2011 08 14

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News Cast for 2001-08-14

(00:00:17.305) Intro

  • Huge thanks to Craig for yet another donation
    • A very generous one this time
  • Trip to Budapest
    • First time in Europe
    • For an international DIY, hacker workshop, Transfabric
    • Because of travel and the week long event
      • No shows on 8/28 and 8/31
    • Since I doubt I'll be able to stay up on my feeds
      • No news cast on 9/4 either
  • Ohio Linux Fest
    • I get a weekend off, a long weekend
      • Then I head to Columbus, OH for OLF
    • No news show that weekend, 9/11
    • I need to contact the fest organizers about recording
    • Hopefully I can get some audio to share

(00:03:28.604) Security alerts

(00:03:45.429) Child finds flaw in mobile games

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14443001
  • BBC was one of several sources covering one of the more interesting presentations
    • Given as part of the first DEF CON Kids program at this years hacker conference in Vegas
  • A ten year old girl going by CyFi found a way to exploit many mobile games
  • Her original inspiration was boredom with the time limits imposed by farming and building games
  • Most of these include defenses against common ways of cheating the clock
  • What she found is that disconnecting the device completely and incrementing the clock
    • By small increments instead of jumping straight to times when interesting events occur
      • Allowed her to exploit these games
  • Although it is unclear how this would be possible
    • The article mentions that this vulnerable may have impacts beyond the games themselves
  • I suppose if the algorithms used to detect clock cheats for all kinds of purposes are common
    • Then any security system that relies on time to live or expiry intervals
      • Could potentially be cheated in the same way
  • It makes a certain amount of sense, that the most obvious, perhaps naive detection method
    • Is to look for large and obvious clock jumps
  • The exploit has been found to work with games on iOS and Android
  • The cross platform exposure would suggest my guess about general solutions has merit
    • Or that higher level applications are relying on OS or network level services
      • To deal with clock synchronization and heuristics about differences in elapsed time
  • To the advantage of the attacker, clock synchronization across networks is non-trivial
  • Drift occurs and cannot be easily discriminated at small scales from intentional alteration
  • Regardless it is fantastic that CuFi's curiosity was encouraged and reward with this attention
  • I really like the idea of giving kids a forum to share their ideas
    • About software and hardware hacking in addition to the usual conference fare
      • At a hacker con like DEF CON
  • Perhaps the best way to shift the abysmal defaults around how security is handled in software
    • And in devices is to better train the upcoming generation
  • If they have a better native sense about risk and exposure, they may be more likely
    • To exhibit better norms around building secure systems and expecting the ones they use
      • To have security designed in from the very start or they may reject them outright

(00:06:33.787) Clear illustration of why common advice on secure passwords may be bad

  • http://boingboing.net/2011/08/10/xkcd-on-the-password-paradox-human-factors-versus-computers-brute-force.html
  • Cory at BoingBoing linked to a particular insightful XKCD this past week
  • Randall Munroe shares two examples of passwords
  • One uses the common wisdom of using uncommon words and obscuring them
    • By swapping symbols and numbers in for characters and adding random bits
  • He contrasts that to an alternate suggestion of building a pass phrase
    • From four more common words, ones easier to remember
  • Munroe is sharp at math and probabilities and I trust his conclusions
    • That the shorter, harder to remember password is actually less resistant
      • To brute force attacks than the longer, easier to remember phrase
  • His main point is that the most commonly given advice
    • Results in passwords that aren't especially hard to crack
    • But are in fact more difficult for users to recall
  • This leads to even worse security practices like writing them on sticky notes attached to monitors
  • It may also indirectly encourage poorly thought out password recovery options
  • There has been a counter current among security minded folks
    • That longer phrases are better anyway
  • Certainly using a passage from a favorite book or poem
    • Or even random choosing words that can be assembled into a humorous narrative
      • Like the cartoon suggests plays to our strong ability to work with narratives
  • It isn't so different from the mnemonics we used to recall facts like the planets in the solar system
  • I use a random password generator that can produce pronounceable passwords and phrases
  • For me, that ability to sound out otherwise gibberish words helps with recall
    • Perhaps because it is similar to memorizing unusual proper names, for people or places
  • I hope that Munroe's humor helps get this message through to folks
    • Without them literally using the pass phrase he includes as an example
  • Check out the comic for yourself and consider giving his idea a try
    • The next time you need to create or update a password

(00:08:59.037) News

(00:09:12.371) UCLA offers a minor in digital humanities

  • https://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ucla_offers_minor_in_digital_humanities.php
  • I clearly have not been paying enough attention to ReadWriteWeb
  • In the lead in to an article there by Curtis Hopkins last week
    • He mentions that one of the trends they've been following is
      • The use of new technologies in service of the humanities
  • I find this topic equally fascinating whether it is viewed
    • From how technology is aiding the traditional studies of classical humanities
    • Or how a humanistic approach is taken in the study of emerging technologies
  • My own experiences are ground in my volunteer efforts to help make pre-digital culture
    • Available online in digital format to a wider audience than would previously be possible
  • Because of that work, I was even invited to speak at one of the local programs here
  • The University of Maryland with the aid of a challenge grant from
    • The National Endowment for the Humanities
    • Runs a program called the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities
    • http://mith.umd.edu/about/
  • They run an excellent speaker series, the Digital Dialogues, in which I participated
  • Curtis shared news of the University of California, Los Angeles joining this trend
  • Their program is highly multidisciplinary, drawing from 20 departmens
    • Five schools and three research institutes at the university
  • According to the web site of the new program it concentrates on both aspects I mentioned
  • The curriculum is project based, allowing students to gain hands on experience
    • At that seem between technology and humanities
  • I am not sure how any serious study could be otherwise
  • At least at this early stage, digital tools are going to be best understood by doing
  • Hopkins thinks this may not always be the case
  • He points out what I think is a valid counter intuition, not uncommon in a post-network world
  • The technology focus of these programs is only evident through lack of understanding
  • As the field matures, use and study of post-digital, post-network phenomenon is likely to merge
    • Into pre-existing fields of study, as accepted aspects thereof
  • This reminds me of Wired editor Chris Anderson's contention when social networks first emerged
    • That eventually they would fade into the fabric of the general network
  • Standalone tools and services would disappear as social merely became
    • A feature of the sites we already use
  • That was several years ago and while it is still possible it hasn't occurred yet
  • As much as I think Hopkins suggestion is likely it may then be quite some time
    • Before digital humanities as such disappears back into just humanities
    • Having thoroughly been integrated both into the practices of the field and the focus of its study
  • Hopkins actually seems to agree but cites the slower pace that predominates in academia
  • UCLA is not just the latest to embrace this kind of program
    • But also appears to be taking a position of leadership
    • At least judging by one point quoted in the article
  • MIT Press is putting out a book titled Digital Humanities
    • And three out of five of the contributors, according to a source at UCLA
      • Were invited from the sources making up the new program

(00:12:42.508) Stone-like optical disc that last forever

  • Given the ephemeral nature of digital data I am acutely concerned about archiving information
    • In an age where media and formats go obsolete often in a matter of just years
  • Contrast this to the majority of written history
    • Where all that is required is access to the physical media, on paper
    • And a minimal level of literacy
  • https://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9218881/Start_up_to_release_stone_like_optical_disc_that_lasts_forever
  • Computer World, linked to from Slashdot, was just one source to pick up
    • The news of an optical disc that might solve at least the problems of physical media
  • The problem with DVDs and CDs in particular is that their materials don't hold up well
  • The reflective coating on permanently marked discs is easily damaged
    • And in some cases can be destroyed by prolonged exposure to heat or sunlight
  • Re-writable media that use a dye instead of physically pitting the disc
    • Fare even worse as the dyes tend to fade with time regardless of environment
  • A startup called Millenniata has promised a new kind of disc, called an M-Disc
  • I am guessing the name is a portmanteau of millenium and data, very cute
  • They are being coy about the material involved, not anything currently in use
  • The most Milliennata will say is that it is a natural substance that is stone-like
  • Reading the further details, M-Discs sound almost too good to be true
  • They are partnering with Hitachi-LG Data Storage, at least initially
    • To produce drives that can write data to this new medium
  • The discs will use existing well supported formats so they are in theory compatible
    • With existing DVD players
  • That suggests the material in question has a high reflectivity
    • But doesn't easily degrade
  • The article mentions that discs withstand immersion in liquid nitrogen
    • Followed by boiling water without suffering any damage that affects readability
  • The discs are so durable that the DOD has resulted a report to that effect
  • Early writable and re-writable discs weren't always compatible with all players
    • Suggesting that there is a minimum optical quality required to work well
  • It is hard to imagine that this would be the case with some new magical material
    • That both works well and avoids the archival pitfalls of existing discs
      • That provably work very well with existing players
  • The other incredible claim is that dedicated M-Disc burners may not be needed
  • The company is claiming that eventually all that will be required to write to an M-Disc
    • Is a firmware upgrade
  • This is almost too much to believe as it means that the new material
    • Is thermally affected in the same ranges as existing dyes and plastics
  • If that is the case, it is very hard to credit indeed that M-Discs would be resilient
    • Across the amazing temperature ranges claimed
  • The article has good details on why the current kinds of discs degrade
  • Even in the case of non-dye based writable ones, the materials used
    • Can delaminate as a consequence of time or stress
  • I suppose it is possible if these discs are writable only once
    • That they are in some sort of metastable state initially
  • If that is the case, then the energies a standard burner can put out
    • Would make sense to kick each readable track and segment into a wholly stable written state
  • The discs will be a bit pricey comparable to other writable varieties
  • According to the article, Millienmata is initially targeting archival uses
    • That well exceed even the most optimistic estimates of the lifetime of DVDs and Blu-ray discs
  • M-Disc doesn't solve future format problems and in its own way may make these worse
  • Shorter lived media actually may encourage translation to newer formats with better support
    • As an incremental cost when having to physically transfer information
      • To new media to keep it accessible
  • Of course, having a physical media that wouldn't require occasional transfers
    • May also afford more opportunities to develop future proof formats
    • And other strategies that are as valuable as the written word has proven in the analog word

(00:17:53.133) Portable, high resolution 3D imaging

  • http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/tactile-imaging-gelsight-0809.html
  • Slashdot linked to some research in a different area, 3D scanning at microscale
    • From a far more credible source, MIT
  • As the press release from the university itself explains
    • Making high resolution 3D scans of miniature scale features presents several challenges
  • Traditionally the features to be scanned have to be mounted
    • On a special rig that isolates vibrations so that existing scanners can work
  • The time needed to produce 3D images has been high using previous techniques
  • Applying software techniques from machine vision has yielded an amazingly practical
    • Improvement over these specialized rigs
  • The key is the use of a slab of gel, one side of which has a coating of metallic material
  • As the coated side deforms against microscopic features
    • The visual sensors and processing can make sense of light shown at multiple angles
      • To interpolate and produce a high quality scan
  • No vibration isolation is needed and the software heavy technique works more rapidly
  • One of the researchers explained how the optical characteristics of materials
    • Presents challenges to the optical techniques already in use
  • This new approach, GelSight, essentially marries a sort of optical buffer
    • With advanced machine vision processing to get around these limitations
  • The only limiter to the approach is the size of the metallic flecks applied to the gel
  • As long as they are smaller than the features to be imaged
    • Then they will deform and mold in ways that image well with the system
  • Surprisingly the original research from which this application emerged
    • Was not related to any kind of imaging at all
  • Rather the idea was to use this approach to give robots a very fine scale tactile sense
  • That makes sense, the generation of 3D images from how a material responds
    • To the pressure that a robotic finger tip might apply
  • I remember reading about a similar idea in a manga novel of all things
  • Masamune Shirow, in the original Ghost in the Shell manga
    • Had a margin note about how an optically transparent plastic might refract and reflect light
      • Different based on the amount of pressure applied to it
  • That isn't so far different from how GelSight works in practice
  • The resolution produce greatly exceeded what was need strictly for tactile sensing
  • The researchers made an intuitive leap that what they had developed
    • Might be more useful for imaging than for their original intention
  • The press release contains some pretty incredible examples
    • From a striking scan of ink on a piece of paper
    • To the difficult to image otherwise almost gelatinous microscopic surface of an emery board
  • The first applications for GelSight will probably for quality assurance in electronics
  • The scans made possible would help manufacturers spot any defects in produced materials
  • It is of course possible to perform these kinds of checks now
    • But the new approach could vastly reduce the cost of doing so
  • I have to imagine having cheap, reliable imaging at this scale
    • Could feed back much more easily into the design phase
    • And be used to better find the source of problems in the fabrication process itself
  • This might yield a reduction in cost to consumer
    • Or at the very least could help make better performing, more reliably electronics
    • At the same price point at which they are available today

(00:22:37.760) IBM CTO argues the PC is on the way out

  • This past week saw the anniversary of IBM's first PC running DOS, the 5150
  • https://www.networkworld.com/news/2011/081011-ibm-pc.html?hpg1=bn
  • Slashdot linked to a commentary on the occasion by Jon Brodkin at Network World
  • Brodkin focuses on a blog post by one of the people responsible for the IBM PC
    • Mark Dean, now IBM's CTO
  • Dean thinks that PC is on the decline, a thought that has been debated before and recently
  • Oddly, Dean doesn't think the PC is going away entirely, despite comparing it
    • To other obsolete technology like vacuum tubes and typewriters
  • Rather he points out that most innovation is happening elsewhere in computing
  • He cites the sale of IBM's PC division to Lenovo as the computing giant's recognition of this fact
  • He think that new developments are happening much more between PCs and even post-PC devices
    • Like tablets and smart phones
  • Again, this is hardly surprising given IBM's current focus, noted by Brodkin, on software services
  • Brodkin doesn't entirely buy it, siding with a response from a Microsoft exec
    • That offers an alternate label of PC-plus
  • In the developed world I think there is a strong argument for mobile devices
    • Almost entirely complementing traditional computers
  • I believe there is good evidence, though, that in many cases the first computer
    • Owned and used by the upcoming generation is in fact a smart phone
  • I've long held that the limited horsepower and form factor of mobiles
    • Will always result in a need for proper PCs at least in certain niches
      • Such as much more intensive media development like video, audio and gaming
  • There are more examples of casual apps for production that are pretty impressive
  • Many of them have at most been used for stunts, like the band that performed a song on a subway
    • With nothing more than their smart phones
  • I think this still makes the case that they are supplemental rather than replacements
  • It isn't hard to imagine all kinds of creatives using tablets and phones to capture raw ideas
    • Then porting them to more capable systems to do the much more demanding production work
      • To turn them into fully realized, finished works
  • I guess I am increasingly convinced that outside of such generative pursuits
    • People probably can get by with simpler, easier to use devices
  • Especially with the near ubiquity of the internet where these gadgets are popular
    • They are incredibly well suited to information grazing and lightweight, social communication
  • Outside of the developing world, I am less certain we can draw such clear conclusions
  • I am aware of some anecdotes and data that suggest plain old mobile phones vastly outnumber
    • Any kind of computing device whether it is a smart phone or any kind of PC
  • The one thing feature phones and post-PC devices would seem to have in common
    • Is that the most fruitful place to develop new offerings is on the network
      • Rather than on the device itself
      • So I'll grant Dean the concession that if all you are seeking is new markets
        • That is a natural place to go
  • I think there is a risk in too easily giving up true general purpose computers
  • Programming is impossible on a feature phone and incredibly limited and limiting on even a tablet
    • Let alone any kind of smart phone, even some of the very powerful dual core ones coming out
  • I believe the opportunity to program is key to self determination in a post-network world
  • That's consistent with my interpretation of software freedom
  • Given in too easily to suggestions that the PC is passe or can be completely replaced
    • Overlooks that to be able to chart our own course, we need to preserve the ability
      • For at least some to still create their own software
  • Ideally that opportunity should be available to all though I'll give it may not always be practical

(00:27:33.114) Following Up

(00:27:50.514) Google aids Bletchley Park museum again

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14444814
  • BBC discussed the latest efforts to preserve parts of Bletchley Park
    • A site that is part of the early heritage of modern computing
  • Bletchley now houses the National Museum of Computing
    • But struggled for years to secure attention and funding needed for preservation
  • Google provided aid last year to secure some of Turings key papers
    • So they could be return to Bletchley and incorporated
      • Into the conservancy and education work there
  • This time around they stepped in, along with others
    • To help restore Block C where the punch card index was stored
      • During the parks war time code breaking efforts
  • The article mentions a broader initiative to raise 10 million pounds
    • To support efforts to restore the entire site

(00:28:55.641) Google to shut down Android App Inventor

  • Google giveth and it taketh away
  • http://www.hackeducation.com/2011/08/09/google-to-shut-down-educational-programming-tool-android-app-inventor/
  • Audrey Watters, a regular contributor to ReadWriteWeb, tweeted about a post
    • She made this past week to the Hack Education site
  • In it she shared the news that Google is shuttering the Android App Inventor project
  • Inventor provide tools for more easily building Android apps
    • Primarily as a means of interesting and supporting education efforts
  • The closing of the project is tied to Google decision to close its Labs site
  • In the Labs announcement it mentioned promoting projects out,
    • Moving them to the labs sections of related services, or winding them down
  • Inventor didn't make the cut and will go dark by the end of the year
  • Google has said it will open the source to it and is willing to help
    • Find support for efforts for at least educational use based on that open code
  • While this is a shame, there are plenty of other efforts around sparking interest in coding
    • In particular Scratch out of MIT from which Inventor drew a lot of inspiration
  • It also highlights the risk of assuming too much good will from a corporation
    • That despite at any given time seeming to follow public interest principles
      • Really can change its mind whenever it is convenient to do so

(00:30:38.486) Outro

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