Archive for the 'computers' Category
I was up at Infosec on Tuesday. This is an Information Security exhibition at Earl’s court exhibition centre in London. The usual stuff. Hundreds of stands with steely eyed salesmen waiting for you to catch their eye so they can start reciting all the words they’ve memorised but do not understand. These days the stands all look pretty much the same as they have very few physical products to sell. Instead they sell “services”. They try to convince you that they’ve been doing this for years and the way they do this is to hire lots of attractive women to hand out leaflets and to dress al their salesmen in black polo shirts. Black, you see, means that they look look like hard core techy gurus….at least in the delusional minds of the sales and marketing staff who apparently run the event. This is the nub of the matter. While it’s true that information risk is evolving along with the systems and processes to control risk, in reality, in 2012 it’s a fairly mature cycle. ISACA were there promoting COBIT 5 and this has been developed so far now that it lists one area as “Ensure benefit delivery”. If we had time to audit that sort of thing then there would be no need for Infosec 2012.
Most of the presentations were packed and there were long queues to enter. I attended a few including quite good one on Spear Phishing. A Phishing attack is where an attacker sends an Email with an attachment or link which, when the user clicks on it, initiates a connection to The Internet and downloads malware to the target computer. These work because they fool a legitimate member of staff to initiate the attack and, as the user is already logged in, the attack bypasses many of the controls normally in place. Spear Phishing appears to mean a targeted phishing attack. This was of interest to me as I consider Phishing and Web Application Vulnerabilities to be high up there on the list of current threats.
Phishing attacks are hard to control as the code tends to be polymorphic but a company named PhishMe, Inc. had something quite clever. For a fee they will carry out a phishing attack on the staff at your company. However, if your user clicks on the attachment or the link then they will be presented with a warning and some training material on why they should be more cautious. The company collects statistics and the names of the people who are fooled. They claim that their service dramatically reduces the number of users who are fooled by phishing attacks.
One impressive innovation I saw was a tall orange stack of mini-safes named Charge Box each containing multiple mobile/smart phone charging connectors. The idea being that anyone low on juice could plug their phone in, close and lock the door, remove the key and wander around for a bit returning later to retrieve their freshly charged phone.
By lunch time the local pubs were heaving with besuited business types escaping Earl’s Court. I enjoyed a reasonable burger and pint in the Prince Of Tek on Earl’s Court Road.
At Earl’s Court 2 another exhibition was under way. This was Internet World and I found this to be more exciting. Less professional salesmen and more enthusiastic start ups, or so it appeared to me. A couple of companies selling their services to develop web apps, one with a starting price of less than a thousand pounds. Another company, named Mode360, were selling a contraption about the size of an old fashioned TV. This included a turntable, some lights and a Digital camera. The idea with this was that you plonk your product on the turntable and switch on. The machine then, rotated the product and photographed it through 360 degrees and the attached computer produces a file which can be embedded in a web page to allow your customers to rotate your product on line to get a better look at it. We’ve seen this with the way many mobile phones are sold online. The guy described this as a “money making machine”. He may have been right.
Back in the year dot I worked on a computer called a PDP11 made by Digital Equipment Corporation. This had 96K (yes K) of RAM and ran an operating system named RSTS/E. I used to do the night shifts working this thing to run batch jobs to spew out mountains of paper and much of the time was spent waiting, reading or exploring how the system worked. Along with the OS came a handful of primitive games. Bull and Cow, Animal, that sort of thing.
Another game, which I didn’t understand at the time, was a one dimensional implementation of Conway’s Game of Life. I say one dimensional as it would push out one row of symbols at a time. Life was not so much a game as a demonstration of how simple mathematical rules can produce spectacularly complex results. To quote Wikipedia: The Game of Life is a cellular automaton devised by the British mathematician John Horton Conway in 1970.
To really get the feel of how mind blowing the Game of Life is, check out this video. As the maker of the video states, all the patterns created are derived from two simple rules. More facinating still is the the fact that the gap between patterns known as “spaceships” are prime numbers.
If you’re really interested then check out this video where Conway talks about Life.
Some years ago, when thinking about Chaos Theory and the butterfly effect, I considered technological progress and speculated that, one day, it might be possible to collate lots and lots of data, on all sorts of subjects, and crunch it for correlations. It might be possible to show that diabetes in the UK was related to tin production in Chile.
The scientific method would be turned on it’s head. Conventionally boffins sit about ruminating all day. When they think of an idea, they yell Eureka, write down a theory and then spend years and years getting the data together to prove the theory. I take liberties with my description but you get the general idea.
If, instead, it were possible to accumulate lots an of data and automatically look for correlations then the scientists might be able to retrospectively develop theories as to why the data correlated. The advantage, as I see it, would be that they would know where to look.
It seems that all this is now possible and the greatest correlation for obesity is Teenage Birth Rate though there are also correlations with “secure servers” and “pride in one’s nation”. Now I don’t know if these correlations are significant and I do understand that correlation is not cause but it seems to me that this is a very useful tool for scientific research.
The danger, of course, is that, like everything else, we will use this merely to make society more efficient. No scientists will sit and wonder just for the hell of it. The corporations will decide the agenda. The rat race will be further fine tuned to ensure that we all eat correctly and consider that eight different flavours of coffee amounts to democracy. But I digress……
This is an amazing video of a guy named Seikou Yamaoka using just his fingers to “paint” on an iPod touch using a app named ArtStudio.
When I was a kid I was into the space program. I stayed up late watching the moon landing and I dreamed that, one day, I would watch a launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. I bought all the model rocket kits and was a bit unique in this respect as most kids of my age were into football or kung fu. In the evenings I would stay up to listen to the “Bongs” of News at Ten to see if there was an item on the space program. Gradually, after 1969, the space program lost momentum and fewer and fewer bongs included astronauts. The public had become blasé about space.
No matter, I had discovered Science Fiction. I started on Marvel comics. The outsider characters were my favourites: Spiderman, The Hulk, the Silver Surfer. I graduated to the novels of Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock and Phillip K. Dick. I eagerly devoured the meagre diet of Science Fiction films which were screened on British TV: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Silent Running and Dark Star. I was regarded as a little eccentric by my peers. One guy told me that I could see a brick and think it looked like a space ship……and I could.
I listened to Hawkwind and Tangerine Dream and subscribed to two magazines: Omni and Analog. These ran Science Fiction stories alongside the latest thinking in science and technology. I discovered the wonder of fractals and read about memes, chaos theory, alternative universes and virtual reality.
In 1977 Star Wars and Closer Encounters Of The Third Kind were released and at last we had big budget films with fantastic special effects. Science Fiction was suddenly popular.
I studied computer science at school and got a job as a computer operator working on minicomputers known as PDP11s running an operating system called RSTS/E. Our first machine had 96K of RAM and the disk drives were the size of washing machines and held 40 megabytes each. Locked away in machine rooms with computers the size of wardrobes I was pigeon holed, not as a “techy”, but as a “computer person”. Nobody knew what we did and nobody set any rules. We dressed how we wanted, we worked how we wanted and we had a lot of fun. Moving to London I discovered an obscure science fiction book shop in Denmark Street called Forbidden Planet.
Home PCs became available and it was possible to create fractal images with the press of a button. Computer gaming got going and the simple text based games such as Advent and Dungeon, which I had played at work, were replaced by full colour shoot ‘em ups.
Something odd was happening: My interests were becoming main stream. The popular media seemed to be mining my childhood for ideas.
In 1982 Blade Runner was released and suddenly all the weird and disturbing themes of Phillip K. Dick were simplified, tarted up and splashed all over the big screen. A fantastic film yet the special effects and the charisma of the actors overshadowed the subtle and mundane realism with which Dick somehow manages to portray the strange and insidious.
In the 80s a wave of technology based innovation ran through finance and banking and governments deregulated. Money sloshed around the industry and fortunes were made. Computers became ubiquitous and as fast as Intel improved the hardware capacity Microsoft bloatware ate it up. People started paying allegiance to software vendors as if they were football teams; Windows vs OS2, Windows NT vs Netware and, these days, iPhone vs Android. Had we all lost the plot?
Publishers such as New Riders churned out endless poorly edited books claiming to teach IT but which were little more than rewritten documentation. Computer departments appeared in book shops. In the early 80s I struggled to find books on operating systems and networking but by 1990 the computer departments in bookshops were ballooning and Foyles devoted a whole floor.
The money attracted Price Waterhouse and KPMG who read a few books on technology, set themselves up as consultants and started selling the bleeding obvious back to customers. The smooth talking suits followed a simple creed: “Bullshit baffles brains” and if there was one thing they knew about it was bullshit.
Hollywood made feature length versions of the old Marvel comic books. Batman in 1989 then moving on to the anti-heroes of my youth, Spiderman in 2002 and the Silver Surfer in 2007.
In 2001 the Lord of The Rings was released. Hold on, this was getting personal. Was nothing from my childhood sacred? It seemed that the very stuff of my psyche was being commandeered by the corporations. The fabric of my personal philosophy was being ground up, digested and regurgitated back at me stripped of subtlety, emotion and meaning.
The spirit of the 60s and 70s was optimism and hope. Science would create a bright future. “Just machines to make big decisions, Programmed by fellers with compassion and vision” sang Donald Fagan belatedly in 1982. I recommend listening to this song and reading the lyrics. The young may get a feel for the optimism of a different age and the old man like to remember.
However, the seeds of doubt were always present and I had picked up on them in my youth. Now the dystopian ideas of Phillip K. Dick were taken up by new authors such as William Gibson and transformed into cyberpunk. In 1999 The Matrix was released portraying a sinister world in which humanity lived unknowingly in a virtual world while their physical bodies lay inert.
The marketing industry got into its stride and started targeting our sub-conscious. We mortgaged our futures to pay for the dreams used to sell deodorant. As Dick had predicted the corporations bent reality to maximise their profits.
This week Hollywood are, again, engaged in recycling cultural icons from the past. A new movie has been released based on the marvel comic book character Captain America. Perhaps, at this time of conflict and economic uncertainty, America is trying to return to its youth. Trying to revert to those days when most of us had faith in science, democracy and the future.
But what does the future hold? What stories or icons or memes of today will Hollywood recycle in thirty years time? Corporations cannot generate art they can only package and sell it. They can only reproduce existing ideas so where are the ideas? The blind optimism of the 60s and 70s is as outdated as the cynical greed of the 80s and 90s.
It’s time for a new direction but our compass is still spinning.
So why do I feel optimistic? Right now we are on the cusp of change. Right now is when the seeds of the future are being sown. I am maturing in years and rather than thinking about spaceships and time travel I find myself speculating about pensions and politicians. I suspect that the young already have an idea of where we’re going.
It would be nice if they shared it with the rest of us.
Spent most of the flight watching the American version of The Office which is pretty good. Once you get over the fact that it is not merely a copy of the British program. About 4am BST I started watching Family guy and drifted off to sleep.
Stepping off the aircraft in Hong Kong in the brief transition between aircraft and walkway a feint but palpable waft of warm humid air hit me. With the smell of mildew in my nostrils and bright sunshine outside it felt very good to be back in the tropics. I and headed straight for the vast plate glass window and looked out onto the big glaring sky. A flat blue sea stretched away from the runway and islands lay scattered around. I was not in Heathrow anymore.
After a quick visit to the washroom to change my shirt and brush my teeth I wandered around the shops. Cleaner, more spacious and more orderly than The UK but to be fair Chek Lap Kok is a new airport. Even so it compares favourably with Heathrow Terminal 5. They let a lot of light in and don’t insist that every square inch of space be used for advertising.
Tablet computers seem to be big news here and Apple do not appear to have the prominence that they do in Europe or the America. I noticed tablet computers by the French company Archos which is interesting as, though these are pretty good products, they do not have much prominence in the UK. The book shop was stuffed with books on the new China in both Chinese and English. With China industrialising now seems to be a good time to write books about the rise of China and the decline of The West. A bit fo a bandwagon if you ask me. One book, in Chinese, had a picture of President Hu surrounded by images of 5 women. What could this be? I Emailed a Chinese friend who translated the title as: “Hu Jintao’s Five Golden Flowers Female Best Friends”. From the title alone, my friend suggested that this could be “one of those romance novels about President Hu”. Ah yes, one of those. I see (he said, but he didn’t really). Perhaps democracy is not such a bad thing if it spares us creepy romance novels about politicians.
Upstairs I looked around the food halls which were similar to those you find all over the far east. Shops selling food and shared seating areas. I had no currency. Should I change money to get a soda? – There I slipped into American again. 10 hours out of the UK, the whiff of the tropics and this Englishman has started to come alive again.
Tags: Amazing radio, android, Apple, Apple share price, “is not supported”, blue tooth, bluetooth, brand image, connectivity, free thinkers, Google Suggest, greedy, Greg Hughes, innovative, interoperability, iphone, iPod, iTunes, Jailbroke iPhone, macbook, microsoft, money, Nokia, ring tones, smart phone, smartphone, synch, synching, synchronisation, transferring files, Wi-Fi Sync app, Wifi, Wifi syncing app, windows, Windows 7
On Monday I received a new iPhone 4. A year or so ago I had bought a Macbook Pro and was impressed despite a handful of gripes. I’ve owned a Nokia N95 for a while and this is a good phone but I felt it was time to update. I read a few reviews and watched a few Youtube comparisons and all the modern smart phones seem very good. I did not want to spend my life comparing technical data and so, having a Macbook, the obvious choice was an iPhone 4. I thought this way I’d avoid any connectivity and interoperability issues……..
My initial impression on the iPhone was negative. After switching on it insisted on being connected to a Mac and immediately demanded my credit card details. Presumably in case I ever buy anything from iTunes. I have to say that I find this grossly invasive! I had not intended to buy anything much and I am one of the generation who grew up with vinyl and CDs and so my music consists of digitised albums, scanned CDs and downloads from Amazing Radio.
However, what’s done is done, so I synched the phone and started looking around. Weirdly the much vaunted iTunes is not the music player on the iPhone. Instead it seems to be a shop window for Apple to flog me stuff. One has to find the iPod icon to play the music which has been transferred from my macbook.
The iPhone 4 is, of course, a great phone and I am impressed but one glaring failure is that the phone will not sync with my macbook through blue tooth or Wifi. This is pathetic. Despite the Bluetooth interface on the macbook referring to smart phones when I try to pair my Apple iPhone 4 with my Apple Macbook Pro I am told that the macbook “is not supported”. What utter bollocks!
I now own a device with the specific purpose of mobile communication. It has three separate methods of wireless communications (3G, Wifi and Bluetooth). Yet the only way of synching it is to plug in a cable! Hello Apple, this is 2011 not 1995.
Further investigation revealed that a Wifi syncing app had been created but rejected by Apple and so could now only be used on Jailbroke iPhones.
I was also a bit miffed to discover that there is no obvious way of transferring general files from the Macbook to the iPhone. The iTunes application on the Mac allows transfer of music, movies, photos etc but not other files such as PDFs or Word processor docs and the iPhone storage does not appear in the Finder so you can’t simply drag and drop files across.
Another issue is the ring tones. On my Nokia I could select a track from my music collection as a ring tone or I could create a sound file myself. With the iPhone there are presets or you can “buy” a ringtone from iTunes. There’s that word again “buy”.
It’s odd that Apple users used to consider themselves as innovative free thinkers and contrasted themselves with the monolithic big business drones that used Microsoft. After a bit of hunting around in the Apple forums I found discussions going back to 2007 on Bluetooth synching including the arrogant posts by people who appeared to have no imagination and slavishly followed the Apple line even when this ran contrary to obvious user preferences. This used to be the territory of Microsoft not Apple.
The iPhone’s lack of basic functionality and the fact that Apple are so greedy that the very first thing that they need me to do is register my credit card details and then try to charge for piffling ring tones give me a very poor impression. It is interesting that Google Suggest reports the top three phrases starting with “Apple are” to be:
- Apple are evil
- Apple are greedy
- Apple are greedy bastards
I have never been a great fan of Microsoft but feel that, perhaps now that Microsoft are starting to lose their grip, they may be becoming a bit more cooperative. Apple on the other hand appear to have caught the Microsoft disease and think they will rule the world.
The share price for Apple continues to rise but if one looks at the chart one sees a steep rise as Apple introduced music players, smart phones and tablets. But having established the market and set the bar the competition is now replicating their products and I suggest that when you reach the top there is only one way to go. I just wish I’d bought some Apple shares as now must be the time to sell.
Am I being over critical? I think not. I have not bought a product from some minority Korean company. I have bought a top of the range product from the acclaimed industry leader. A company that is now valued at more than Microsoft.
So, for the moment I have an Apple Macbook Pro and an Apple iPhone 4 and, with some reservations, I am generally satisfied with them.
But I am now aware that buying Apple does not mean easy interoperability or cutting edge functionality. With Windows 7, Microsoft appear to have refined the user interface and there are some very nice Android and Windows phones out there. When I come to replace my Apple kit I will be very wary of Apple. Perhaps Apple’s image of innovation is now no more than a useful brand image used by their marketing department to sell to people who are more interested in “style” than substance?