Archive for February, 2010

Google’s Goggles (not a typo)

07/02/2010 Leave a comment

Google's Goggle

Google's Goggles

Google continues to expand the range of services it offers its users.  To date, if you wish to search the web you either type in your search terms, or speak them.  Now they have added something I have wanted for ages – to search by an image alone.

The application is in the early stages of development, and so currently resides within their ‘Labs’ section on their web site.  It allows you to take a photo with your mobile device, and then to search for information on it.  For example, you could take a picture of a book cover and when you submit it you receive back links to reviews of the books and retail outlets who offer it at a good price.  It also works in an art gallery if you take a photo of a picture – providing you have not been ejected by security for using your camera, you will receive the kind of information you would have had to purchase in the gallery’s guide book.

The same process works for business cards.  Take the photo and you are invited to add  it to your contacts database and clicking on the email address or phone number immediately opens up the associated application.

On holiday and looking at an interesting landmark?  Take a photo, your GPS position and the direction you are facing will be sufficient, and get back the information you need.  It works when you return home and find you have lots of holidays photos from previous holidays stored, but can’t identify all the places.  Snap them with your phone and Google will tell you what they are photos of.

It is hoped that when it is released Goggles will recognise objects such as animals, plants, cars etc.  Google even suggest if you take a picture of a chess set it will suggest the next best move.  Such technology would have been dismissed by most as science fiction just a few years ago.  If you have an Android-based phone (OS 1.6 and above) it is currently a free download from the Android app store, although multi-platform support is promised.

See my Vodpod section, bottom right of the page, for a demonstration.

Categories: Internet, Mobile Phones

Is this the best research tool in the last 10 years? (Probably)

06/02/2010 Leave a comment

Research Papers

Research Papers

When you are researching you need to trawl through as much previous research in your area as possible.  You then cite all the relevant research in order to show that your own research is well grounded.

Tools like Endnote help the researcher keep a database of the research that is, or is potentially, useful.  It goes a long way to helping with those piles of, virtual, paper, but it does not point you to other papers or researchers that may be useful.

Three German PhD students (Victor Henning, Jan Reichelt and Paul Föckler) found that a significant problem was extracting all the metadata from the pdf files.  They set about solving this, and also introducing other features of real significance.  Investors told them there were just two significant hubs of research, Boston and London  they chose the latter. The company, and the software, is called Mendeley.  What does it offer researchers that other software does not?

It is a server-based system, with a desktop client (support for Windows, MacOS, and Linux).  The software is free, unless you want to pay a premium to keep your internal research secret, or if you need additional storage space on the server.

PDF files can be dropped on to the Mendeley desktop, which automatically extracts the metadata from it. This includes title, author, keywords and the papers that it itself cites.

However, it goes further than this by using a scrobbling approach seen in services such as Last FM.  Every time you add a paper to your database it learns more about your specific areas of research and can connect you to people with similar interests, and even point out papers you may have missed.

The system monitors, in real time, which papers are cited by whom, and can help you spot rising stars and trends in scientific research as they happen.  Do you know who is the most popular researcher in your field this morning?  Mendeley does.

The rate at which papers are being added is very impressive.  The current rate of growth shows the database doubles every ten weeks.  At the end of 2009 it contained  eight million research papers.  At this rate it will very quickly overtake the largest academic databases which have twenty million papers.  Some of the world’s leading universities are supporting Mendeley, including Cambridge, Imperial, Harvard and Stanford.  The chief technology officer of Amazon, Dr Werner Vogels, recently said that if Mendeley get this right they could change the face of science.  It seems he may be right.

Categories: Education, Internet, Networking

Red Laser

05/02/2010 1 comment



I have discovered this iPhone app very late on.  At last someone has not only developed a barcode reader that works, but also does something useful.  It has been produced by Occipital, who were the people behind ClearCam which significantly improved the built-in camera on the iPhone.  So what does it do?  It quickly scans a barcode, working with UPC and EAN codes, in 6-8, 12 or 13 digit formats.  I have found it is very quick to scan.  Once scanned, it tells you what the product is and it takes that information online, and using Googles’s Shopper suggests the cheapest prices it can find.  Having used the application I am very impressed at the speed in which this is accomplished when using a wifi link.  However, if you are using a 3g link then the retrieval of the best prices is rather slow.

This application recognises many products, but I have noticed it does not seem to recognise ISBN numbers, and hence find me the best price on books.  The application is free, and is great fun to use.  Is it useful?  Well that depends on what you are scanning in order to save you money.  If you are in the supermarket then it is of little use to know that the supermarket three miles down the road sells pints of milk which are 2p cheaper.  However, if you are looking to buy a household item of significant value, then a quick scan and a list of cheap prices can present you with a bargaining tool to get a discount.

My iDapt has arrived

03/02/2010 Leave a comment

Just an update.  The iDapt I discussed on an earlier post has arrived.  First impressions are good.  It seems well constructed, and the ‘tips’ seem reasonably robust.  I am off to work in Sri Lanka and Singapore next week, so I will give it a road test and post my findings.

Categories: Gadgets, General Comment

It’s just a phase I am going through

03/02/2010 1 comment



Star Trek has (unfairly) had its harsh critics over the last 44 years.  It introduced us to a number of fictional technologies, but like all good ideas they made it in to the real, commercial world.  They are of course such things as the communicator (became the mobile phone), doors which opened automatically when you approached them (I remember being taken to the Co-op in Enfield to see one of the first installations in the UK) and the Transporter (in the last two years physicists have made significant strides in this area).  The one obvious omission is the Phaser.  Even this, it appears, has become a reality.

The fact that the Phaser was always portrayed as being able to switch between “set phasers to stun” and “switch phasers to kill” has been of real interest to the military.  It has the flexibility to disable an enemy, kill him or even to knock out a vehicle.  In 2002 the American Marines were experimenting with a “Pulsed Energy Projectile” (PEP).  It fired a short, intense, laser pulse which vaporised the surface of the target, creating plasma which absorbs the rest of the laser energy — and detonated with a flash, bang and electromagnetic pulse.  Just like the PEP it could be used on low power to stun, or high power to kill.  The PEP never made it to the battlefield, it was shelved after spending  $14m on development.

Later incarnations have included the “Phased Hyper-Acceleration for Shock, EMP, and Radiation” work out the acronym.  It emits a low pulse to stun an assailant, a higher lethal dose or an elecrtomagnetic pulse (EMP) to fry the electronics in weapons or vehicles. However, the challenge is how to create the equivalent of a small ball of lightening, then compress and transmit it.  The latest incarnation is called the Multi-mode Directed Energy Armament System (MDEAS) research project.  It uses a very short laser pulse, less than one millionth of a millionth of a second, which ionises the air forming a channel through which a powerful electric current can be conducted to stun or kill the enemy.  The channel can also conduct microwave energy to disable weapons or vehicles.

I am still waiting for the Replicator on my desk, to make the most fantastic cup of coffee every time I ask it to, and the Holodeck, and the  Starship to house it all in.

Parents can now ride shotgun with the kids

02/02/2010 3 comments



Ford have announced a technology which will be released later this year, its called MyKey.  At first glance it is just a key to the family car.  However, it will bring peace of mind to parents when their kids are out in the car, and absolutely guaranteed to annoy and frustrate your teenage children.  On that basis it is bound to be value for money.

When the key is used it can brings to bear a range of features, some of which can be set by the parent by connecting the key, via USB, to a computer.  For instance the parent can determine the top speed, the ICE will not work  until the driver is wearing a seatbelt, the traction can not be turned off (preventing wheel spins), the ICE can not be turned up beyond 40% of the maximum volume and the low fuel warning will come on extra early.  The latter feature puts an end to the game of “petrol roulette”, where each driver returns the car with lower and lower fuel levels until eventually someone chickens out and puts fuel in the car.  Some companies are suggesting using MyKey with their fleet drivers, to ‘encourage’ more responsible driving.

Ford’s own market research shows 75 percent of parents like the speed and audio limits.  However, only 67 percent of teenagers don’t like them.  Well that’s decided then!  However, good news for both parents and young drivers is that some insurance companies are considering reduced insurance premiums if MyKey is used – as speed is considered to be a significant factor in accidents involving young drivers.  See the MyKey in action in my Vodpod section.

Categories: Technology, Transport

Can I guess your password?

01/02/2010 Leave a comment



Despite all the years of publicity regarding the importance of data security it seems as though many people are not taking it seriously enough.  I have often found people’s passwords taped to the underside of their keyboard, and in one memorable case to the monitor.

A study by Data Security company, Imperva, found that one in five people are using an easy to guess password.  In December last year an unknown hacker hacked a company that develops software for social networking sites and downloaded 32 million passwords.  Imperva was able to analyse this data, and its conclusions were startling.  In the 1990s the most popular password was 12345.  It appears it is now 123456, so it has been strengthened by the addition of the extra digit.  Previously it has only been government agencies which have had access to this number of passwords and so it is unusual for this type of analysis to be in the public domain.

Some websites, when you open an account, advise you whether your password is ‘weak’ or ‘strong’, but many still allow you to go with the weak password.  Others force passwords to be a minimum length, or to be a mix of characters and digits.  However, too many accept a password without question.  Part of the problem is the sheer number of passwords we have to use, and recall.  The temptation is to chose something which is easily remembered.    It has been suggested that on average we have to use ten times more passwords than we did ten years ago.  Employers should be concerned, when employees are using the same password on their Facebook account, and other social network sites, as their work account – often a very weak password.  The problem is compounded by Facebook being a rich vein for mining, containing the personal details often used for passwords, such as place of birth, middle name, partner’s name, favourite football team etc.

If you are interested it was found that the top ten most commonly-used passwords were found to be:

  1. 123456
  2. 12345
  3. 123456789
  4. Password
  5. iloveyou
  6. princess
  7. rockyou
  8. 1234567
  9. 12345678
  10. abc123

Click on the ‘Dilbert Logo’ at the top of this post to see the cartoon.

Categories: Internet