed in their routing best, and not keeping an eye on them. It means the receiver of the information does not send an acknowledgement for each packet. This actually makes sense, because data is bursty.

While there is data flowing somewhere on the net, some routers are quieter than others, and sometimes a router gets more packets in than its able to send out. So rather than trying to carefully account for every packet (and risk end up exceeding the capacity of the router) it simply drops them. The packets are deleted. Parts of thoughts and dreams vanish. Designed imperfection.

It just drops them, and doesn’t tell anyone (after all if its getting more packets than it can send out, why send out more packets as its already exceeded its limits).

Just remember that this the the technology you are using right now, so you know it works.

So lets say that the middle of a file gets dropped, how come you get the file in the end? Well that’s not something the Internet Protocol worries about. The fixer is part of the TCP, Transmission Control Protocol. TCP rearranges out of order packets, handles duplicates and requests missing packets if they don’t show up after an allotted time. Its part of the Protocol Hierarchy of the three structures of the net, in this case, it repairs damage caused by using the Internet Protocol. It is also why TCP/IP is rarely separated.

So the Internet Protocol looks like a rickety mess which might have the unintended consequence of loosing half your data, but its what we use. And if you can read this… its working.

This is a Loose Bloggers Consortium post on the theme of “Unforeseen Circumstances”; chosen by Gaelikaa. To find out that the others in the consortium think, check out, in alphabetical order: Akanksha (Anki), Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, Gaelikaa, GrannymarMagpie 11, Maria Silver Fox, Padmum, Noor, Rohit and the GOM of LBC, Ramana Sir.

Thanks to Steve Gibson for the IP description.

* OK, the First World War didn’t necessarily have its root in the assassination, but the First World War begot the defeat of Germany which lead to the Deutsch-mark devaluing and hyperinflation which begot the circumstances for World War 2, which lead to the USA and Russia becoming superpowers, which begot a lot of German scientists working for them, which begot the Space Race and the Cold War and nuclear proliferation which lead to ARPANET that became the internet. Greatly simplified, but a seeming unintended result during these wars, right? Actually no.

++ The legend that the ARPANET was designed to survive a nuclear war is actually false. After it was up and running it was confirmed that the routing mechanism would allow for such a consequence, but it was really created to save money and allow easier access for academics. The legend persists however because of that unforeseen circumstance during its design.

8 Jul 2011

QR Photomosaic

Author: will | Filed under: advert, code, Cork, Cork City, photo, reuse, technology, thinking

This came up in a conversation on a TOG mailing list. Its source was the comment by a electronic image manipulation project and the possibility of getting extra marks from the use of stenography to hide messages within the exhibition.

What came to my mind was, well , why not create a QR Code of the message and then generate a photo-mosaic of the QR code using the exhibition pictures as the mosaic source.

He asked for an example…

Here you go…

corkprideQR Mosaic02

To generate this you need three things.

1) A large collection of photographs (or pictures) in electronic form.

2) A QR code and

3) Photomosaic software.

Photomosaics have gone out of style, so that might be why it hasn’t been done before.

In my case, I took a lot of photographs of the recent Cork Pride Festival. So my source were about 400 of the festival’s photos that were uploaded to FaceBook.

Then I needed a CQ Code. I used the Kaywa generator.  Not for any particular reason, I just wanted a quick QR code. The code above, when scanned will link to the Cork Pride Festival site.

So then I needed the generation software. I used the portable version of the Andrea Mosaic Software. It could be more intuitive, but its free with the only request being “give a shout out to Andrea Mosaic” if you use it. Perfect for an example.

So, there is the example, let me know if you have any problems scanning it. The larger version is hosted on Pix.ie, but at 5mb image meant for A3 printing, I’m not going to be e-mailing it to anyone other than the Cork Pride media team to add to their archive.

So how long before you see it being used in an advert folks?

Google Listen is a wonderful android app that gets your podcasts in your ears. It does have a few side-effects; it stops you from listening to music.

Now bear with me on this. It might just be me, but with a constant stream of podcasts that I want to hear, I sort of stopped listening to music. After all, I only have 80 slots, and only so much time I can listen to things. But let me go back a bit…

Google Listen is an Android App that ties in with Google Reader. Once the app connects to your reader account you discover that you have a new folder called “Listen Subscriptions”. Any correctly formatted blog post with an MP3 file (I said correctly formatted @enormous) in that folder will get the files scrapped in to the Listen app and it will download and queue it. It seems to work with M4A files too (@MajorNelson audio works however all the links are just a mess of notes. Add a bit more spacing for legibility next time).

However the details of an audio file are small. The actually audio files are much larger. Lets put it this way, if a picture costs a thousand words, then audio costs about ten pictures a second. And over a mobile network, with all the limits most of the carriers apply. Well lets just say that data packets can cost a packet if you exceed your limit. Fortunately you can make Google Listen only download the audio files while connected to a wi-fi connection.

Free wifi is not ubiquitous. And most “advert fronted” wi-fi nodes stop the audio downloads cold (they make Listen download the advert, not the audio file). This means that if someone leaves you a personal audioboo message, it might be some time before you can download it.

Listen also imposes a limit to the number of files you can download.This makes sense if you are running out of memory space on your device (Android has jumped to tablets, and one or two netbooks). The current maximum is eighty files. Not eighty megabytes but eighty files. To ease this a bit I push the short files, those under ten minutes to the top of the queue every morning (sorry @DoneganGardens, your Sodcast remains in the slow queue). This includes most if not all of my audioboo feed. Once played (or deleted), their slot is free for another file. This means that there is at least a delay of a day before I hear a personal message.

What does this delay mean. I means that one-to-many or personal messages audio in search of a reply don’t get heard until the next day. And a response could be delayed even further depending on how much you can afford to reply with over-the-air audio. Even if I was connected to wi-fi constantly, I suspect I wouldn’t push those short audio files for an immediate listen either.

Brian Greene asked if using the likes of pub-sub-hub for audio blogging would make audio-file chat more likely to happen. The problem isn’t simply technology. Its cost, and lifestyle. And yes technology. Costs can come down, technology will reduce the amount of time before you can listen to near zero. But it takes time to listen. It takes time to find the time to listen.

At the moment, this isn’t the time for real-time discrete audio file chatting. Its as much as lifestyle as it is technology. Real-time audio chatting is better on a one-to-one connection, such as a phone call or a skype chat. Even something like a Kinect video chat party conference is a possibility. These are a “stop what you are doing and talk to someone” technology, or synchronous. Swapping audio files, even in a public forum is closer to non-synchronous technology such as e-mail. Or voice mail. Audioboo makes a twitter public style version of voicemail, but its non-synchronous. Meaning it can wait while you do something else.

So my answer is “no”. I’m not saying “not-yet”, I’m saying “no”. Its because actively seeking to hear all new comments is a very active choice in a mostly passive medium. Netbooks are an example of “good enough” technology. They are not the latest and greatest, they are small, light and cheap enabling a lot of functionality in a convenient form-factor for a lot of tasks. Non-realtime audio-blogging is “good enough”. Mainly because you are recording a message.

Recording an audio message implies that its not urgent, its passive. A phone call is an attempt to form an active connection. An e-mail is a fire-and-forget leave it until you are ready connection. A podcast, even a personal one, is a style of communication that can wait. And audio-blogging is such an example. It will never be as current as sending a tweet.

Otherwise you are chatting. And if you want to chat… chat.

But let me ask you to do a test. Get a text-to-speech application. Send your real-time, pushed twitter feed to it. Its noisy. Literally noisy. That is the possible end result if everyone tried to real-time audio-blog. You would need to stop the feed to reply. Even the fire-hose of video bloggers on YouTube know that immediate chat is not possible. Life and a mixture of more feed than there are hours of the day get in the way. Besides, the consumption of this video feed is not a real-time push, but a I’m-ready-for-it-now pull.

As a technology, its great for breaking news. Real-time release of news-in-the-field is a wonderful thing. However, the people actively listening for that real-time push is few. News organizations and news junkies would love it. And then they curate that feed. The old slow systems are not just a “good enough” technology for most, may actually be chosen by preference.

If the technology becomes widespread, then to manage it, you’ll have to do what many do with twitter. Watch some in real-time. Watch and later read a few twitter feeds that are personally important to them, and leave all the others go in to the ether of the web until a search finds them.

I’m just not too sure that its what the advocates of audio-blogging are actually looking for.