Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ironkey : secure USB key

Ironkey as a robust, secure and tamperproof USB key, that stores your data with hardware encryption, remembers your passwords, contains a portable version of Firefox and can be run over by a car or get wet without loosing your data or stop functioning.
It even protects your data from being stolen : when someone fails 10 times to supply the correct unlocking password or when someone tampers with the housing to get access to the electronics inside, the USB key starts self destructing.
Don't expect a Mission Impossible style self destruction with a voice counting down and a lot of smoke. The self destruction sequence is hardware based and erases the flashmemory, which renders the USB-key unusable afterwards, so watch out when you forget your password or mistype it a few times.

With the Ironkey, you can carry all your personal information completely secured. All your passwords are stored on the key, so you don't have to remember them and you have them with you all the time. This enables you to use different strong passwords for all the websites you use, which is much more secure than using the same simple password for every site you ever visit.
Because there is an imbedded version of Firefox running on the key, you can use it on computers that don't have Firefox installed and you don't leave sensitive information like cookies, stored passwords and surfing history on that computer.

Unfortunately, the USB-key only works with Windows XP and Vista. But the site announces they are working on a version that works on Linux and Mac too.

The basic version has a storage capacity of 1GB, but 2 GB and 4 GB versions are also available. At this moment the shop on their website doens't ship the USB-key outside the USA, but maybe it will be available with other retailers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Apple iPhone comes to Europe

The Financial Times reports, Apple has signed contracts with Orange, O2 and T-mobile for exclusive use of the iPhone on their networks in Europe. This means the iPhone can only be used on the networks of these providers and not with other mobile providers.
In June, when the iPhone was released in the US, iPhone users could only use their new phone on the network of AT&T. Apple had signed an exclusive contract with AT&T for a two year period.

Initial release of the iPhone in Europe, is planned for the autumn. But it will only be available in Germany, the UK and France. The iPhone will be released in the rest of Europe, in the beginning of next year.
For Belgium this means the iPhone will probably be available in spring 2008, and only on the Mobistar network, as Mobistar is part of the Orange group.

Young people oblivious about science

A survey of Eos, a Belgian scientific magazine, revealed that young people (aged 18-24) know far less about scientific facts than older generations.
On a questions like 'Does planet earth revolve around the sun?', one in three didn't know the right answer. Even older generations (+65) did better on this question.
An explanation for this is the changed focus in education from factual knowledge to teaching of skills to resolve problems. Young people don't seem to be interested in science as well.

This trend doesn't only show in Belgium. In the United States, politicians fear the US won't be competitive in the scientific field, because not enough student take on maths, science and engineering courses in college.

If you want to know, how you would score on the test run by EOS, you can take it here (in Dutch).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My programming personality type : DHSB

You're a Doer.
You are very quick at getting tasks done. You believe the outcome is the most important part of a task and the faster you can reach that outcome the better. After all, time is money.

You like coding at a High level.

The world is made up of objects and components, you should create your programs in the same way.

You work best in a Solo situation.

The best way to program is by yourself. There's no communication problems, you know every part of the code allowing you to write the best programs possible.

You are a liBeral programmer.

Programming is a complex task and you should use white space and comments as freely as possible to help simplify the task. We're not writing on paper anymore so we can take up as much room as we need.

I came along this programmer personality test on the blog of Jan, an old classmate.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Google Gears

Some time ago (31st of May 2007), Google Gears was launched. Yet another new project, next to all the other applications Google has launched already.
But this one is different. It's not a stand-alone application, like Gmail or Google Analytics, but a framework that makes it possible to store a website or a web application offline, so you can still visit this website or use this web application while you are not connected to internet.

To show what the framework does, a new feature was implemented for Google Reader, an online news feed (RSS/Atom) reader, that makes it possible to read newsfeeds while offline. This feature uses the Google Gears framework.

I've used it for a while now, and I must say that it works well. When I'm traveling by train for example, I switch to offline mode in Google Reader, before I leave home.
When going to offline mode, Google Reader downloads 2000 messages and stores them locally. On the train, I open Google Reader in my browser and start reading the news messages, just like I would when connected to the internet.
When I get back home and switch back to online mode, Google Reader synchronises with the online version. All messages I read offline, are marked as read and the starred or shared messages are set.

I'm wondering which Google applications will be next to have an offline mode, using the Google Gears technology. An offline version of Google Calendar would be nice. ;-)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Two-way MySQL replication

MySQL database server has a master-slave replication feature, which makes it possible to have a complete copy of a master database on a slave server. When the master server should fail, you have a copy available immediately, so you don't loose data and you can switch your applications to the slave-server while bringing back up the master server, so the downtime is small too.

A drawback of this master-slave replication is that it is a one-way backup. The slave server is a complete copy of the master server : all changes that are done on the master server are applied to the slave server, keeping them identical.
But because it is one-way replication, changes to the slave database server aren't applied to the master server.

I just came along an article explaining how to set up two-way replication : both servers are master and slave at the same time. So it doesn't matter on which server the database is changed, the change will be applied to the other server, which always results in two identical databases.

I'm thinking of using this setup to synchronise the database of my server at home with the database running on my laptop. This way I will have a remote backup of my database server on my laptop, in case something happens to my database server at home.
But also, all changes that I make to the database on my laptop while not at home, will be synchronised with my database server, when I get home.

This good HOWTO on setting up (one-way) master-slave replication, also provides a simple, but working, script to make a daily backup of a MySQL database server.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mixed backgrounds

When studying, analysing, interpreting and describing a situation, be it social, cultural or philosophical, that differs from your background, you will always be influenced by your background. This is unavoidable, no matter how hard you try.

But what if you have different backgrounds? Everybody grows up in a cultural setting and compares what's happening in the world outside to the values and habits of the background one is raised in.
If you would swap backgrounds after a few years, by, for example, emmigrating to a different region, you will, after a while, get to know the values, views and habbits of the new region. This way your cultural background consists of both environments you have lived in. If you would get to know several different settings, your background would consist of many different views.

If you would have multiple backgrounds, wouldn't it be easier to study other situations without being influenced by your background? Because you have more than one background, you can't compare to just one cultural view, as you are aware of more than one.

One must ask if it is possible to get to know several different cultures, without forgetting about the previous ones. But you must of course be willing to adopt new views.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Google 3.0 : The future of internet searching

In the future, search engine Google will look like a combination of Google and Wikipedia. When you search for something on Google, you will get a wikipedia-like explanation of the term you are looking up and a list of categories to further refine your search, rather than a list of most relevant links, as you get now.
The links won't disappear completely, you will still be able to visit relevant web pages, but the links to these sites are highlighted words in the explaining text or in the biography, or 'See also' section, at the end of the small article.

The content for the small article and the categories isn't provided and edited by a community of people sharing knowledge, but is derived from all information that is accessible, like webpages and digital libraries. For this to work, an algorithm (computer program) is needed that can scan documents, articles, blogposts and webpages and understand what it is about. Some people call this AI, or Artificial Intelligence, others would define this to be base of the semantic web.
Rather than looking for the occurance of search terms in the indexes of all webpages, the search sites of the future would understand what the search is about and answer what it 'remembers' about it, after 'reading' and 'understanding' all available sources on the internet.

I'm not affiliated with Google or any other company offering internet search services. What I described is my vision on the future of websearching and looking for information. My vision is much like, and is probably influenced by, the view of Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founders of the internet, on web 3.0 and the semantic web :

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.
(Berners-Lee, Tim; Fischetti, Mark (1999). Weaving the Web. HarperSanFrancisco, chapter 12. ISBN 9780062515872)

The ability of computers to understand texts, rather than searching for occurances of words, is until now not possible. A big goal in computing was set out by Alan Turing, famous mathematician and the person who cracked the Enigma-code of the German army during the second World War.
The Turing Test defines that a computer must be able to have a conversation with a human, where the human is unable to tell wether he or she is talking to a computer or another person. A computer that passes the Turing Test is considered to be thinking, interpreting and understanding on its own.

When computers (or algorithms) could pass the Turing Test, they would be able to understand and interpret every available text and information and connecting it to other texts or concepts, just like humans would do, thus making the semantic web possible.
Until now, computers haven't passed the Turing Test, so we have to do with the current search technologies aided by human understanding, like I mentioned in Computers need help or projects like ChaCha.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Night out

It's weird what can happen when going out. You know were you begin, but you never know where and when it will end.

The evening started with Transformers, which I saw with Brecht. Afterwards we went to Viewmaster 07, to meet Brecht's girlfriend Tine and some friends (Sophie, Lore). Because the film they showed, L'empire des senses, was a bit of a bore, we went for a drink in L'heure bleue, near Sint-Jacobs.
There we met two Australian people, who were staying at Sophie's place. They are on a trip through Europe and got to know Sophie on the couch surfing project.
Afterwards, Sophie, Lore and I went to a bar called Maritime, after Sophie got a message of a friend telling that a party was going on there. It turned out to be a bar with old people with a DJ playing old music. We left and went to Video, a popular bar in Gent, near De Oude Beestenmarkt.
There we met Koen, who works for a company called oneDotOnly. They design websites, organise events and do creative things.
The evening ended at his place, where Lore, Koen and I drank a nightcap. I went home at 7 in the morning, while the sun started to set above Gent.

It turned out to be a very strange night, meeting a lot of new people. I had a good time.