Decentralized Internet

March 15, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Media, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment

The technology landscape has been changing rapidly. Companies like Microsoft have already lost over half their market share. Meanwhile, the open Internet has devolved into a giant marketing opportunity. Dominant technology players are gathering everything they can about our movements, shopping, and social lives. Just look at what you have to approve on a typical smart phone app. Or how you’re invited to use one service to log into another. Government agencies have been doing the same and more, quite illegally.

Meanwhile, a variety of technologies have been developing to change the way we connect and interact – mainly to take out the intermediaries. The behaviour of business and government above and the revelations of security breaches and spying are simply pushing those technologies to the fore so we can take back control of our lives and devices.
Here is a talk by Fred Wilson in Paris, on 3 macro trends in society:

3 macro trends:
- from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks (eg: newspaper to Twitter)
- unbundling – how products and services are delivered, specialization (eg: finance moving away from banks, a la carte entertainment on demand)
- becoming a network node (w/ smart phones, shifting from desktop), always on and connected

4 Sectors to watch:
- money – distributed and decentralized payments on the Internet, without the banks
- health & wellness – staying out of the health care system, wearable monitors
- data leakage – data pollution, spying
- identity – cryto-currency applied to online and secure identity

This article lists 21 technologies that may decentralize networks, including mesh networks, alternative domain registration, and decentralized farming. We live in remarkable times.

Running Android on a PC

March 13, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Economoney, Games, Hardware, Software, Technology | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

Say you want to mess around with Android and apps, but you’re a little nervous about experimenting on that rather expensive phone or tablet. One solution is to load Android into a virtual environment where you can play around all you like and nothing is ever broken. All you do is back up your virtual machine (VM) software folder first, then if anything goes sideways you can restore it in about a minute. Developers use this approach all the time.

Oracle’s VirtualBox (VB) is free virtualization software you can install just about any Operating System (os) into (assuming you have a legal license). I’ve been running Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux and Android this way for several years. XP, mainly to support some old software that won’t run in current OS’s, the others to explore and experiment with. No messing with my main computer or setting up a boot loader. The other systems run in a window, so no rebooting required. File sharing is much like sharing over a network.

Fred Langa has written an article with step by step instructions for installing VirtualBox and Android on a PC. Most of the steps are pretty obvious but there are a few options that are not and a couple of gotchas. Note his comments about the captured mouse (for touch-screen behaviour), for example.

For Android, you need VT-x (AMD-V on an AMD processor) enabled in the PC’s BIOS. Most modern processors have it but it may be off by default. I checked a couple of utilities to confirm I had it but it was off anyway. Just reboot into your computers BIOS and turn it on. (instructions vary by maker) If you skip that step, the instructions will tell you Android is not supported, so do take care of that first.

I also noticed that some people who also use Microsoft Virtual Machines (like XP Mode) may find VT-x not working because Hyper-V is hogging it. In that case, it’s on in the BIOS but still unavailable in VB. In Windows 7+, the Hyper-V setting is hidden. Comment 5 on this thread offers the command line for turning it off and on. If you want to get fancier, I noticed this article on Hyper-V Manager. It still requires a reboot though.

Other Choices
If you just want to play an Android game on your PC, you might like Bluestacks. It’s designed for loading apps on a PC. It says it’s free only while in beta though.

Genymotion is an Android virtualization tool to create various OS version and screen size variations to test an app in. That’s for more advanced testing.

More OS’s
The advantage of using a tool like VirtualBox is you can also play around with other OS’s. You can get other images (VMs) here, for example. A popular Linux distro, Ubuntu is here. Install the current VB Extension Pack to support it.

The 13.04 version of Ubuntu is an OVA file. OVA files are preconfigured – just double-click to load into VirtualBox. Far fewer steps than in Fred’s article above. It also comes with LibreOffice and other software pre-installed. Note the password on the download page for your first Ubuntu login. You can go into System Settings (gear top right) and add a new User of your choice once logged in.

Rather than downloading a virtual machine, you can also install an OS directly yourself. Create the container in VB (New button), then install into that. This article reviews installing a distro from Ubuntu directly.

You can install a wide range of other OS’s, including Windows and Mac, in a virtual machine – it’s a great way to test and experiment without messing anything up. Or to run old software that won’t install in a modern OS.

Given the end of Windows XP’s support in April, it will soon no longer be safe for web surfing and other Internet uses but it may still have a role for old software in a virtual machine. Fred reviews installing XP into a virtual machine and the VM backup process here. (article free for subscribers) If you have an old XP install you’re retiring and want to move it to a virtual machine, you can use the free Disk2vhd. This is especially useful if your old computer didn’t come with system install disks. VHD is a Microsoft virtualization format but VirtualBox can use it.

And if you have some concern this is experimental technology or something, it’s been around for years. If you surf the web, you’ll have used a virtual machine. Many large web sites are run in virtual machines so they can, in moments, shift from one physical server to another when under load.

Promotion via Fakery

March 6, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Events, Hardware, Humor, Internet, Media, Science, Strange, Technology, Transportation | Leave a comment

A weird episode in Internet “marketing” this week. A real company, HUVr Tech, seeking funding  sought buzz. First, they faked up a Promo video for Hoverboards, complete with the famous and Back to the Future references. Note the 0 noise and that the video is named “belief” (on their web site). They apparently used the Back to the Future wire harness.

Second, an “apology” by Christopher Lloyd. He was tricked??   Then, one from Tony Hawk, the famed skateboarder. Wired comments.

Fake promotions and fake apologies? Lame. Pranks are funny only if you include the punchline. Has their home page been updated to reflect this? Nope. This is what they think of their possible customers?

Real Wii

February 20, 2014 at 12:43 am | Posted in Computers, Hardware, Software, Technology | Leave a comment

Recently, I explored the idea of getting a game console. I liked the Nintendo boxes as they had fun sports games and were modestly priced. However, the newer Nintendo consoles are oddly designed or overpriced. The WiiU has a large tablet-style controller. The Wii Mini has substantially reduced features over the original Wii. In fact, one site recommended you find a used Wii instead – they have more bang for the buck. Plus the earlier model Wii’s have the connections to play Gamecube games (with controllers and memory cards) too if you can find one. You may even find a new Wii around as they were just discontinued last fall.

Accessory’s are still very available as well as tons of games. The Wii games run on the new WiiU so will continue to be around. If you upgrade the TV cable to component, you get much higher quality video for modern screens – not the HD of the newer PS and Xbox consoles, but at 1/4 of the price. Plus the Wii motion controllers are a lot of fun. (waving a tablet?)

If you buy used and have no warranty to worry about, you also have the option to “homebrew” the Wii and add further abilities, like making it into a Media Centre that will not only play DVD’s but will play formats not supported by the big consoles. And you’ve got a “magic remote” already. You can play classic games you own, fully backup your Wii, and much more.

The process is a bit geeky and you have to follow the steps carefully but it’s not difficult. They suggest you review the FAQ’s and follow the instructions. All of the original Wii functionality remains.

See you at the baseball stadium. Or the bowling alley.

Elon Musk

May 9, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Design, Economoney, Hardware, Media, Science, Space, Technology, Transportation | 1 Comment

Ever heard of Elon Musk? TED branded him a serial entrepreneur, but that’s an understatement. He is a practical visionary:

1 – the co-founder of Paypal

2 – the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. Their new all-electric model S has just been named by Consumer Reports as the highest rated car ever! It’s still a luxury car but it’s phase 2. Phase 3 is a mass production model. And the company has posted it’s first profit. That will keep it going.

The CBC talks about it here.
I wrote about the Phase 1 car here

3 – he’s involved with solar power company SolarCity

4 – and he’s the chief designer at SpaceX, a reusable rocket company. They’re already doing work for NASA and the space shuttle.

His TED talk from February this year:

How Smart is a Smart Phone?

April 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Events, Space, Technology | Leave a comment

Smart phones are so much more than just phones. They are net connected, with thousands of applications available. We may balk at the cash price for some modern units. But the value? A recent application suggests most phones are capable of much more than we might think. Although it does go rather outside expected use and specs and undoubtedly voids the warranty.

NASA has launched 3 satellites run by smart phones. In fact, each made mostly from a smart phone. These “phonesats” are expected to be the cheapest satellites ever launched, using off-the-shelf products – in this case Nexus One phones running Android. Their mission – to see if smart phones can be used to successfully run a satellite in space. They’re also going to try to use the built-in cameras to take pictures of earth. And of course, they have built-in GPS. So far they’re operating normally.

They did have to add a larger battery pack and a powerful radio. The result is about 4″ square. And no – you can’t call or text them. A little out of your calling zone.

Combine this with low-cost rockets to launch and the satellite game changes completely.

the project site

How the Internet Works

April 9, 2013 at 10:38 am | Posted in Computers, Internet, Technology | Leave a comment

Here’s a nice brief introduction to how the Internet works – they touch on IP addresses, headers, packets, and routing.

And the background to the clip: The World Science Festival and the intro to “Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology.

(This is of course http or web pages we’re talking about. ftp, email, telnet and other technologies share tcp/ip but vary in implementation.)


Smart Glasses

January 29, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Posted in Computers, Design, Hardware, Media, Technology | 1 Comment

Computer in your glasses? I remember an old telephone company ad where they talked about a “friendly future”, showing a person walking around with heads-up display glasses and making a phone call. It was a fantasy then.

Over 10 years ago, a company demoed their heads-up display glasses to my company. They were in town looking for funding. The impressive part was being able to see large construction blueprints, unlimited by screen size.

A few years ago, I talked about the MIT “Sixth Sense” presentations. This was more a pendant than glasses.

Last year, Google demoed their new Glass project with skydivers, bikers and wall scalers during a conference using remote live video from the various wearers.

Google has recently added patents for bone conductance audio (no one can overhear your caller), a laser projector to project an interface (keyboard, number pad, etc) on a nearby surface or your hand, eyescan, a speech interface, real-time augmented imagery, and a compact see-through display. Some of this is much like MIT was experimenting with.

Google is now launching a program with developers to app out the hardware.

This illustrates a few of these potential ideas:

The demos have generated lots of parodies.

The New Unemployed

January 29, 2013 at 12:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Psychology, Technology | 1 Comment

While many are suggesting the economy is recovering, many formerly “safe” jobs still have a surplus of job-seekers. Formerly low unemployment white-collar jobs are seeing chronic unemployment, particularly in 2 areas: aging boomer’s and young people in the early part of their careers.

One of the big factors is technology change. Many roles have been replaced by technology. This Washington Post article (part of a series) discusses this.

“In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession [recent] paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.”

“That means millions of workers are caught in a competition they can’t win against machines that keep getting more powerful, cheaper and easier to use.”

“In the U.S., more than 1.1 million secretaries vanished from the job market between 2000 and 2010, their job security shattered by software that lets bosses field calls themselves and arrange their own meetings and trips. Over the same period, the number of telephone operators plunged by 64 percent, word processors and typists by 63 percent, travel agents by 46 percent and bookkeepers by 26 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.”

Technology also creates jobs but not at the rate it’s eliminating them. It also creates new skill requirements in existing jobs that not everyone can meet. A skilled draftsperson now has limited use unless they’re also skilled with AutoCAD or similar. And related skills like email, file sharing & transfer, and so forth.

This process can actually be expected to accelerate as I discussed in Changing Jobs.

Other contributing factors:
- Older workers are often seen as expensive (both in income and benefits) and less flexible.
- Young people are seen as inexperienced and less reliable as they lack a real track record.
- Technology is being used to pre-screen job applicants. If your resume doesn’t have the “magic words”, it will never be seen. The market now requires a unique resume (and thus good word processing and writing skills) for each application.
- The expense of a new hire increases due to the increasing screening requirements and interview time.
- Even with a recession, the longer you’re un- or underemployed, the further you get from “experienced”.
- If you work in a more basic role for a period of time, you end up being downgraded, not to mention loosing your former support network.
- The “improved” economy has left many cautious and reticent to hire more. Those working have  higher performance expectations and longer hours. Thus, we see more extremes and an erosion of job quality.
- Many formerly secure roles have been turned into contract positions that have no benefits. College teachers, for example. (On-line education will dramatically reduce even those contract roles) Those with entrepreneurial skills and temperament can do fine in such roles but this changes who can do them successfully. It changes some professions into essentially different jobs.
- Some roles are being contracted out overseas or outsourced, including highly skilled jobs.
- Specializations are changing at a faster pace, requiring ongoing skill development. Meanwhile, student loan programs have made it more difficult to obtain such training, potentially voiding a once successful career.
- Many students are graduating with massive debts. Some discover their training is already out of date.
- Schools teach students how to be good workers, not how to be entrepreneurs – that’s where the “employment” is expanding.

The consequences of this cannot be underestimated. At a time when millions of boomers will be retiring, will we also have permanently unemployed youth? And what of the many middle class families who have lost their standard of living, forcing changes in housing, relationships, and locale.

How does a person respond to chronic unemployment? With anger? Dropping out? Underground economy? Crime? Drugs & alcohol? Will that not create considerable social unrest, some of what we’re already seeing?

For those who find themselves stuck in such a situation, keep in mind this is not personal. It’s an economy in transition. Boomers went through some of this in the early ’80′s but it’s bigger this time. History is full of such events. The problem is NOT the technology, it’s our recognition of what is unfolding and adapting to these changes. You need to continue to find ways to take care of yourself. Spend time exploring what you love & what you’d like to contribute. Recognize the current situation is a temporary phase. Write that song or book you’ve always wanted to. Read or watch the films on your list. You’ll probably find things on your “bucket list” that need more time than money. And follow your bliss. That can lead you to a niche market that is not being served. Then you, or perhaps you with someone who complements your skills, can meet that need and become self-sufficient again.

Life is a journey. Keep moving.

US Designs Supersonic Flying Saucer – in the ’50s

October 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Posted in History, Science, Strange, Technology, Transportation | Leave a comment

Report Cover

Recent declassified documents from the US Air Force indicates they designed and began prototyping a flying saucer in the 1950′s. They hired Avro Air, a Canadian Co., to test the specs. Called USAF Project 1794, it was designed for vertical takeoff and landing, a top speed of about Mach 4, a ceiling of over 100,000 feet, and a range of over 1,000 nautical miles.

Testing concluded it was quite feasible, with a top speed higher than initially expected. It doesn’t appear a full prototype was actually built. They estimated a cost a little over $3 million ($26.6 mill in todays $) over 2 years to do so. It would have an average top speed of about 2,600 miles per hour.

Structure Cutaway

As the archives point out, they had a curiously strong resemblance to flying saucers depicted in popular science fiction films of the mid-50′s.

The US Archives

Wired comments

Given the troubles with the later “Avrocar“, a related project between the USAF and Avro, the early testing seems to have been overly optimistic.


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