Archive for December, 2007

In Use

It is interesting to note where the kind of research I am doing is ending up in the real world. This technology from Siemens highlights the presence of speed limit roadsigns to the driver and interfaces with the cruise control system. Pretty cool.

Siemens heads up road sign display

In the future, a system from Siemens that automatically recognizes speed limits on traffic signs will make driving even more comfortable — and help motorists to avoid speeding tickets. The system works with a camera in the car that scans the scene in front of the car for traffic signs and forwards the information to an onboard computer. With the help of the cruise control, the system then keeps the car within the speed limit. The risk of unintentionally driving too fast is particularly high when motorists are in unfamiliar surroundings or faced with road construction sites.

Part of a comprehensive network of driver assistance systems called pro-pilot being developed by the automotive supplier Siemens VDO, the traffic sign recognition system is scheduled to go into series production in about two years. Experts from Siemens have installed the system in a luxury class car, along with a host of additional assistance devices, including a lane recognition system, a night vision system and a parking guidance system. Several automakers have already tried out the test vehicle and expressed strong interest in the recognition system.

The system uses a CMOS camera installed near the rear-view mirror to continuously scan the road for traffic signs. The images are then compared with patterns of speed limit signs stored in the system’s memory. If the software discovers a speed limit, the system notifies the driver of this fact by showing the value in the speedometer or in a head-up display. If the cruise control is switched on, the car automatically decelerates to stay within the speed limit. The system also uses data supplied by a navigation system to determine if the vehicle is being driven on a highway or in a town or city. And because the navigation system also contains information on special traffic signs — including those that impose speed limits only at certain times — the recognition system can also react to such situations. The traffic sign recognition system so far is designed for use in new vehicles; its many components’ complicated networking today makes retrofitting too expensive. (IN 2006.10.4)

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I just couldn’t believe this video when I saw it. It’s so funny I was just laughing my head off in the middle of the computer lab!

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Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of spam from users on facebook concerning this “social networking site”, Yuwie. The spam and the Yuwie site its self promises a cut in advertising revenue for all users who sign up. The problem though is two fold. Firstly, people are trying to solicit sign ups using spam which I hate. Secondly, its a complete and utter scam.

While it might be true that some users are being paid by Yuwie, what the site is banking on is that users who sign up don’t read the terms and conditions and such. If an individual contemplating sign up was diligent enough to read these texts its unlikely they would go near the site. The crux of it is what every user who signs up permits Yuwie to sell their details to anyone and everyone, this is effectively what Yuwie are paying you for the privilege of doing. This can be bad enough when you just provide your name and e-mail (think of the SPAM and the e-mail marketing hell) but with Yuwie you are providing all the details that you would to any other social networking site.

This includes but is not limited to, name, address, telephone number, mobile number, e-mail address, photos, friends names and e-mails, messages and personal preferences on subjects such as music, film and their personal life. Pretty shocking huh.

On first inspection of the terms and conditions you might think that what I have just said is untrue, but look carefully at the following extract:

Yuwie will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary: (1) to conform to legal requirements or to respond to a subpoena, search warrant or other legal process received by, whether or not a response is required by applicable law; (2) to enforce the Terms of Use Agreement or to protect our rights; or (3) to protect the safety of members of the public and users of the service

The first sentence is fishy from the off. Necessary disclosure is usually that as required by law, but note that the statement is not if the law dictates it is necessary but that if “we believe” it is necessary. This could in fact be any reason they so choose.

Reading further on looks like they’ve made it alright again by giving some numbered points, but note the caveat on point 1). Essentially they are saying they will always cough up details to law enforcement on the slightest whim, even if there is no actual legal requirement to do so.

Point 2) includes “protecting our rights”, making no indication as to what those rights are. That could be a right to make money for instance thus justifying the sale of your details.

Point 3) is probably the most reasonable one they have, and yet it still has holes in it as it makes no reference to what they might be protecting people from, and besides it is difficult to protect users by providing their details to others whom the users have not consented to their details being given.

Bottom line is, as I said at the beginning, this site is generating huge amounts of spam on social networking sites and in the blogosphere generally and as such is deplorable. Further more it is a complete privacy scam aimed at the personal details of all those who sign up. I don’t believe any of my readers would even contemplate signing up, but I do think they would appreciate being shown how devious companies are being these days with data provided by users. Data security and privacy can only get worse so long as companies like Yuwie continue unchecked.

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Smashed Phone

It was with great delight that we noticed a new air hockey table had been installed in the union Old Bar last night and after fetching our drinks and the paddles for the table from the bar, set about having a few games between us.

I thought no more of my worse than average performance in the game of air hockey until I returned home and removed my phone from my pocket to call Heather. It was then that I noticed the smashed screen and the deep murky but still back-lit mass that now resided there. It immediately dawned on me what must have happened. With my phone in my pocket and my leaning across the table at great speed to get to the puck, I had no doubt given the phone quite a belting as I impacted with the edge of the table.

Having never destroyed a phone before I was initially in some shock at the damage. Then I realised that the phone did still work, and remembering who was in my recent calls list and how to get there on the menus, I could make a call. The problem was that the menu structure is complex and I couldn’t remember everything, nor could I see the details of contacts or read text messages.

Unlike many people I have taken backups of my phone contents, but unfortunately I hadn’t done this for some time because my method of doing so on Linux long since ceased to function for one reason or another and I’d never found the time to fix it. Boy did I regret that now.

In untangling the mess I decided the first issue was to get a working phone, so I dug around in my box of computer parts and cables and found one of my old Nokia phones. This comes with a number of bits and pieces, including a software CD. Not much use, but it got me thinking. What if my newer phone came with a software CD too, and possibly a cable? If it did I might be able to do some impromptu backing up on Windows and get all the data off my new phone onto my old one.

It turns out that I did in fact have a software CD and a USB cable so after 2 hours of tinkering with software, drivers and failed hardware installs I had my smashed screen phone talking to Windows. I ran the software utility and grabbed a full backup from the phone. Of course the utility saved the data in a proprietary format so if the file to old phone phases didn’t work I was still screwed.

Turns out that the cable wouldn’t allow my old phone to talk to Windows. I didn’t have a cable for the old phone, I don’t think I ever had done. but the phone did come with an IrDA port and as the utility supported IrDA all I had to do was get an IR port on my Windows box and I could make the two play.

This was easier said than done. I quickly found my IrDA dongle, and downloaded the drivers, only to find they wouldn’t install. This was now getting beyond a joke. In desperation I now began to ferret around in storage boxes, looking for the original CD. No surprise that it took me so long because the damn drivers were on a floppy disk! Still, I got them installed, got the dongle working and got the phone talking to Windows.

The restore should have been easy, after all the Nokia application supported both phones, and also supported backwards compatibility of phone model backup files. Unfortunately my old phone still had old contacts on it so it didn’t have enough space. I had to purge these one by one (the phone had an option for a mass delete but required a security code I couldn’t remember).

When I freed up the memory I got the contacts transferred over, all of them, perfectly. I don’t think I’ve felt happier solving a technical challenge for a long time. After purging the rest of the old data from my phone I got my bookmarks, calendar and text messages moved from the file to the phone with ease.

So the lessons in all of this:

  • Enjoy air hockey responsibly
  • Keep your phone out of harms way
  • Back the damn thing up in a non-proprietary format regularly even if it does take a bit of time. You can be sure doing so in a proprietary format with no preparation and without a screen will take longer and be many times more stressful.

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