mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
The UEFI standard was intended to make it easy to boot different kinds of operating systems on the same computer. Leave it to Microsoft to obstinately ruin the beauty of that open environment. I spent several hours today trying to make it work. It is working now, after I learned how to get around Microsoft's obstacles.

The motherboard on my old computer system died on Friday. I spent a lot of money buying parts for a new system, then I spent today building it out. I got stuck when it came time to install a new Windows 7 Professional 64-bit operating system. I know that I wanted this system to use the new standard. (I eventually want to install other non-Microsoft operating systems to try out.)

1) I created a text file on an existing hard drive with the commands listed in step 4.

2) I interrupted the BIOS autoselection of boot dvd drive in order to manually select the UEFI dvd drive. It's a duplicate of the standard drive, but it had the "UEFI" prefix on it. Unlike the standard boot image, this one is actually able to create a UEFI windows install. Nothing in the Microsoft boot text would tell you otherwise. I eventually discovered this difference by googling.

3) I started the Microsoft install process.  When I got to the point where I needed to select the partition to install, I pressed Shift-F10 to get to a DOS prompt. I ran this command (where the "i:" drive letter would be whichever drive letter happens to be mapped on your system):
diskpart /s i:\winsetup.txt
4) Here is the script contained in that "winsetup.txt" file. My new hard drive was disk zero, so the script worked for me. You have to create your own file. Don't run this script on your pc unless you're sure the disk number and partition sizes are appropriate for you.  I made partition #2 larger than 100MB because I intend to install several other operating systems and figured it would need the space for setup information for each of them.
rem http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh825686.aspx
rem http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh824839.aspx
rem == These commands are used with DiskPart to
rem create five partitions rem for a UEFI/GPT-based PC. ==
select disk 0
clean
convert gpt
rem == 1. Windows RE tools partition ===============
create partition primary size=300
format quick fs=ntfs label="Windows RE Tools"
assign letter="T"
set id="de94bba4-06d1-4d40-a16a-bfd50179d6ac"
gpt attributes=0x80000 0000 0000 001
rem == 2. System partition =========================
create partition efi size=1024
rem ** NOTE: For Advanced Format 4Kn drives,
rem change this value to size = 260 **
format quick fs=fat32 label="EFI System"
assign letter="S"
rem == 3. Microsoft Reserved (MSR) partition =======
create partition msr size=128
rem == 4. Windows partition ========================
rem == a. Create the Windows partition ==========
create partition primary size=257000
rem == b. Create space for the recovery image ===
shrink minimum=15000
rem ** NOTE: Update this size to match the size
rem of the recovery image **
rem == c. Prepare the Windows partition =========
format quick fs=ntfs label="Win7"
assign letter="W"
rem === 5. Recovery image partition ================
create partition primary size=15000
format quick fs=ntfs label="Recovery image"
assign letter="R"
set id="de94bba4-06d1-4d40-a16a-bfd50179d6ac"
gpt attributes=0x8000000000000001
list volume
exit
Hopefully somebody else will find this blog post on a web search, and save themselves many hours of scratching their heads.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Free web services like Yahoo or Facebook or Gmail are not really free.  Subscribers pay for the service, just not in ways that they understand.  Data is enormously valuable, and meta-data (information about data) is rich with potential uses.  MIT makes a tool available to you that lets you glimpse the potential of this vast database that you are trading for "free" web services.

Here, for example, are my results of letting MIT's Immersion tool peruse my Gmail account for 7 years of meta-data.  (Click to see a larger version.)

Immersion analysis of my Gmail account

It identifies these networks of people with whom I communicate.
  • Autism: The brown network in the middle are other adults with autism that I know.  Curious that it puts them front and center, perhaps because I'm more likely to send emails to this network than the others?
  • Home: The large blue network on the left are my landlords, an extra roommate, and the people they know.
  • Bicycling: The pink network are the outdoorsy folk that I know, although it's been a long time since I've had the energy to join them.
  • Gamers: The green network are the other gamers that I have known.
  • Faeries/Occupy: The red network on the right side strangely connects both the Radical Faeries and the Occupy Minnesota crowd.  Who knew?
  • Work: The small purple network confuses me.  I think maybe it's related to coworkers from a few jobs back.  I'm not sure.
  • Bears: The small grey network at top is also confusing.  I think it might be two local Bears.  "B"?  Who is "B"?
  • Everyone else is listed as solitary orange dots, lacking connection to my other contacts.
The analysis also shows that I receive emails that vastly outnumber the emails that I send.  It's approximately 10:1 odds.  It also shows that I've grown increasingly isolated over the years, trending toward fewer and fewer new contacts.  It would be nice if I could combine data from the various email accounts (Gmail, Outlook, Earthlink, Yahoo) that I've used for a larger view of my communication patterns.

Anyway, this is the kind of information that we voluntarily give to companies in exchange for free web services.  We also give this information to the NSA, although I wouldn't call that transfer a willing exchange.  When the NSA says that they're "only" collecting meta-data, trying to downplay its significance... don't believe a word of it.

All data is valuable.
mellowtigger: (dna)
When I was very young, I imagined living in a house that was part organic. In particular, I imagined that bioluminescence would provide a soft glow of night lighting for easy indoor navigation without electrical lighting. Now, we're on the verge of having such capability.

NASA has fluorescing Arabidopsis plants that are used to study plant growth in weightlessness. A geneticist has bioluminescent Arabidopsis plants that are so dim that special equipment is required to detect the light.  Finally, though, a new Kickstarter project proposes inserting "the full luciferin operon" into Arabidopsis plants so they create light that is bright enough to be noticeable to the human eye.  They offer different pledge levels, including $40 for seeds and $150 for a rose that will also bioluminesce.  Pledge here:
Sure, it's not going to cure cancer or feed the hungry, but at least projects like this can finally show that small organizations can "join the club" of biotech and choose their own priorities.  If I were the person setting biotech goals, I would choose these projects:
  1. Pick a food plant and engineer it to produce vitamin B12.
  2. Pick 3 food plants and engineer them so they complement each other and together produce a nutritionally complete human diet.
  3. Pick a tree (probably Baobab) and engineer it to grow hollow to produce a human dwelling space within it.
I think those three targets would quickly benefit humanity across the globe.  Forget Monstanto's crops that are genetically engineered to benefit the mechanisms for producing corporate profit. Instead, let's crowdfund projects that actually benefit humanity without need for profit.

I helped start that revolution by funding this little bioluminescence project.  Change begins somewhere.  :)
mellowtigger: (MrFusion)
phone operatorWhy do we still have phones? That technology should be eliminated altogether. There are so many things wrong with it, and we already have better options. We have various internet technologies that exceed traditional phone capabilities. About half of my job time is spent on our old phone system. Looking at project ideas for the upcoming year, half of them are also phone related. Please, when can we retire this ancient technology and use something far more flexible?

phone numbers:
I reprogram our phone database at work to make adjustments for undialable phone numbers. Here in the Twin Cities metro, the area codes 763 and 651 are supposed to be local phone calls with no toll charges. Except that a few rapidly growing areas are considered long distance prefixes even within those area codes. This exception leaves our PBX system unable to route any calls to those destinations. I have to program a rule exception that permits us to dial 1 to allow long distance charges to those destination numbers. Let's just move the internet to IP6 already, then every technological device under the sun can get its own unique number. Phone book listings transform into internet nameserver lookups. The phrase "long-distance call" becomes irrelevant. Every device within a household can share the same base address. Add more "phones" on a whim within your base address, and do so at no charge.

power:
One argument for the old phone system is that it included its own electrical power. Ethernet these days, however, can do the same. If my calculations on these core values are correct:
63.25 mA * 1000 = 0.06325 A
52.5 V * 0.06325 A = 3.32 W

I find that the old phone system delivers 3.3 Watts of power. Ethernet today, however, is able to deliver 12.9 Watts. There are probably big differences in the distance they can deliver that power, but honestly I don't see what the fuss is about. Phones don't need to include their own power transformer brick just to connect them to the internet data line. Also, USB devices when in suspended mode will draw a miniscule amount of power (see page 3), so I don't think the phantom load will break the green technology goal that we should aspire to achieve.

speed:
I think the maximum data transfer rate of old analog lines capped out around 33.6 kbits / second. Companies like ours use a digital phone network instead of analog. I can't find any documentation that explains the speed of this network. I do easily find reference to the 4.8 kbits / second that each phone allows for a serial attached device. The main network is surely faster than that, but I don't know how much. In contrast, gigabit ethernet is commonplace, and that technology is orders of magnitude faster.

faxes:
While we're ending the old phone technology, let's finally end fax technology too.  Instead of faxes, transmit PDF documents by email.  It offers higher resolution and (because of the speed increase mentioned above) would still be faster to send a document.

wiring:
My biggest objection to phone technology, however, is the duplicate infrastructure that it requires.  We already have buildings wired for ethernet with all of the benefits described above.  Now, in addition to that wiring and equipment, we also have to have a second system in place to support the old phone technology.  It's such a wasteful and pointless expense that I boggle at the thought of how much money is wasted by industry in America to keep this inferior technology in use.

cell phones:
I mention these points now because my pre-paid phone expired earlier this week.  I pay $100 up front to Verizon, and the balance is good for a year.  They deduct $1 each day the phone is involved in a call (send or receive) plus $0.10 per minute.  I've never used up all the money on such a plan, but this year I had a record $93.65 go to waste.  I don't use phones.  Really, why does anyone use phone technology when internet service is ubiquitous?  I don't keep the cell phone on my body, and it sometimes spends weeks without battery charge before I remember to plug it into the recharger.

Now, it's time for me to go make another $100 payment on a phone that seems mandatory even though I don't use it.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I would normally tell you that hacking a website is childish behavior akin to vandalizing a wall with spray paint.  This time, though, it looks a lot more "interesting" and purposeful than that.

Anonymous claims that it has collected damning government secrets and is threatening to reveal them.  The data file is encrypted and is currently available for download by everyone.  They will reveal the decryption key later unless the government reforms its sentencing guidelines for violations of terms of service.  Essentially, they're demanding that contract law be kept separate from criminal law, establishing some minimal barrier between democracy and plutocracy.  Otherwise, they will "detonate" their information bomb by releasing the key so everyone can read the information that they collected.

They are acting now because of the recent death of Aaron Swartz.  Today, they published their actions on the webpage of the United States Sentencing Commission (currently not responding).  Anonymous explains their actions in video and in their original announcement text on the website.  They chose to deface that government site for its symbolic value as the source of "federal sentencing guidelines which enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to a fair trial, by a jury of their peers -- the federal sentencing guidelines which are in clear violation of the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishments."

People can follow webpage links to download the pieces of the file that Anonymous has encrypted.  Anonymous will periodically contact media outlets and reveal partial contents to them for publication, as proof of the value in this encrypted file.  They have enough information for multiple files, and this "warhead" file is merely the first to be launched.  Although the original announcement at USSC.gov is not viewable at the moment, copies can be found elsewhere.  Follow those links for urls to the 9 file pieces (each piece named after a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), or take the simpler route by downloading the torrent file.  Currently, I find copies of the announcement at these addresses:
Among the instructions linked above you can find a unix command that will assemble the file pieces into the whole encrypted file.  WARNING: DO NOT enter those commands exactly as written, or you will delete the contents of your hard drive.  Either learn some unix commands first, or ask someone you trust to explain the commands to you.  (Basically, you just drop the "rm" command from the end, but you really should know what you're doing before entering any instructions into your computer.  The pieces should be assembled in this order: Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan. )

"You can't stop the signal."
- Mr. Universe, Serenity

Stay tuned, as we all wait to learn what activity the government has been hiding from us.
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
This topic requires a post of its own because audio is mildly "broken" in the latest Raspbian image.

Raspbian uses ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture), and it comes with a standard "aplay" command to play audio files. You can try it yourself with audio files that are already installed. Telnet to your Raspberry Pi and try the following command.
sudo aplay /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav
If your speakers are hooked up to your Pi, you probably heard the audio message. That success is encouraging, at least until you try to play some music files of your own. Suddenly, you find playback quite restrictive. Aplay is working only with audio files that are:
  1. stored with old .WAV or .AU file format,
  2. stored with integer (not floating point) values, and
  3. sampled with cd-quality resolution (such as 144,000 Hertz).
Those limitations severely cramp the utility of the Pi. I scanned a lot of forum posts that offered workarounds, but none of them worked for me. I'm a big fan of the VLC player on Windows, but even it was of no help on Raspbian. Some people found that a particular package added to the most recent Raspbian image is causing their problem. Removing it seems to be a useful improvement, at least for this current Raspbian release.
sudo apt-get --purge remove pulseaudio
Now let's download some audio files in other formats.
cd ~/Desktop
wget http://www.soundjay.com/nature/river-4.wav
wget http://www.soundjay.com/nature/river-4.mp3
If we try the standard Aplay program, we find that we can play other .wav files, but we still can't hear the .mp3 file. You can use Control-C to interrupt playback.
aplay river-4.wav
aplay river-4.mp3
We'll need to install a different program to play the .mp3 file. We find the opposite issue with this program; it plays .mp3 files but not .wav formats.
sudo apt-get install mpg321
mpg321 river-4.mp3
mpg321 river-4.wav
There's still a slight "pop" sound as the audio engages/disengages.  At least we have our playback options covered with these two programs together. We really need to get a single program that covers all the formats, with playlists, and with repeating loops. Until then, audio is less than "friendly" in the current Raspbian distribution.  I'm certain that better solutions will appear in future releases.
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
You collected the hardware and software, so now you're ready to configure your Pi. It's surprisingly easy.  You can complete the process in less than 10 minutes.

pi.diskimager1) Write the image to the memory card.

Put the SD memory card into your card reader. Run your Win32DiskImager software. Make very sure that you are writing the image file onto the correct drive letter. You could destroy your Windows boot drive if you choose the wrong drive letter! It takes a few minutes to finish writing the image to the card.

If you're assigning a permanent ip address, proceed to step 2.  If you're using the IP Scanner to find your network address, then skip to step 3.

2) Edit "cmdline.txt".

You may need to remove the memory card and reinsert it before you see the new drive in your Windows system. If it asks, do NOT scan or repair. Open up the drive letter and edit the boot configuration file using the default Notepad. Look for the "console=tty1" parameter. After it, you'll need to insert another parameter, constructed with the new A) ip address, B) gateway, and C) netmask (in that order) that you already selected. For instance, I used this parameter:
ip=192.168.0.200::192.168.0.1:255.255.255.0:raspberrypi:eth0:none
After the console parameter, insert a space character, then the above line, then another space. Do not delete the other parameters that come afterwards. Do not press Enter; let it all run together as one line. Save the file and exit.

3) Power up.

Insert the memory card into your Pi. Connect the Pi to the ethernet cable and the USB power cable. Within a few seconds, you should see the green lights start flashing on your Pi. You're ready to connect.

pi.putty4) Telnet into it.

Run the Secure Shell telnet program called Putty. Enter the IP address that you configured above. (Or use the network scanner software to find the temporary address automatically given to your Pi.)  In this example, I'm connecting to 192.168.0.200. Use the default port number (22) and protocol (SSH).

The first time that you connect to your Pi, Putty will warn you with an imposing message about a potential security breach. Click Yes to accept. It's just warning you that it hasn't previously connected to the destination computer that you're contacting now.

Use the default userid ("pi") and password ("raspberry"). Congratulations, you're working on your new Raspberry Pi.

5) Change the password.

For safety's sake, never leave the default userid on any device in your network. Type this command and press Enter.
sudo passwd pi
Enter a new password; enter it again for confirmation.

6) Update your configuration.
sudo raspi-config
Use the arrow keys to navigate the menu, then select "change_timezone" and press Enter.  Wait for this utility to build a menu for your system.  Use the arrows and Enter to select your geographic region.  When it's done, you will return to the main menu.

Select "expand_rootfs" and press Enter. This utility will reconfigure your filesystem to take advantage of all available space. The operating system image that you installed was made for the minimum 2GB memory card. If you bought a larger card, that extra space is not available until you reconfigure. After it's done, select "Finish" and press Enter. Do not select to reboot.
date
Use this command to confirm that your Pi is in the correct timezone.  Restart the configuration menu if you need to make another change.
sudo reboot
Use this convenient command to reboot your Pi now. Your Putty connection will drop as your Pi reboots. Wait a few seconds for the green lights to reappear, then connect to your Pi again. It may take longer than usual for this reboot to enable the telnet connection. It took over a whole minute in my case. Subsequent reboots will complete faster.
df -h
After the reboot, telnet back to your Pi and use this command to check your drive space.  You should see the Size for "rootfs" appropriate for your memory card capacity.

7) Enable fullscreen gui.

The standard Microsoft method of connecting to remote computers is via Remote Desktop Protocol. You already have an RDP program on your Windows computer, but you'll need to install an RDP service on your Pi.
sudo apt-get install xrdp
It will ask if you want to continue. Press 'Y' (for 'yes') and Enter, then it will install the package.
exit
This command will logout your userid and close your telnet session.

pi.rdp8) Connect with fullscreen gui.

Go to the Start menu on your Windows computer and enter "mstsc" into the text box, then press Enter. That abbreviation stands for "Microsoft Terminal Services Client". It's the program that Microsoft uses for its RDP sessions.

In the popup dialog box, enter the network address of your Raspberry Pi.

Remember, though, that your Pi does not have a powerful cpu, so it cannot quickly construct screens at resolutions that you're probably using on your Windows computer. I got a faster response by toning down the screen requirements.

Click the down arrow next to "Options".  Go to the "Display" tab.pi.rdp.login  Change the configuration to something smaller, like "1280 by 1024" pixels.  Change the colors to something smaller, like "High Color (16 bit)".

Press Connect to accept all other defaults.

Enter the username and the password that you've previously used for your Pi, then click the OK button to connect.

Do not click on any other buttons during the setup process.  If you do, you may accidentally interrupt the initialization.  You will have to close the window and start again.  Be patient.  Eventually, you will see the traditional Raspbian desktop image.

pi.rdp.desktop

The web browser is called Midori.  Use it to login to G+ and read your news.  It was slow, but it worked for me.  Whenever you're ready to quit your session, use the icon in the bottom left corner (like the Windows Start button) to select Logoff.

Have fun!
mellowtigger: (tech support)
sciencefair.projectkit.75in1Experimenting with a Raspberry Pi reminds me of bygone days playing with a Science Fair project kit from Radio Shack. They're cheap, and they're fun. They only cost about $35 for the base Pi, but you'll need 2X or 3X that amount to actually get it working.

These prerequisites are the hard part; actually doing the setup is very quick and easy! 

This post explains all of the prerequisites that you need to prepare your Pi with minimal accessories, assuming you are working from an existing Windows computer with an empty USB port. I will explain in a subsequent post how to actually perform the setup. 

You start by budgeting an extra $40 for this mandatory hardware and free software:

ItemPriceDescription
SD memory cardabout $64GB or larger preferred.
micro-USB to USB cableabout $10Buy micro-USB not mini-USB!  It powers your Pi from your other computer's USB port, so buy appropriate cord length for where you will be placing your Pi.
ethernet cableabout $8I use cat-5e, but I think cat-5 and cat-6 are also fine.  Make sure it too is an appropriate cord length for your Pi's location.
plastic caseabout $10I don't care for the one I bought, so I have no recommendation here.
operating systemfreeI use the recommended Raspbian linux image.
Win32DiskImagerfreeI use this recommended program to write the Raspbian image file to the SD memory card.
secure shell telnetfreeI use this Putty.exe.

Right-click the Win32DiskImager.zip file and choose to Extract All to some directory of your choosing.  If you don't see an Extract All option, then your computer also needs a program that will allow it to UnZip that file.  I recommend the free program 7zip.

You're almost ready to begin working.  Unfortunately, you may need some additional hardware.  This configuration is where you may run into more expenses, depending on the setup you already have for your home computer.  You may need two additional items if you don't already own them.

ItemPriceDescription
 SD card reader about $20It's mandatory that you be able to access the SD memory card on your Windows computer.  If your computer lacks a card reader, then you must purchase one (internal or external).

You'll need the card reader only once during setup, though, so it's an extravagant expense unless you also use the card reader to transfer photographs from a camera.  It's nice to have one available.
1 small router
1 ethernet cable
about $35
about $8
It's mandatory that you have a free ethernet port on your cablemodem (or router) near your computer.  If your original router has no spare ethernet port, then you must purchase 1 small router (a switch or hub with 4 or 5 ports) and 1 extra ethernet cable.

It will act as a small "junction box" for your network, allowing both your main computer and your Pi to use the same network connection.  You'll disconnect your main computer's ethernet cable, then put the new router there.  You'll connect both your main computer and your Pi to that new router, effectively putting a Y-junction in your network link.

You also need to know the ip address for your Raspberry Pi.  You have two options.

The automatic solution is to let the network assign the address for you.  Unfortunately, this method also means that you have to inquire for the address when you want to connect to your Pi.

To query network addresses, you need to install free internet scanner software on your computer.  I recommend the free program Advanced IP Scanner.  You will need to run the scan whenever your Pi gets a new temporary ip address, so you know the address to which you connect.

It will take a minute (or 2 or 3) for it to scan your local network.  Sort the results by Manufacturer name, and look for the one labeled "Raspberry Pi Foundation".  That's the computer address that you'll need to know later.
The manual solution is to assign a permanent network address to your Pi before you even start.  I prefer this solution, and I used it in my setup.

You can easily "guess" a useful ip address by looking at the address used by your current computer. Use the Start button (or Start / Run on older Windows computers) to get the empty box where you can type in a program name. Type in "cmd" and press Enter. You will get an old MS-DOS black box on your window. Enter this command "ipconfig" and press Enter. You're looking for 3 sets of numbers. Write them down.
  1. IPv4 Address
  2. Subnet Mask
  3. Default Gateway
Your computer's IPv4 address is probably something like "192.168.0.100". Pick a new number for the last segment, such as "192.168.0.200". The number must be less than 256, but it can be anything that your network doesn't already need. You can test it out now by using that same black box to type in this command: "ping 192.168.0.200". It should say "Destination host unreachable". If it shows you something about bytes and time or "Request timed out" instead, then pick a different number. You need a network address that is unused. Type "exit" and Enter to close the MS-DOS box.

Now you have all of the hardware and software you need to setup your Raspberry Pi "headless", which means without its own attached monitor, keyboard, or mouse.  You'll be doing it from your existing Windows computer instead.  Stay tuned for the next blog post.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Our postal service borders on insolvency, even though they are sitting on a proverbial gold mine.  I keep telling people that data is valuable, but the postal service seems not to listen to me.  They have two services that they could sell cheaply and still earn great quantities of money.
  1. Address verification
  2. Address geocoding
Plenty of third-party companies charge a lot of money for these services.  Technically, there are also free services available (like Google, Yahoo, and others), but their free access is encumbered by usage restrictions in their license.  I've investigated several of them for the non-profit organization where I work, and we were prohibited from using all of these services either by their licensing or their fees.

The USPS would need to invest in a programming interface to their valuable database.  Afterwards, though, if they charged only a small fee, they could still rake in lots of cash.  They could compete with all of the 3rd-party offerings, and they could outperform on both cost and legal restrictions.
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
Grace Hopper wrote the first computer language compiler back in 1952.  She was also a Commodore (Rear Admiral) in the U.S. Navy.  Her mind was quite sharp throughout her lifetime, and at one point she was the oldest active duty officer serving in the U.S. military.  She was among the programmers who coined the phrase "computer bug" after they found the first very literal bug in their computer.  This short video shows her brilliantly presenting a thought-provoking analogy about computing and communicating within the known constraints of time and space.


There are certainly other famous women who have had a profound influence over the progression of science.  Ada Lovelace postulated the first computer algorithm (1843), at a time before computers.  I've written more than once about the famous Jane Goodall.  Madame Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, once for Physics (1903) and again for Chemistry (1911).  Mary Kies was the first woman granted a U.S. patent (1809) at a time when women couldn't even own property independent of their husbands.

These accomplishments are worth repeating today in celebration of International Women's Day.  It's also worth saying that I have worked for more female bosses than male bosses during my lifetime, so it's not surprising that the best boss I ever had was a woman.

It is especially worth keeping these high standards in mind throughout this year, considering the nature of political discourse in the USA recently.
mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
candle lighting candleTechnology gives us the global telepathy that biology failed to provide. Copyright showcases our failure to adapt. The problem is easy to express. In fact, the Buddha stated it plainly over 2,500 years ago.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
- Siddhārtha Gautama, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/88592

People try to lay claim to the immaterial rather than the material. The effort to "own" the insubstantial is what leads to a multitude of problems. Technological telepathy will require you to make a decision about whether there can be such a concept as "intellectual property" when somebody else claims ownership over your own memories. Personal liberty and freedom of expression are concepts that will run directly into the wall of corporatism, profiteering, and ownership.

We should sidestep the distraction of the various recording technologies (cameras, tape recorders, page scanners) by acknowledging immediately that humans themselves have always functioned as recording devices. Recording cannot be prevented reasonably, so who owns these human records now?  Sounds reach my ears, sights reach my eyes, and experiences in total are stored in my memories. The technology is already in development that will allow me to directly share my experience. My auditory experience can be shared. My visual experience can be shared. My memories can eventually be stored outside of my body and shared with others. Are my memories "mine", in total, or are they not? Why should anyone have authority to prevent me from sharing the history of my life experience, even when a moment of it incorporates somebody's copyrighted work?

I see only three beneficial solutions: we end intellectual property, we recognize benefaction rather than ownership, or we seize intellectual property for the commons. In all three cases, plagiarism is still possible (as a false claim of original authorship) but not theft.

Keeping our existing laws is ghastly; it will soon mean that someone else owns your memories.

Solution #1: Eliminate Intellectual Property

It would be foolish to share something then demand that every recipient is now bound by a code of silence forever, but that's exactly how copyright works today. You are not allowed to share your experience of a concert or movie except at the lowest fidelity by transcribing your audiovisual experience into mere words that describe your recollection. If the original experience was already in the realm of words alone (reading a story, for example), then additional restrictions apply.

The easiest solution is to eliminate copyright altogether. End intellectual property. I prefer this method for its simplicity. Immaterial ideas could be owned as private property only if they remain private. Taking ideas or experiences from the mind of the sole individual who harbors them would indeed be theft.

Solution #2: Eliminate Ownership

An alternative is to end "ownership" of ideas but instead recognize "benefactors" of creative works. If there is ever any benefit (money or services granted) for a creative development, then the original author may lay claim to that benefit. So someone can freely use any image, video, audio, or text on their website, but if they earn any money from the publication, then the original author(s) can claim a portion of those collected fees.

I already endorse this approach. If you look at the source code for my personal webpages, you see this notice in the meta tags. It is the closest version of benefaction that I can easily achieve on my own with current laws.

<META NAME="COPYRIGHT" CONTENT="Copyright (c) 2005 by Terry Walker, you may use this content in any way that is not for profit">

I think this approach is encouraged by the efforts of the Pirate Party. I notice that scientists also seem to favor this approach, as they abandon strict journal ownership of articles in favor of peer review through easily shared sources.  Authorship is important, but ownership is not.

Solution #3: Seize Public Property

I mention this idea only to be thorough in my examination of possibilities. It relies on government actively working to benefit people, which no government should be trusted to do continuously. Government could counterbalance the intellectual property problem by asserting the community's ownership of its ideas. Government could place a movie or book in national archives where everybody could use it. Government could take a patent and make it publicly owned.

When was the last time you heard of a government claiming "imminent domain" rights over intellectual property? Yeah, me neither. Government is so beholden to corporations that it is actively stealing from the public commons to benefit the private corporations. It does so already with limited physical resources. The U.S. government now also has permission from the Supreme Court to take items out of public domain and return them to copyright protection.

The easiest solution is still to end copyright.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Here are a few images, in honor of today's internet protest against American legislation (proposed, so far) gone amok.  SopaStrike has compiled a list of who's participating in today's blackout by big name internet companies.  You might recognize some of the names on the list: Google, Wikipedia, Tucows, Good Old Games (my favorite), Internet Archives, Imgur, Flickr, Reddit, Mozilla, O'Reilly Media, WordPress, and more.

SOPA image 1SOPA image 3SOPA image 2

If you've never heard of them before, there are plenty of good reviews from reputable sources about these pieces of law that the U.S. Congress is trying to pass.  The best introduction that I've found is a video published at Vimeo.
Additionally, there's a strong disapproval from Adam Savage of the Mythbuster's show, and Wired magazine offers a good justification for their protest, and the Guardian has a 2-minute video explaining the legislation and a decent review of what's at stake in this battle.  The Oatmeal is well known for its parody, and they've got a long animated gif explaining their view on this legislation too (slightly offensive, as is their wont).

If you want to help protest #SOPA and #PIPA legislation, you can sign the petition hosted by Google itself.
Wikipedia encourages you to contact your congress critter.  (You must have javascript enabled to see their blackout message.)  You can use this webpage from Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Your contact might be even more effective if your particular congress critter happens to support these two pieces of legislation.  (Hint: It's not a Democrat vs. Republican thing.  It's a corporation vs. consumer thing.  PIPA is co-sponsored by Minnesota's own Democrat, Al Franken.)

SOPA image 4
mellowtigger: (hypercube)
Dan Whaley was involved in e-commerce as early as 1994 with his startup GetThere, which eventually led to Travelocity.com.  He is seeking funds for a new programming project to help determine the reliability of our sources for information. I've already donated some money to the effort, and I've registered my username at the project's website.


I have written previously about the need for computer assisted epistemology to help us organize our thoughts and opinions to reach the kernels of truth within them. I have also written previously about Kickstarter, the website that helps funnel money into creative projects. Just yesterday, I wrote about the need to verify our sources of information.

I'm pleased that these discussions have collided at a useful intersection.  :)
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
I have written about chimeras before. I learned yesterday that the UK Academy of Medical Sciences has released a report of suggested ethics guidelines for researchers who create chimeras.

One category of experiments should be off-limits for the time being, according to the report. This includes the creation of a non-human primate with enough human brain cells to make it capable of 'human-like' behavior. The report says that such animals, which might be able to develop human capacities such as reasoning or self-awareness, would have a moral status close to our own or to that of the great apes, which cannot be used for invasive research in most countries.
- http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110721/full/475438a.html

I do have mixed feelings about their decision on this point. As long as the religious minded are allowed to hold steadfastly to their humans-are-the-center-of-the-universe thinking, then we will never achieve the enlightenment that I think is necessary for the good future of our society and planet. I keep repeating that we need a trans-species declaration of rights. Chimeras with human-like brains and minds would hasten such a development.
mellowtigger: (Ark II)
A few interesting toys of science have made the news recently.

diode laserThe Lincoln Laboratory of MIT has spawned off a company called TeraDiode.  This company has announced a breakthrough in laser physics.  They created an optical system capable of combining several direct diode laser beams into a single beam capable of cutting through half an inch of steel.  The resulting technology is so powerful and so compact that they're actually talking about "laser guns" of science fiction fame!  They're pursuing both manufacturing and military applications for the technology.

Meanwhile, somebody at Japan's defense ministry has announced a flying reconnaissance device.  You have to see it to believe it.  (Note: The original CBS embed is failing.  You can also view the video at YouTube.)


I wish all the neat stuff wasn't so obviously tied to military uses, but still it's very cool to see fiction become fact!
mellowtigger: (dna)
Dr. Evil is a memorable fictional character from the "Austin Powers" movies. He is the antagonist whose evil plans must be thwarted by the heroic Austin Powers. To help him with his evil plans, Dr. Evil desires a monstrous weapon:

"You know, I have one simple request, and that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!"

Eventually, Dr. Evil gets his wish.


I'll up the ante. What about sharks with lasers built into their heads?

Physicists create a living laser
Gather says that, to the best of his knowledge, this is the first time that a laser has been made from a living material. He mentions that scientists have previously mixed dead tissue with inorganic laser materials and seen coherent emission from the composite. But this latest material is made entirely from living tissue, and this remains alive even after emitting hundreds of laser pulses.
...
The next step, says Gather, is to shrink the mirror cavity so that it is small enough to fit inside a cell, the typical diameter of which is between 10 and 20 μm. This may then allow imaging of cell-lasers inside a living animal, rather than having to extract cells for investigation in the lab. In this case the pumping laser could be supplied either from the outside by shining it through the body or by injecting light through optical fibres inserted into the body.
- http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/46248

whale sharkSure, these biolasers aren't the powerful kind that could actually destroy anything, but who needs that much reality in their movie parodies?

Sharks don't need lasers to be menacing. I think that excessive overkill is what makes the meme ("Sharks with frickin' laser beams!") successful even this many years after the movie. The absurd exaggeration is amusing.

If I saw something this big (pictured on right) coming at me in the water... I'm sure I'd be appropriately terrified even without worrying about lasers.
mellowtigger: (dna mouse)
I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere yet, but researchers have boosted the "intelligence" of mice by increasing the growth of their hippocampus. These engineered mice made better choices by improving their discrimination between similar situations, in effect "learning" more effectively.

http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/37288/?p1=MstRcnt&a=f
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)
There was a moment at work today when I mentioned that a particular manual process could be automated.  The people involved responded that yes they agreed, and that's why they were looking forward to me moving into my new job position.  I'll start being a programmer again (for the third time) on Monday, May 9th.  I think.  I don't even know what my title is any more.  It's all very squishy and vague and confusing.  Nevertheless, the moment seemed to deserve a theme song, so ...

Twin Cities Code CampI went to Twin Cities Code Camp a few weeks ago on Saturday, April 9th.  I was curious about the event, since I'd heard about it before.  I also wanted to see the PowerShell presentation that day.  It's an event hosted by the University of Minnesota but attended by programmers throughout the local community.  It's a chance for people in the industry to present sessions, listen to a wide range of topics, and chat with other techies.  I stayed all day Saturday but skipped Sunday.

At the end of the day Saturday, they recorded video and audio of us shouting certain refrains from the theme song they created for the event.  I can be spotted three different places as a blur in freeze frames, but this image is the best I could capture.  I'm the shiny balding head in the orange frame.  *laugh*

Wanna learn somethin' new, don't wanna get complacent
Twin Cities Code Camp!
Your apps are nothing short of magnificent
Twin Cities Code Camp!

- http://kindohm.com/2011/04/28/TCCCThemeSong.html

You can find the YouTube video, full lyrics, and the audio download at that page.  Yes, I did shout the lyrics.  No, I didn't pump my fist.

bad luck

Dec. 27th, 2010 08:08 am
mellowtigger: (tech support)
I'm having a string of bad luck with technology. :(

My UPS finally gave out several months ago. Rather than purchase another environmentally UNfriendly battery backup, I chose instead to buy a simple surge suppressor. All went well until this holiday weekend when the kitten pounced after something and landed on the power button of the surge suppressor. The power flickered off/on, and I was no longer able to boot my computer. A Windows repair install was unable to fix the problem. I ran memtest (http://memtest.org/) for 2.5 hours before canceling and proceeding with a full Windows reinstall. That worked. I could boot into Windows 7 again. Now to reinstall all my software yet again.

Intending to avoid the same problem again, I took my UPS to BatteriesPlus to get the cells replaced. Once the tech had the UPS opened, however, he discovered that this old Belkin UPS apparently was intended as a disposable product. There was no easy way to replace the cells. I was watching him with it, and I agreed. Even after removing the circuit board, they allowed no room on the many attached wires for him to pull the board out of the way. It was going to take a long time to replace the cells, and he would need to charge me for time used on the replacement. So I gave up and had him just recycle the whole thing. I'll do online research later to find a good UPS replacement.

Meanwhile, my Windows 7 install froze up again. Not sure what happened, but I lost all of my BIOS settings after rebooting. I think I forgot one of the settings, though, because now Windows 7 is complaining about not having a USB device driver. I hope I didn't fry something on my motherboard during the power flicker.
mellowtigger: (penguin coder)

I have suggested before that our language influences our thoughts, and that influence determines how we conceive the world, and that conception changes how we act in the world.

I noticed today a totally new way in which the influence of English language affected (negatively) the creation of a computer language. I already knew some Structured Query Language (SQL), but I'm taking a 3-day class this week in Microsoft SQL Server 2008's version of Transact-SQL. I noticed today that SQL syntax was badly influenced by one of the regrettable features of English syntax:

Adjectives precede Nouns.


I noticed the problem because of the Intellisense feature of the SQL Server management interface. As I type a new SQL command, the program determines context and shows me available choices that are appropriate within that point of the SQL command. The problem, unfortunately, is that SQL syntax puts the field names (adjectives) BEFORE the table names (nouns), so context can't yet be determined.

If we had more reasonable English syntax where nouns preceded adjectives (as in Spanish language), the SQL standard would have been created with the appropriate order for Intellisense to work well.


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