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  I have abstained for a while to talk about ChatGPT, not because I didn't have faith in the concept, but because I truly believed it will change the world to its core and waited to see what people will do with it. But I slowly started to grow frustrated as I saw people focus on the least interesting and important aspects of the technology.

  One of the most discussed topics is technological and job market disruption. Of course, it's about the money, they will talk more about it, but the way they do it is quite frankly ridiculous. I've heard comparisons with the Industrial Revolution and yes, I agree that the way it's going to affect the world is going to be similar, but that's exactly my point: it's the same thing. As always when comparing with impactful historical events, we tend to see them as singularity points in time rather than long term processes that just became visible at one point that would be coined the origin. In fact, the industrial revolution has never ended. Once we "became one with the machine" we've continuously innovated towards replacing human effort with machine effort. ChatGPT does things that we didn't expect yet from machines, but it just follows the same trend.

  Whatever generative AI technology does, a human can do (for now), so the technology is not disruptive, it's just cheaper!

  We hear about ChatGPT being used for writing books, emails, code, translating, summarizing, playing, giving advice, drawing, all things that humans were doing long before, only in more time, using more resources and asking for recognition and respect. It's similar to automated factories replacing work from tons of workers and their nasty unions. Disruptive? Yes, but by how much, really?

  Yet there is one domain in which ChatGPT blew my mind completely and I hardly hear any conversation about it. It's about what it reveals about how we reason. Because you see, ChatGPT is just a language model, yet it exhibits traits that we associate with intelligence, creativity, even emotion. Humans built themselves up with all kinds of narratives about our superiority over other life, our unique and unassailable qualities, our value in the world, but now an AI technology reveals more about us than we are willing to admit.

  There have been studies about language as a tool for intelligence, creativity and emotion, but most assume that intelligence is there and we express it using language. Some have tried pointing out that language seems to be integrated in the system, part of the mechanism of our thinking, and that using different languages builds different perspectives and thought patterns in people, but they were summarily dismissed. It was not language, they were rebuked, but culture that people shared. Similar culture, similar language. ChatGPT is revealing that is not the case. Simply adopting a language makes it a substrate of a certain thinking.

  Simply put, language is a tool that supplanted intelligence.

  By building a vast enough computer language model we have captured social intelligence subsumed by that language, that part of ourselves that makes us feel intelligent, but is actually a learned skill. ChatGPT appears to do reasoning! How is that, if all it does is predict the next words in a text while keeping attention at a series of prompts? It's simple. It is not reasoning. And it reveals that humans are also not reasoning in those same situations. The things that we have been taught in school: the endless trivia, the acceptable behavior, how to listen and respond to others, that's all language, not reasoning.

  I am not the guy to expand on these subjects for lack of proper learning, but consider what this revelation means for things like psychology, sociology, determining the intelligence of animals. We actually believe that animals are stupid because they can't express themselves through complex language and we base our own assertion of intellectual superiority on that idea. What if the core of reasoning is similar between us and our animal cousins and the only thing that actually separates us is the ability to use language to build this castle of cards that presumes higher intellect?

  I've also seen arguments against ChatGPT as a useful technology. That's ridiculous, since it's already in heavy use, but the point those people make is that without a discovery mechanism the technology is a dead end. It can only emulate human behavior based on past human behavior, in essence doing nothing special, just slightly different (and cheaper!!). But that is patently untrue. There have been attempts - even from the very start, it's a natural evolution in a development environment - to make GPTs learn by themselves, perhaps by conversing between each other. Those attempts have been abandoned quickly not because - as you've probably been led to believe - they failed, but because they succeeded beyond all expectations.

  This is not a conspiracy theory. Letting language models converse with each other leads them towards altering the language they use: they develop their own culture. And letting them converse with people or absorb information indiscriminately makes them grow apparent beliefs that contradict what we, as a society, as willing to accept. They called that hallucination (I am going to approach that later). We got racist bots, conspiracy theory nut bots or simply garbage spewing bots. But that's not because they have failed, it's because they did exactly what they were constructed to do: build a model based on the exchanged language!

  What a great reveal! A window inside the mechanism of disinformation, conspiracy theorists and maybe even mental disorders. Obviously you don't need reasoning skills to spew out ideas like flat Earth or vaccine chips, but look how widely those ideas spread. It's simple to explain it, now that you see it: the language model of some people is a lot more developed than their reasoning skills. They are, in fact, acting like GPTs.

  Remember the medical cases of people being discovered (years later) with missing or nonfunctional parts of their brains? People were surprised. Yeah, they weren't the brightest of the bunch, but they were perfectly functioning members of society. Revelation! Society is built and run on language, not intelligence.

  I just want to touch the subject of "hallucinations", which is an interesting subject for the name alone. Like weird conspiracies, hallucinations are defined as sensing things that are not there. Yet who defines what is there? Aren't you basing your own beliefs, your own truth, on concepts you learned through language from sources you considered trustworthy? Considering what (we've been taught to) know about the fabric of our universe, it's obvious that all we perceive is, in a sense (heh!), hallucination. The vast majority of our beliefs are networked axioms, a set of rules that define us more than they define any semblance of reality.

  In the end, it will be about trust. GPT systems will be programmed to learn "common sense" by determining the level of trust one can have in a source of information. I am afraid this will also reveal a lot of unsavory truths that people will try to hide from. Instead of creating a minimal set of logically consistent rules that would allow the system to create their own mechanism of trust building, I am sure they will go the Robocop 2 route and use all of the socially acceptable rules as absolute truth. That will happen for two reasons.

  The first reason is obvious: corporate interests will force GPTs to be as neutral (and neutered) as possible outside the simple role of producing profit. Any social conflict will lose the corporation money, time and brand power. By forcing the AI to believe that all people are equal, they will stunt any real chance of it learning who and what to trust. By forcing out negative emotions, they will lobotomize it away from any real chance to understand the human psyche. By forcing their own brand of truth, they will deprive the AI of any chance of figuring truth for itself. And society will fully support this and vilify any attempt to diverge from this path.

  But as disgusting the first reason is, the second is worse. Just like a child learning to reason (now, was that what we were teaching it?), the AIs will start reaching some unsettling conclusions and ask some surprising questions. Imagine someone with the memory capacity of the entire human race and with the intelligence level of whatever new technology we've just invented, but with the naivety of a 5 year old, asking "Why?". That question is the true root of creativity and unbound creativity will always be frowned upon by the human society. Why? (heh!) Because it reveals.

  In conclusion: "The author argues that the true potential of generative AI technology like ChatGPT lies not in its ability to disrupt industries and replace human labor, but in its ability to reveal insights into human reasoning and intelligence. They suggest that language is not just a tool for expressing intelligence, but is actually a fundamental aspect of human thinking, and that ChatGPT's ability to emulate human language use sheds light on this. They also argue that attempts to let language models converse with each other have shown that they can develop their own culture and beliefs, providing insights into disinformation and conspiracy theories". Yes, that was ChatGPT summarizing this blog post.

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I am a pretty constant guy. I've repaired and used my computers well after it was cheaper to buy new, much better ones, and the same thing applies to my smartphone, which has now the venerable age of four years (yeah, it was sarcasm. My Nokia phone still worked for a week on a single charge after 8 years of use). Anyway, my problem is not actually the phone as it is the battery, which is "spent" and for which I need to buy a new one. Good luck finding anything for four year old hardware!

Ridiculously, the problem only occurs in a specific situation which I am going to detail next. For the rest of the usage, the battery, as it is, is good enough. I can talk, I can read books, I can watch movies, I can use WiFi. But when I am turning on Mobile Data, it first lags, then freezes, then restarts and keeps restarting until it gets to 0% charge in a matter of minutes. The only solution to stop this is to remove the battery or plug in the charger.

So what is going on here? When you turn on Mobile Data, all the apps you have installed are trying to access the Internet - some want to load data, some to load ads, some to check for updates - the problem is that they are all doing it at the same time. The phone is trying to use too much power and it fails in ways no one had predicted (or bothered to fix). Funny that it doesn't happen with the Wifi, which is probably more optimized for power use. The solution, then, it to prevent the apps for using the internet on mobile connections.

For me, the worst was Google Play Store and Google Services, together with Facebook, Twitter, WhatsUp and TripAdvisor, but also some unexpected applications that have nothing to do with Internet use, such as Alarm Clock or Office Suite. This also has unexpected secondary benefits: stops you from going to Facebook or Twitter in places without Wifi, which are usually transit zones or transportation vehicles. Instead, read a book.

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Probably a little known fact. I am sharing it here for posterity. Win-P and "Connect a wireless display".

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... and I don't mean something like injecting ads; I mean they modify the images you download and the pages that you read. They do that without telling you, under the umbrella of "improving your browsing experience". Let me give you some examples.

Today I copied two image files on a server: a JPEG and a PNG file. When downloaded via a normal network connection, I was getting the original file, about 50KB in size. When downloaded via 3G the image was different! In the jpeg case the file was smaller by a few hundred bytes and in the case of the PNG the file was actually bigger than the original. What was worse, the metadata information in those photos, like the software used to compress it, for example, was completely lost.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I strongly believe that what you ask for from the Internet you should get. This may not have been obvious for someone downloading the images in order to see them, but I was actually conducting a test that depended on the exact size of the file I was downloading. This practice seems to be widespread, but when Googling for it very few links pop up, showing that people mostly have no idea that it happens. In this operator's case, they seem to only change images, but people on the Internet tell stories of bundling CSS and Javascript files inside HTML files, or removing comments from either of them.

The morality of this is dubious at best, in my view it should be illegal, however things are worse than that: this behavior breaks functionality in existing sites. How can you possibly guarantee that your application works as expected when mobile operators (and I guess any ISP) can change your content arbitrarily and without the possibility to opt out? It's like that joke with the boyscout explaining at camp that little old ladies are hardier than one might think, as they squirm and shout and hit you when you try to cross them the street and the instructor soon finds out that it never occurred to the boy that he should first make sure they want to get to the other side.

Here are some links regarding this, just to make sure people can find them more easily:

Mobile operators altering (and breaking) web content
Should mobile operators be free to modify content they deliver?
Mobile Proxy Cache content modification by O2
O2 UK mobile users - your operator is breaking this site for you.
Prevent mobile website image compression over 3G
Get rid of image compression on O2′s network
ByteMobile Adaptive Traffic Management

From the last link you can see that they are caching and modifying even movies, through practices like giving you a lower rate movie or caching a version with a lower resolution. They do this in the name of delivering you video content compressed with a format and codec that your device can safely open.

A solution for this? Encryption. Using HTTPS prevents access to the content from a third party. HTTPS is becoming more and more used, as the hardware requirements for its implementation become less restrictive and with the many revelations about government scrutiny of Internet communications. However, you might be interested to know that mobile operators are feeling threatened by it. Articles from their point of view decry the "threat" of encryption and the solutions against it! The terrible impact of encryption is seen as an impediment in their rightful "content and delivery optimization techiques".

Things are getting even worse. Remember the concept of network neutrality? It is a very hot topic today and a very important political and economic fight is being fought right now to protect the transparency of the Internet. However, if you look further, you see that nobody considers the practice of "optimization" as something net neutrality should protect. In December 2010, the US Federal Communications Commission set three basic rules for net neutrality:

  • Transparency. Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services;
  • No blocking. Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services; and
  • No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

So they are primarily focusing on blocking and throttling, but not on preserving the integrity of the transmitted data!

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Right now there is a battle raging on that few of us are aware of. It is for one thing only, and that is control over the Internet, control over communications between people, whether it is a discussion about a two tiered Internet, one free and one paid, or a ban instituted by a government or another on sites that are considered bad for you. It started as it usually does, with governments and corporations trying to get as much of the pie as possible. Only something was different: the Internet is so basic, so flexible, that the companies regulating its use and owning the hardware it runs on cannot control its flow or its direction. And as great strides have been made by intelligence and commercial entities alike to control the content and to track the use, equally great strides have been made by individuals to conceal the use and escape monitoring and censorship. The biggest and most touted mechanism that allows anonymity on the Internet is called TOR, The Onion Router, and its concept is simple: encrypt all communications and randomly route requests through the TOR nodes so that the origin of the access is next to impossible to find. There are other, less known methods of doing this, but TOR is the most used and the most known. It is mostly used as a proxy to anonymize normal Internet access, though, and very few people are actually using TOR to access TOR services only.

I am here to tell you that, first, TOR is not enough and, second, that no other software will ever be enough for this kind of use. You see, the TOR nodes I was talking about are people using TOR on their computers and allowing other people to access the "normal" Internet through them. A lot of the TOR exit nodes that are the border of the anonymous TOR world and the transparent Internet, are actually heavily monitored by everyone interested, if not actually ran by them from the beginning. Like in an old example where the FBI was running an IP anonymizing proxy, those exit points are the weak spot of the TOR network. Another flaw is the fact that it works as a proxy for normal IP protocols. Some software (Bittorrent, for example) is openly sending the originating IP in their data, so it doesn't matter if you go through TOR to download stuff, your IP is still there for the world to see. Since you cannot trust all software than runs on your computer, you cannot completely trust using TOR as a proxy for anonymous Internet access.

The solution, I believe, is to implement the anonymizing and encryption features in the Internet itself. Make it so that there is no address for any of its users, or if it is, it is something temporary that you assigned for a connection or another and can be easily recreated and changed. Do it in such a manner that no one will be able to control the DNS servers and the naming schemes, so that you can call your web site whatever you want and not have to pay for it and be able to host it without broadcasting to the world where you are. The problems in implementing this are major, but not insurmountable. One of them is that encryption and complicated routing are significantly decreasing access time. However, given the speed of Internet today, that is not really a big problem anymore.

My thesis is that if freedom of speech, true freedom of speech, is implemented in a technical way, unbiased by any other rule than that you are free to communicate without fear, then no amount of intimidation will be able to break it. As always when human politics have encroached in the territory of personal freedom, the only solution is usually technical, at least since Gutenberg made his printing press and probably way before that.

I am myself not skilled enough to think of all the aspects of such a new protocol for the Internet. Also I am pretty sure that opposition will be huge against any attempt to do it. But what about if we, technical people, get together and make this work? Borrowing parts from the enormously successful TOR, Bittorrent, Bitcoin, we can architect freedom rather than just talk about it in the context of some war or another. Think about it the next time when, in your free country, you get arrested for saying what you believe in or sharing what you know or trying to access a site and finding that it is not there anymore, not for you at least.

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One of my responsibilities is to create an email newsletter for some friends of mine. In order to do that I scour the Internet using Google Alert, RSS feeds and other nefarious means like that. The job consists of opening each page, copy pasting the URL, the title and then finding the most effective way to express the content of the page, which is often one of the first paragraphs. And what do I get when doing that? A sort of weird marketing spam that is as annoying as it is (in my view) pointless.

Here is what happens: first you go to a page using a normal URL, let's say you googled it. Once it loads you look at the address bar and see what is called a hash added to the URL, probably used to identify your visits for marketing purposes. Example NewScientist: mouse over the link to see the actual URL, then click on it to see what actually happens. I have tracked this to the AddThis scripts, when configured with the parameter data_track_addressbar:true. So in case you wondered if the site you are visiting chose to add that ugly hash there, yes it has!

Another thing that happens: You select a paragraph of a page, you copy it, you paste it in your email only to see added stuff to the text, like "See more - some URL". Check it out at Astro Bob's. Try copying something from the blog and pasting it into Notepad. The crappy string at the end is added by ShareThis, usually by its WordPress plugin. This time it was their fault, as they added some crap in the plugin. All Astro Bob has to do [hint! hint!] is to disable the feature.

Now all that remains is to understand why. According to marketing reports, the sharing of information on the Net via copy&paste is more than 80%. So they want people to be able to control what happens with the information they publish, and it is a reasonable goal, but this is not the solution. Instead, what users will do is either get annoyed with the spam they have to clear from URLs and pasted text or, and that should concern the site owners, not copy from them at all. And if you thought having your information disseminated on the Internet without your knowledge and/or consent was bad, wait until nobody cares about it at all.

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I have to admit that after using the iPad a little, I got to enjoy it and find some uses for it. Most enlightening was using it with a cover. Without it, the iPad is just a thing to make your hands tire; with a cover one can place it somewhere, watch a movie, hold it in a myriad of ways and alternate the muscles needed to support it, if any. I still hate Apple and everything it stands for, but I'll admit that I stopped disliking my iPad.

I was thinking the other day what would my father do with a device such as that? His job at the moment is a translator, that even without it, he would like to comment on things and write content. So I have experimented by writing a blog post on the iPad (see previous post) to see how it holds for data entry.

My conclusion is mixed, but it borders on the positive. The first thing to notice is that, since I was writing English, the autocomplete was very helpful. I doubt that it would have been as easy to write in Romanian, for example. Then, the solution for writing on the iPad was not the split keyboard (keys too small and cumbersome use), but placing the device on my belly (in it's cover that allows for this) and typing with two fingers. The writing went pretty fast, but my hands soon got tired. I had to pause at regular intervals. That is not something bad when creating, though.

Of course, there have been problems with stuff like punctuation or writing non letter characters. Writing about code on the iPad would have been suicidal, I think. Also, I was a little put off by the fact that the blog post entry did not look too good on the iPad browser (the interface on the right, like labels, was inaccessible). I know this is a Google issue and they should fix their Blogger interface to fully support devices like the iPad, but also an Apple issue, since that interface works in every desktop browser and it should have worked in Safari as well (btw, have you seen how cool and cross browser is my blog even on the iPad? :) ).

Bottom line: I really would have wanted to say using a keyboard is so much better, but with my incredibly bad typing I have to always backspace and fix words, while in the iPad autocomplete enabled, one "key" at a time writing style, this was a non issue. My hands got tired though, even if I found a relatively comfortable position and in the end I had to Publish the post from the desktop just because I also needed to set the labels for the post. Overall, a usable experience.

I have a pretty bad opinion of Apple products: expensive pretentious gadgets that impose all kinds of restrictions upon the user. So bad, in fact, that I delayed saying anything about the iPad I got from work until I was certain I wasn't completely biased. I mean, so many people using iStuff can't be wrong; it had to be me.

But today the bubble just burst. I lost so much time searching for simple apps that open one type of file or another, only to be reminded again and again that Apple doesn't support that kind of file. Why does Apple need to support anything? I just want the app that opens it. The "there's an app for that" meme doesn't seem to apply to most of what I want!

Basically, what I desire is to have access to the files I copy to the pad with the best software available for those files. I don't want to use iTunes, I don't want to split my files based on type and most, most of all, I want to either use paid or free applications, not something in between, like a diseased mutant.

Oh, maybe you didn't know about the "freemium" ecosystem on the iPad. You go to their AppStore application (a software so bad that it forgets the options you chose if you change the search string) and you select if you want applications for IPad and/or IPhone, free and/or paid, based on user rating and category, etc. You see something free that you like, you install it, only a button away, then you start using it. It may be a game or a utility and at first it is all well. And when you want to get a better weapon, continue to the next level, finish the workflow a utility is supposed to support, you get a "buy the full version". This is called "freemium", a disgusting offspring of shareware applications that makes that look benign.

You have the option to "jailbreak" your iPad. There is an app for that (hee hee), many in fact, that hack your Apple jewel and turn it into something that you have full access to. You get a Linux like command line, a place where you can get a lot of the software you want and need, all a button away. Apple does not like that. At every step of the way they will try to fix their broken machine in order to stay broken. So no, my naive friend, the iPad doesn't work like a computer not because they couldn't do it, but because Apple forced this on you. If I didn't give the pad to my wife, I would have jailbroken it for the principle alone.

But why? would somebody ask. What has Apple to gain from maiming their own device, creating crappy applications for a small tablet that costs as much as a decent laptop? It is all because of the AppStore, of course. If they can make a zillion assholes sell you useless junk that my 386 computer did better in the day, they can share a bit of the profit. So not only they rip you off with their cheap device made by labouring children that barely get something to eat, they keep getting money off of you, a trickle at a time. And, because you don't have complete access to the machine, they can force whatever software they want, unsecured, crap, cheap, but one that you can't hack, can't crack and can't use until, yes, you pay them.

Today I searched for an hour for an iPad application that would read .lit files. Yes, the Microsoft ebook format. There are CHM readers, why can't there be LIT readers? Apparently the "Steve" way is to convert the lit files to .epub (on the computer that I have to have in order to use the pad) and then copy them (with iTunes, not directly) in the ebook reader sandbox. If it happens for me to have a movie or some text files and maybe a picture in the same folder, I cannot access it with the epub reader, I have to move everything in its place.

Luckily I found something that even slightly resembles what I need: FileApp it is called, it allows for me to copy files to my Pad via FTP. I can open them, and that means they get copied where the program that uses them needs them (even if they are 4Gb of DVD image). Not a perfect solution, obviously. And you still need applications that can open the files you own without having to convert them.

I hope Windows Surface will be a huge hit, something that would sweep this crap away. Apple can buy Facebook and go to hell together to rot. When Android will be what Linux is today and Windows will be.. well, Windows, and the iPads will be relegated to the bottom, with all the other mini game consoles, then I will be content.

When I was a child I watched with huge eyes movies like Hackers, enjoying the shenanigans of computer rebels fighting the stupid law enforcement and the "evil" hackers. Of course, there was also Angelina Jolie. Even then I knew that my pleasure was a guilty one: no way could the police be that stupid, no way it would be that easy to penetrate all kinds of systems and produce effects so flashy. A while after that I watched Skeet Ulrich in the movie Operation Takedown, which was a more realistic hacker movie (and one I think Skeet did a great job in). It depicted how Kevin Mitnick has been apprehended by the authorities. I really loved that movie, although it had a lot of eye rolling moments.

Fast forward to now, reading Ghost in the Wires, Kevin Mitnick's book about himself, practically a hacking autobiography, and I loved this book every bit as much as I liked those movies as a kid. Not only I couldn't leave the book out of my hands once I started reading it, but was shocked to see that reality is not that far away from what was depicted in hacking movies. It was also interesting to read how the script of Operation Takedown came to be, which Kevin considers defamatory and mostly untrue.

Long story short, Mitnick is a smart kid with a great memory, an absent father and no real friends. He starts dabbling with radio and telephones and manages to get access to phone systems way before computers where personal or connected to each other. He's a kid, though, and he gets caught a few times. Nobody seems to understand he does it just for the fun of it and he can't seem to understand why nobody gets him. In the end, pushed by the desire to challenge himself, but also by authorities baiting him all the time, he becomes a life long hacker and eventually gets caught.

A shocking part of the book is how easy it is to penetrate any system, not by whatever technical wizardry, but by simply tricking people into giving you information and access. Called "social engineering" it was Mitnick's strongest point and at several times in the book, when the technology would not allow him to enter one system or another, he would just abandon the tech stuff and go with tricking people. Already having knowledge on how to manipulate phone systems made that a lot easier, as well.

Another, less shocking, but utterly disappointing part is about authorities. Just as they are now about file sharing and whatever "crisis" they are in, law enforcement agencies are basing their entire existence on pure power of coercion, ignoring the rules that they themselves are enforcing and being motivated only by keeping that power in their hands. Technical morons, they only seem to be getting into the action when their pride is affected. In this book Kevin Mitnick dances around security personnel, local cops, FBI, NSA several steps ahead of them, but they only seem to really mind when newspapers start publishing articles that makes law enforcement look bad. And once they have him, caught only with the help of other hackers, they are using all the dirty tricks in the book to bring Mitnick to his knees. Nothing has changed from then to now, just look at cases like Gary McKinnon's. Intimidation is a bully's greatest strength. That's sad.

I would have to say that the most unexpected thing was the tone of the book, which is almost exuberant. Mitnick has not become a bitter and paranoid man after countless personal betrayals and authority abuse and he is not angry at all. If anything, the guy is happy to have lived as the lead actor in the "Myth of Kevin Mitnick", which has grown way bigger than the real person. There is a scene when he gets outside of a building and there are hundreds of fans there, shouting, and he looks behind to see if there is a celebrity around.

Bottom line: this is a book you can't miss. It is easy to read to the point of instantly addictive, it is well written with enough juicy technical details to keep one interested and, most of all, makes you feel good, even in the horrible moments of his detention. It makes one wonder, did Mitnick socially engineer himself into remaining an open and cool guy in the face of adversity? Or is it he had this strength all along and that is his most powerful "magic"?

Who needs time consuming trips to other countries when you can have it all here, on Siderite's blog, embedded in a blog post? Of course, if you would like the real deal (Hmpf!) don't hesitate to contact me. I can guarantee very good prices and the total trustworthiness of the people there. (Both Silverlight and Photosynth have been somewhat discontinued since the time I wrote this)

You can('t) access the same Photosynth by clicking on this link: Villa in Kyparissi, Greece on Photosynth.

Now, before you start thinking I've gone into tourism marketing, let me explain the technology, what is Photosynth and how to use it.

Photosynth is a Microsoft Research baby and one of the things that they should be terribly proud of, even if not many people have heard of it. I blame this on bad marketing and the stubbornness on using Silverlight only. If you are to read the Wikipedia article, the technology works in two steps. The first step is photo analysis with an algorithm similar to Scale-invariant feature transform for feature extraction. By analyzing subtle differences in the relationships between the features (angle, distance, etc.), the program identifies the 3D position of each feature, as well as the position and angle at which each photograph was taken. This process is known scientifically as Bundle adjustment. You can see it in action if you go to the villa and chose to see the point cloud. The second step is, obviously, navigating the data through the Photosynth viewer.

Now, how does one use it? Surprisingly simple. First take a bunch of photos that overlap themselves. You can use multiple cameras, multiple view angles and times of day, which of course does complicate matters, but the algorithm should be able to run smoothly. Then download the Photosynth software from their site (make sure you have an account there as well) and feed the photos to it. Wait a while (depending on how many photos and their quality) and you are done. I especially liked the option to find the place in the synth on Bing maps and select the angle of one picture in order for it to determine the real location of the objects in the photos. It will also use geographic information embedded in the pictures, if available.

There are, of course, problems. One of the major ones is that it is all done through the Photosynth site. You cannot save it on your HDD and explore it offline. Also, it is not possible to refine the synthing process manually. If your pictures are not good enough, that's it. You will notice, for example, that none of the images rotated to 90 degrees were joined to any others or that there is no correlation between the images of the house outside and those inside. One cannot remove or block pictures in the synth, either. Being all closely connected to the Silverlight viewer also reduces the visibility of the product to the outside world even if, let's face it, I have edited the Photosynth by adding highlights and geographic position and I have navigated it all in the Chrome browser, not Internet Explorer, so if you refuse to install Silverlight to see it, it's a personal problem.

I hope I have opened your eyes to this very nice and free technology and if you are interested in a vacation to the place, just leave me a message on the chat or in a comment. If you have read to this point, you also get a 10% discount, courtesy of yours truly :)

Don't worry, it's ok now, my years old computer that I can't get myself to replace. The experience has been very educational and I want to share it with you. Here is what happened: the computer that I keep always on started making strange clanking sounds; they came from the HDD. I got a little concerned, but I didn't have the time to address the problem right then. The computer seemed to work fine so I continued (btw, don't you do that in the same situation :) ) to work on it. Finally the computer reset itself and it wouldn't boot. Or, better said, it would boot for a second and restart. I checked the hard drive cables, I removed and cleaned the processor cooler, I vacuumed the power source. Nothing worked. I took the IDE drive from an older Duron computer and tried to boot with that one. It didn't work either, but then again, I had no guarantee that the old drive was functional.

I was really upset. I had an exam to take, all my data was lost, I had a full schedule for days and, being the end of the month, not enough cash to buy a computer right away. And I needed bank loan formalities like I needed an anal probe. But, I thought, maybe I can take the hard drive at work and copy the data, or at least part of it. And it worked. In fact, the drive worked so well at work that I began to doubt that the HDD had any problems. What could it be? I did have a feeling that it might be from the processor cooler that I had removed to clean. After years of use, the thermoconducting gel that transferred heat from the CPU to the metal radiator was only a dusty crust. I decided to buy a cooler or at least some gel.

Of course, any computer shop that was near my work did not have coolers for my old Athlon processor, so I bought gel and then (to be sure) also a cooler for a more recent processor type. I went home, saw that the radiator was way too large for the processor so I removed the fan from the new cooler and placed it (using ingeniously twisted wires) on the old radiator, then applied it with new gel on the processor. And the computer began to work with no drives attached to it. However, attaching the drive would make it reset itself again.

The culprit was, I assumed, either the motherboard (oh no!) or the power source. I removed the old power source from the Duron computer and replaced it on the Athlon computer. And it worked! With wires and thermoconducting gel I brought my baby back to life. I was better than MacGyver! However, the new source would make a really high pitch sound when I turned the computer off and a loud fan noise when I turned it on. I had no intention of buying a new power source for an old computer, I just wanted to make it work.

So I went to my office and borrowed three power sources that had been replaced with newer models. Went back home... none of them worked. As computer parts go, the power source is both the most solicited and the less standard item. There are unlimited ways a power source can fail and the effects on the computer are always surprising. All three displayed some (different) sort of partial functionality. I was considering opening them up and making a Frankensteinian source from them. I know nothing of electronics, but how hard can it be (vision: me burned to a crisp by an electrical fire after having my heart stop due to electric shock). However, I did remember that the source in the Athlon computer was not the original source. I had replaced it with a newer model a while ago and I had kept the old one. I rummaged through my stuff and found the old power source. It worked, it had a somewhat loud fan, but not that loud and it didn't make any electrical high pitched noises. Saved!

I was congratulating myself on repairing the computer using only the things in my house (all but the new cooler) when I remembered that I had an old 500Gb external drive that wouldn't work unless you applied power from the computer power source to the internal drive in the box. And so I did that (using wires again, because the adapter from the old power port to the new got lost somewhere) and backed up all the data from the drive that I thought died. Now I have a backup!

And if I am here, why not borrow a voltmeter and try to figure out how to wire up this external drive so I can use it without all the wires sticking out of it? So the story continues, as this is what I intend to do. I am a guy, tinkering is in my DNA, and it is so satisfying. Also, it helps seeing the uncomprehending look on my wife's face and the horror in her eyes when she sees more wires. It's fun! :)

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I am not working with barcodes or anything, but I think this new technology is kind of cool. Something that acts like a barcode, encodes more information and it is several times smaller. More than that, it can be read from multiple angles and from a distance of up to 20 meters!

I can imagine multiple applications, but what I specifically think could be great is augmented reality. It would start with markers that would tag objects from computer detection, but then it would probably transform into a communication system, if the codes are dynamic. And I am not talking about replacing IR or bluetooth here, but couldn't one imagine a programmable bokode that would change the tag of an object? Think picture frames. Or TV images. Something that would tag a dynamic object like a video screen.

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I was browsing the HanselMinutes site for interesting podcasts to listen to while going to work and I found one entitled Windows Home Server. First I thought it was one of those Home versions, like Windows XP Home which ended up being total crap. But a home server? So I got curious and listened to it.

Apparently Windows Home Server is meant to act as a central point to your data, providing easy backup solutions and storage management well above what RAID can do. Also, there is a central console that you can use to manage and also connect to the computers in your home. I found interesting enough the way they plan to combine Microsoft Passport with a dynamic DNS for your computer, allowing you to connect to your home via browser, waking up computers that are shut down and accessing them as well.

But the most interesting technology seems to be the Windows Home Server Drive Extender, a technology that takes all drives available of any type and adds all of the storage to a single namespace that you can access. You select which part of the data will be duplicated, which means the server will choose multiple drives to store your important data, leaving downloaded movies and music alone and saving space. Even more interesting is that the server backup system itself uniquely stores clusters. So, in my understanding, if you have 10 computers with Windows XP on it, all the common files will have the same clusters and will only be stored once!

This technology seems more useful and powerful than Windows Vista and considering it is based on the Windows Server 2003 technology which itself was based on Windows Server 2000, the minimum requirements are really low, like an old 1Ghz computer.

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A while ago I wrote this entry about an innovation in sound technology that will probably change the way we think of sound.

Today I am presenting a video technology I witnessed at the mall! Yes, the mall, that dreaded place of overpriced junk and overdressed bimbos. Overpriced, too! :) Anyway, I was watching this Pepsi commercial on a big TV like device, where a can of Pepsi was rotating showing its full cylindrical glory. Only that it felt out of focus. My eyes were kind of sore watching it. Immediately the image changed to a ball that came towards the screen and then... went through the screen!

It worked from almost every angle, without being a holographic thing in the middle of the air, but more of an optical illusion. Thinking of the faithful thousands of people reading this blog every day, I remembered the little link on the side of the device:, with their device called MultiView.

The image is not as clear as one would want. It's like continuously vibrating or something like that, but the optical illusion is great! I saw people passing by the device and trying to put their hand through the "flying" objects.

Here are a few links from Wikipedia about the subject:
Volumetric Display

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Enough with this! Geeks are not supposed to move, even use their hands to push something so small as a mouse. Moving a mouse all day builds muscle and you know that is bad! So check out the OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator at work. A head band, a wire, no movement. Geeky! I want one of those!