Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Technology

Don’t pay the ransom!

Monday, 15 May, 2017 0 Comments

“The general advice is not to pay the ransom. By sending your money to cybercriminals you’ll only confirm that ransomware works, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the decryption key you need in return.” That’s the guidance offered by the No More Ransom website, and in these days of the WannaCry malware threat, we need to pay attention.

No More Ransom is an initiative by the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Dutch police, Europol’s Cybercrime Centre, Kaspersky Lab and Intel Security. The goal is to help victims of ransomware recover their data without having to pay the criminals. The project also aims to educate users about how ransomware works and what can be done to prevent infection.

Note: “The Wcry ransom note contains a compassionate message towards those who can’t afford to pay up. The malware’s operators claim they would unlock the files for free — after a six-month period!” Security Intelligence.

WannaCry


At the car-charging station

Sunday, 7 May, 2017 0 Comments

It’s a non-commercial, non-profit service hosted and supported by a community of businesses, charities and developers around the world. It’s Open Charge Map and it defines itself as “the global public registry of electric vehicle charging locations.” Currently it lists 95,401 stations across 5,0926 international locations. This charging station is around the corner and it delivers “M-Ökostrom green electricity.”

Car charging station


Chat is king

Wednesday, 26 April, 2017 0 Comments

Jam Koum? Yan Koum? Jan Koum? Russian journalist Darya Luganskaya, who writes cryptic English, snags a rare interview with the reticent co-founder of WhatsApp, who co-trousered $19 billion with Brian Acton when Facebook acquired the app in 2014.

Darya Luganskaya notes that the messenger generation is not that into making phone calls and asks, “Why people turn to text communication so fast?”

Jan Koum: “I can not speak from the others. I personally prefer not to call, because I am afraid to disturb people. Everybody has very rich life, and it seems to me I can distract them from something important. Somebody could have dinner with his family, prepare the homework with his children or attend an important meeting. And then all of a sudden his phone rings, but my call could be absolutely unimportant. I may just want to ask: how is it going?

Usually I try to plan the call. I ask in the messenger if I could call, for example, in half an hour. For me it is much easier to chat via messengers.”

The WhatsApp user base of more than one billion messaging people is cool with that.


USAFacts

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017 0 Comments

What percentage of Americans has been diagnosed with depression and how much does Washington spend on treating the disease? How much money is collected from parking tickets in Chicago and how much does it cost to collect it? How many police officers are employed across the US and how do their numbers compare to the crime rates? The USAFacts public database is the first nonpartisan attempt to create a fully integrated overview of revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments in America and it’s impressive in its ability and ambition.

USAFacts was developed thanks to the generosity and vision of Steve Ballmer. The ex-Microsoft boss has deep pockets and he has spent more than $10 million so far on the project. With boundless energy and budget, he assembled a crowd of programmers, economists and academics that extended from Seattle to the University of Pennsylvania and together they built the start-up in stealth mode over the last three years. “Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he told Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for DealBook. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.” Way to go, Steve.

The websites EU Facts and Civitas EU Facts that Google returns in response to a search query are not quite Ballmer.


Assange, Snowden and Putin walk into a bar

Thursday, 9 March, 2017 3 Comments

First thing: Assange and Snowden and working with Putin. Second thing: Don’t believe what you read in the papers, especially regarding the WikiLeaks claims that the CIA can intercept encrypted WhatsApp and Signal messages. It can’t. If you have a secure device, then WhatsApp and Signal are secure. If your device is insecure, nothing is secure. As Robert Graham of Errata Security puts it:

The CIA didn’t remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There’s no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. If you aren’t afraid of the CIA breaking in an installing a listening device, then you should’t be afraid of the CIA installing listening software.

The CIA didn’t defeat Signal/WhatsApp encryption. The CIA has some exploits for Android/iPhone. If they can get on your phone, then of course they can record audio and screenshots. Technically, this bypasses/defeats encryption — but such phrases used by Wikileaks are highly misleading, since nothing related to Signal/WhatsApp is happening. What’s happening is the CIA is bypassing/defeating the phone. Sometimes. If they’ve got an exploit for it, or can trick you into installing their software.

Bottom line: Assange and Snowden are Russian agents. Bonus joke: Snowden and Putin and a dog walk into a bar in Moscow:

“Ow!”
“Ow!”
“Woof!”


Snap post

Monday, 6 March, 2017 0 Comments

Snap (formerly Snapchat) went public last week and raised a huge $3.4 billion that valued the company at over $24 billion. On its minimalist homepage, the business describes itself for a quick-read generation thus: “Snap Inc. is a camera company.”

What we’re witnessing in early 2017 is the transformation of photography into visual computing via the things we still call phones. And next? “We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate,” says Snap. There’s nothing that fuels ambition like a $24 billion-dollar valuation, but to “improve the way people live” will require more than self-destructing images. Or will it? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads is the attitude of the young Snap founders and that’s why adults should read the Economist explainer on “How to make sense of Snapchat.” It’s never too late to be young.

Update: “The optimism for Snap’s stock seems to be fading nearly as quickly as the average message on Snapchat.” Quartz


Coal miners as coders who get dirty

Friday, 10 February, 2017 0 Comments

When Hewlett-Packard was split in two in 2015, HP Inc focused on consumer products like PCs and printers, while Hewlett Packard Enterprise concentrated on business services such as cloud computing and data analytics. On Wednesday, the facility making ink cartridges in Kildare in Ireland told staff that up to 500 jobs will be lost at the plant. It was a nasty reminder that disruption drives the Fourth Industrial Revolution forward, fast and furiously.

Tech jobs come and tech jobs go and most will be redefined in the coming year(s) anyway as a raft of new concepts, such as the machine learning that’s been our theme there this week, make their presence felt. Clearly, the market for PCs and printers is shrinking, but those at currently at the top of the tech tree, programmers, should not rest on those laurels because as Clive Thompson has just warned readers of Wired, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job is Coding.” But that may not be a bad thing, Thompson says:

“Across the country, people are seizing this opportunity, particularly in states hit hardest by deindustrialization. In Kentucky, mining veteran Rusty Justice decided that code could replace coal. He cofounded Bit Source, a code shop that builds its workforce by retraining coal miners as programmers. Enthusiasm is sky high: Justice got 950 applications for his first 11 positions. Miners, it turns out, are accustomed to deep focus, team play, and working with complex engineering tech. ‘Coal miners are really technology workers who get dirty,’ Justice says.”

With a story about coal miners learning to program thanks to Bit Source, we end our week of machine learning on an optimistic note.


Machine Learning for Dummies

Wednesday, 8 February, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the title of an wry and informative take by Grzegorz Ziemoński in DZone. His definition of Machine Learning is worth memorizing: “Computer doing statistics on Big Data.” If you want to learn some Machine Learning, but don’t know where to start, his “text is for dummies just like us” is recommended.

Along with offering a concise definition of Machine Learning, Ziemoński takes readers through the difference between supervised and unsupervised Machine Learning and he shows us how to use Amazon Machine Learning to make a simple prediction. The key questions for those wishing to do more are: What do you want to predict? What data do you have? What can you do to make it work?

For those still foggy about the relevance of this stuff, substitute Machine Learning for Big Data in this quote by Dan Ariely, founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight: “Big Data is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.”

Thanks to Grzegorz Ziemoński, we can now get to first base, as it were.


RAISR Sharp Images with Machine Learning

Monday, 6 February, 2017 0 Comments

Rapid and Accurate Image Super-Resolution is a bit of a mouthful so we should welcome the acronym: RAISR. What it means is that machine learning is used to sharpen low-resolution images. Google, which provided the headline for this post, claims that RAISR is so fast that the process can run in real-time on a mobile device. Nerds love this kind of thing, but photographers should be pleased as well because RAISR can avoid aliasing artifacts in the final image, even when artifacts exist in the low-resolution original.

RAISR

Note: Google says it will expand RAISR beyond Android over the coming months and in his recent post on the future of phones, Mobile 2.0, Benedict Evans pointed out the role machine learning will play in the coming changes…

“Web 2.0 was followed not by anything one could call 3.0 but rather a basic platform shift, as the iPhone triggered the move from desktop to mobile as the centre of tech. AirPods, Spectacles, watches and Alexa also reflect or perhaps prefigure platform shifts. In some of them, on one hand, one can see the rise of machine learning as a fundamental new enabling technology, and in some, on the other hand, more and more miniaturisation and optimisation of computing. I think one can see quite a lot of hardware building blocks for augmented reality glasses in some of Apple’s latest little devices, and AR does seem like it could be the next multi-touch, while of course machine learning is also part of that, as computer vision and voice recognition.”


Work: Accompany will replace the PA/EA with a CoS

Sunday, 22 January, 2017 0 Comments

Amy Chang is betting that her app, Accompany, can replace the PA (Personal Assistant) many executives employ to manage their complicated schedules and lives. By the way, PA is undergoing a professional and linguistic update right now and the main contenders for the new title are Executive Assistant and, Amy Chang’s own favourite, Chief-of-Staff. With its hints of martial hierarchy, authority and White House glamour, Chief-of-Staff should emerge as the winner.

Back to Accompany. It’s marketing itself as an intelligent Chief of Staff and its goal is provide an automated briefing with all the information you need before you walk into a meeting. This includes relevant files, e-mail conversations with participants, details about their lives pulled from the web and up-to-date information on company performance. This is already a crowded space and Accompany will have to battle with apps such as Clara, Tempo and Charlie, but as Matthew Lynley pointed out last month in TechCrunch, Amy Chang is in the money: “Digital chief-of-staff app Accompany raises $20M and launches a UK Beta.”

Accompany


Person of the Year: Peter Thiel

Monday, 19 December, 2016 0 Comments

The speech Peter Thiel gave at the Republican Convention in Cleveland could have been written by legions of other critics of the elites who have misgoverned the US since the 1980s. Thiel, the billionaire investor and Facebook board member, is the only eminent Silicon Valley figure who publicly supported Donald Trump during his election campaign. He’s disruptive and a natural contrarian with a talent for making rewarding bets. He was a co-founder was PayPal and he was the first major investor in Facebook, and his wager on Mr. Trump will place him in a key position to formulate a tech policy for the new administration. Here’s what he said in Ohio in July:

Good evening. I’m Peter Thiel. I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships. I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.

Where I work in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to see where America has gone wrong. My industry has made a lot of progress in computers and in software, and, of course, it’s made a lot of money. But Silicon Valley is a small place. Drive out to Sacramento, or even just across the bridge to Oakland, and you won’t see the same prosperity. That’s just how small it is.

Across the country, wages are flat. Americans get paid less today than ten years ago. But healthcare and college tuition cost more every year. Meanwhile Wall Street bankers inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees. Our economy is broken. If you’re watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington D.C.

And you know this isn’t the dream we looked forward to. Back when my parents came to America looking for that dream, they found it right here in Cleveland. They brought me here as a one-year-old and this is where I became an American. Opportunity was everywhere. My dad studied engineering at Case Western Reserve University, just down the road from where we are now. Because in 1968, the world’s high tech capital wasn’t just one city: all of America was high tech.

It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon–and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless.

But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.

Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East. We don’t need to see Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails: her incompetence is in plain sight. She pushed for a war in Libya, and today it’s a training ground for ISIS. On this most important issue Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country. When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union. And we won. Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?

Of course, every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.

While it is fitting to talk about who we are, today it’s even more important to remember where we came from. For me that is Cleveland, and the bright future it promised. When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he’s not suggesting a return to the past. He’s running to lead us back to that bright future.

Tonight I urge all of my fellow Americans to stand up and vote for Donald Trump.

“What’s striking about this speech,” wrote Trump nemesis Larry Lessig, “is, except for its references to Trump, how obviously true it is. Something has gone wrong in America. Growth is not spread broadly. Technical innovation is not spread broadly. We were a nation that tackled real and important problems. We have become a nation where — at least among politicians — too much time is spent arguing over the petty. ‘Who cares?’ about which bathroom someone uses — which coming from a gay libertarian must mean, ‘it’s none of your business.’ The wars of the last generation were stupid. We need to focus on building a ‘bright future’ that all of America can share in.”

Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, makes for stimulating reading, and it should be read by all journalists because it will help them understand the man who used his wealth to pursue, and eventually shut down, Gawker. Now, he’s an important adviser to the Trump transition team and he certainly had a say in the decision to invite the leaders of the major tech companies to last week’s meeting at Trump Tower. The love fest that existed between President Obama and Silicon Valley is definitely over, but Silicon Valley celebrates disruption and Peter Thiel, our Person of the Year, is a serious disruptor.

Peter Thiel