The Cloud in your home

June 20th, 2015

Free heating, if you have fibre Internet:

To be eligible for the eRadiator, your home has to have a "fibre-optic connection" and "an external wall." The fibre link is necessary to connect the eRadiator to Nerdalize's core network, and the external wall is needed for venting (if you "turn off" the eRadiator, the servers don't actually turn off; the heat is just pushed outside).

In exchange for free heating (after the €400-500 setup cost), Nerdalize uses the network of eRadiators to provide a cloud computing service. Because the company doesn't run a centralised data centre, operating costs are much lower, which means the "cost-per-job [to the customer] is up to 55% lower." The quality-of-service will be be lower than centralised cloud compute, too – Nerdalize won't have any control over the access network (what if the home owner decides to do some torrenting?) – but there are plenty of use cases where cost is more important than latency.

I wonder just how much of your home internet connection's bandwidth one of these would take up.1

[Via Interconnected]

  1. And how long it'd be after you started hosting this service before your ISP/cable company politely reminded you of that clause in their contract about the internet connectivity service they provide being for domestic use only. Or is that not a thing nowadays?

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Share and share alike

June 3rd, 2008

Professor Edward Felten and his colleagues have come up with beautifully simple strategy to improve the way that governments provide information to their citizens:

In order for public data to benefit from the same innovation and dynamism that characterize private parties’ use of the Internet, the federal government must reimagine its role as an information provider. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that "exposes" the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.

[Via rc3.org]

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INTJ

April 5th, 2008

Joe Kissell on Instant Messaging for Introverts:

From time to time, someone I know asks me an ordinary and reasonable question: "What's your iChat (or Skype) ID?" My usual reply is to give them the information along with a big disclaimer: I'm almost never logged in. In fact, let me be completely honest and say I thoroughly dislike instant messaging (IM) except in a few specific situations. For months, I've been thinking about why this is – both the technological and psychological aspects – along with whether it somehow exposes a fundamental character flaw, and whether it's something I should attempt to change. […]

My work doesn't require me to use IM, so I'm at least spared the problems of arranging IM sessions with colleagues that Kissell describes. I do have IM accounts on ICQ, AIM and Yahoo!, but prior to my firing up Adium five minutes ago1 I don't think I've launched an IM program in about two years.

My personality type (which is similar to Kissell's) isn't the sole reason for my failing to adopt IM,2 but it clearly played a part. In the unlikely event that I find myself having to use IM for work, I'll have to remember some of his tips for making IM work for introverts.

[Via dsandler]

  1. To a) remind myself of which IM networks I had accounts with, and b) check whether any of them had been disabled for lack of use.
  2. The fact that even now, more than a decade on from Mirabilis releasing ICQ back in 1996, there are still several mutually incompatible major IM networks is ludicrous. Thank heavens an open email standard was out there before the internet became a big business.

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Buffering…

March 18th, 2008

Accurate.

[Via GromBlog]

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Simplicity

March 14th, 2008

Usability in a nutshell.

[Via Dan Sandler]

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TellThemWhatYouThink.org

March 2nd, 2008

Producing joined-up government, one web site at a time: TellThemWhatYouThink.org acts as a centralised index of the many consultation exercises run by UK government departments.

(As with many other sites hosted by mySociety, it's the sort of thing that any government that bangs on about modernity and e-government really should be doing for itself. On the other hand, perhaps the government's efforts would be better focused on publishing data in a standardised, open format that allows citizens to pick up this data and put it to whatever uses they wish. I don't envy the guy behind this site the task of scraping consultations data from umpteen different web sites.)

[Via Open Rights Group]

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Connection Reset

February 20th, 2008

The current issue of The Atlantic has a rather good article, perfectly accessible to non-techie readers, by James Fallows about the Chinese government's attempts to control the types of content Chinese internet users can access:

China’s Great Firewall is crude, slapdash, and surprisingly easy to breach. Here’s why it’s so effective anyway. […]

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349 pages

February 19th, 2008

Joel Spolsky answers the question thousands of computer users have been asking themselves for years: Why are the Microsoft Office file formats so complicated?1

Last week, Microsoft published the binary file formats for Office. These formats appear to be almost completely insane. The Excel 97-2003 file format is a 349 page PDF file.

[…]

If you started reading these documents with the hope of spending a weekend writing some spiffy code that imports Word documents into your blog system, or creates Excel-formatted spreadsheets with your personal finance data, the complexity and length of the spec probably cured you of that desire pretty darn quickly. A normal programmer would conclude that Office’s binary file formats:

  • are deliberately obfuscated
  • are the product of a demented Borg mind
  • were created by insanely bad programmers
  • and are impossible to read or create correctly.

You’d be wrong on all four counts. With a little bit of digging, I’ll show you how those file formats got so unbelievably complicated, why it doesn’t reflect bad programming on Microsoft’s part, and what you can do to work around it.

Sadly, that last part amounts to two options: buy a copy of Microsoft Office and use it to translate the files between formats, or use a non-Office format which Office can understand but which will fail to support at least 20% of the features you need. (The hell of it being that your 20% probably doesn't overlap with my 20%.)

It's a damn shame that Lotus and Borland and WordPerfect failed to keep up in the early-to-mid 1990s when Microsoft started pushing Office really hard; if there was still a competitive market in the general purpose office suite market then Microsoft wouldn't be able to get away with this nonsense.

  1. More accurately, ordinary users don't wonder about the complexity of the file format as such; they just find themselves unable to rely on being able to use their Word and Excel documents in any product that isn't from Microsoft, not realising that this is largely because of how complicated the Microsoft file formats are. Same difference.

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The street as platform

February 17th, 2008

Dan Hill's The street as platform paints a picture of a 'smart' street:

The way the street feels may soon be defined by what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Imagine film of a normal street right now, a relatively busy crossroads at 9AM taken from a vantage point high above the street, looking down at an angle as if from a CCTV camera. We can see several buildings, a dozen cars, and quite a few people, pavements dotted with street furniture.

Freeze the frame, and scrub the film backwards and forwards a little, observing the physical activity on the street. But what can’t we see?

[…]

Three kids are playing an online game on their mobile phones, in which the physical street pattern around them is overlaid with renderings of the 19th century city. They scuttle down an alleyway behind a furniture showroom as the virtual presence of another player, actually situated in a town forty miles away and reincarnated as a Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, indicated on their map by an icon of a deerstalker and gently puffing pipe, stalks past the overlaid imagined space. The three play a trio of master criminals, intent on unleashing a poisonous miasma upon the unsuspecting and unreal caricatures generated by the game.

[…]

[An…] elderly lady stumbles over a pothole in the pavement. Helped back to her feet by a younger man, she decides to complain to the council about the pothole. The man suggests he can do that right now, from his iPod Touch and using the library’s open public wifi, by registering the presence of a pothole at this point on the local problems database, Fix My Street. The old woman stares at him quizzically as it takes him fifty seconds to close the website he had been looking it on his mobile (Google Maps directions for “hairdressers near SW4”, a phrase he’ll shortly have to type in again, having neglected to bookmark it) and access fixmystreet.com. He spends the next few minutes indicating the presence of a pothole outside the library on Fix My Street (unaware of the postcode, he has to select one from a few possible matches on street name), before he moves on, satisfied with his civic good deed for the day. The elderly lady had long since shuffled off, muttering to herself. Although Fix My Street smartly forwards on all issues to the corresponding council, a beleaguered under-trained temp in the also underfunded 'pavements team' is unaware of fixmystreet.com and unable to cope with the levels of complaint, and so the pothole claims five more victims over the next two weeks until someone rings up about it.

[…]

A prototype of a […] monitoring system, but embedded in the bus-stop opposite the library, records the performance of the lights, travel information displays, large plasma-screen advertising display, and the chilled-beam cooling system newly installed for comfort. The travel information displays themselves receive updates in real-time via a slice of radio spectrum allocated to such data, indicating the proximity of the next five buses. This same system also conveys the latest information on the whereabouts of the no. 73 in particular, in the form of an SMS to a prospective passenger who has selected this as her ‘favourite bus’ via the transport company’s website. Around the corner, she breaks into a trot accordingly. […]

I strongly recommend reading the entire post. The technology required to make all this happen is either already here or capable of being rolled out within a couple of years.

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Risky

February 16th, 2008

If I had to use a Windows PC at home, I'd be utterly paranoid after reading reports like this:

An insidious computer virus recently discovered on digital photo frames has been identified as a powerful new Trojan Horse from China that collects passwords for online games – and its designers might have larger targets in mind.

"It is a nasty worm that has a great deal of intelligence," said Brian Grayek, who heads product development at Computer Associates, a security vendor that analyzed the Trojan Horse.

The virus, which Computer Associates calls Mocmex, recognizes and blocks antivirus protection from more than 100 security vendors, as well as the security and firewall built into Microsoft Windows. It downloads files from remote locations and hides files, which it names randomly, on any PC it infects, making itself very difficult to remove. It spreads by hiding itself on photo frames and any other portable storage device that happens to be plugged into an infected PC.

The good news (unless you own shares in Microsoft) is that there are measures you can take to protect your computer:

Protecting against these new computer viruses, which so far are aimed at PCs running Windows, is hard – and sometimes impossible. […] Deborah Hale at SANS suggested that PC users find friends with Macintosh or Linux machines and have them check for malware before plugging any device into a PC.

Mac users shouldn't be too smug about this; one day the bastards behind Mocmex will turn their attention to Mac OS X and there'll be carnage, not least because a lot of non-techie Mac users probably think there's no need for anti-virus software and a degree of care in how you deal with downloaded content because their computer is so "safe."

[Via Daring Fireball]

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