I don’t speak Dutch (yet)

Dutch Humour

Ik spreek niet Netherlands.

This week I moved to the Netherlands after 3 years in the USA. It is not the first time I go to live in a country where the population speaks another language however. In 2000 I moved to Italy.

I must admit that I sometimes fail to see my own limitations. I was under the impression that after a year or so I would be able to speak Italian. It would just soak in through the skin, like osmosis, and come out in perfettamentally formed sentences.

Alas after a year I was just about able to order a cappuccino at the bar, so I had to ditch the osmosis strategy.

I enrolled in a school for foreigners wanting to learn Italian. 6 hours a week. I continued for 4 years, and became remarkably good. 3 years in the USA and my Italian is now a little rusty but I can still speak very well, and at least me English ain’t as pour as it were thanks to an American education.

So 3 days in and how is the Dutch learning plan unfolding you may ask. Well experience taught me something, because I tend to only make the same mistake about 50 or 60 times before I learn, so I am not going to try osmosis. I took some lessons in the US before coming, and I was going to enrol on a course.

That was until I discovered Skype and their new toy, the voice translator.

Now this technology may be still under development, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Gurdeep Pall (the vice president in charge of Skype), demonstrated the technology last week. Watch the video here. There is a demo and an explanation of how the technology learns, including a description of its brain like capacity to relate one language to another, improving both.

It’s quite an incredible demonstration. Until the end of the conversation when a couple of errors creep in to the translation I was sure it was all a fake. Given the fact that so many of us work via computer today, a reality that is sure to expand even more, I think this technology could be a real breakthrough.

Now early stages in technological development means a 15 year history in this case, far longer than my foray into foreign languages. And technology develops quickly, the translator may even be on the market by the end of the year. My brain is not so quick, I will still be on chapter 3 of the first book by the end of the year. And I am sure that within a year of its release the technology will become completely mobile, I will be able to buy a battery operated portable translator and wear it like a fake moustache under my Google Glasses, by next summer I will be fluent!

The development of this technology may however also have the downside that it might help people avoid learning another language, and lead to a reliance on technology that might then make face to face interaction more difficult. Also we may miss out on the great advantages that speaking more than one language brings to an individual, the respect that other people have for you if you learn their language, the ability to appreciate a wider perspective and even more importantly, understanding the Dutch sense of humour.

The stolen iOS

Apple are great at marketing. Well, Steve Jobs was at least. Apple are also great innovators, although that is more debatable.

A few weeks ago I came across a video of the Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone. I found it quite comical how the audience gasped and clapped at some of the features; the idea that you could use your finger on a screen instead of a stylus, the ‘amazing’ elastic band scrolling effect, and by far the most impressive, the iPhone could handle the web like a computer, not a mobile phone. Steve Jobs even mentioned that Apple planned to make 3G phones in the future.

The fastest network the original iPhone was compatible with was EDGE, which at the time would download at speeds of up to 473.6 kbit/s; that’s about 2,214 times slower than today 4G 1Gbit/s speeds!

%CODEYOUTUBEIPHONEKEYNOTE%

Apple, Google and Yahoo! all working together on one device – I doubt that will ever happen again.

How far Apple has come since it launched the smartphone that changed the world in 2007.

iOS7

The original iPhone was unique. There was nothing like it and it was undoubtedly the best smartphone on the market at the time. iOS7 on the other hand is arguably just a cheap imitation of Android OS. That is the extreme view of course, I would also argue that Apple are only learning from Samsung, see what your competitor does well, then improve it, repackage it and sell it yourself.

iOS 7iOS 7 came with a few bugs and hiccups, but then most new software does so I am not criticising Apple for that. Aesthetically, childish icons, illegible fonts (due to poor colour schemes) and the motion sickness some people complain of because of the whizzy new interface, are all problems that are down to bad design.

In terms of technical problems, the inability to downgrade to iOS6 and the battery issues many users of older devices are facing when they upgrade are also Apple’s fault. Whilst I say they are Apple’s fault, they almost certainly weren’t accidental. If you don’t let people to downgrade, you force them to use to your new OS.

Free Upgrades

Apple now offer free upgrades to the latest iOS which you could argue is good for owners of older iPhones, but not so good for Apple’s bottom line. However if you look at the tests, generally older phones perform better on their original operating system than they do on iOS7; for example the iPhone 4 loads faster on iOS 6 than it does when running iOS 7.

If you have an iPhone 4 running iOS 7 and your friend has an iPhone 5C or 5S and your phone runs like a dog but theirs flies, it kind of makes you want to buy the latest phone.

Free upgrades also give users the perception that sticking with Apple is a good idea, because Apple look after them. Additionally having access to iOS7 will mean more users are familiar with the interface, so buying a new phone isn’t such as big a jump.

Bad Now, Better Later

Here’s a thought, why have Apple failed to address the battery problem that plagues all smartphones? Old mobiles used to last for weeks between charges. I still own a Nokia 3510 which was released 12 years ago, yet if I fully charge it and leave it (switched on) it will last for a good few weeks – my S4 Mini can do about 60 hours tops. I believe many smartphone manufacturers are holding things in the bank for future. Better batteries are available, but it is more profitable to release better features gradually than to give consumers one fantastic upgrade every 3 to 4 years.

iPhone battery lifeMaybe Apple want iOS7 to look a little childish and have a few faults, so that when the next iPhone (or the one after that) comes out with a brand new OS, it looks so much better.

Time

When anything first comes out there is a lot of hype about it, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but often a mix of both. Those who ‘love’ the iPhone (or those who have been sucked in by Apple’s marketing) will stick with the phone for a long time to come. Those who are more critical won’t stop viewing things differently either. At the end of the day Apple is just a bunch of people trying to make money for another bunch of people – just like almost every other company.

US Border Laptop Searches

This week in the US many news outlets are reporting a story that relates to how private the data on your computer, hard drive or mobile phone may be when passing national borders.

In a legal ruling a judge has in effect supported immigration officials’ rights to look inside your computer if you want to bring it in to the USA. The court ruling relates to an incident in 2010 when Pascal Abidor, a student crossing from Canada, had his laptop confiscated and searched.

A Laptop Search

A Laptop Search

The student claimed that this was unconstitutional as the 4th amendment states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” The US has long held however that this amendment cannot be upheld when dealing with people entering the country.

The judge ruled however that “The agents certainly had reasonable suspicion supporting further inspection of Abidor’s electronic devices”. What is not widely reported is the circumstances that lead to this decision. Abidor has both French and US passports, and upon entering he chose to show the passport that did not contain Visas that demonstrated that he had visited Lebanon and Jordan,  giving officials the impression that he was trying to hide something.

Agents spent five hours searching his laptop and USB drives, and then demanded that he write down his passwords and hand over the laptop and storage media. The laptop was returned by post 11 days later.

There are rules about what the authorities must do with data seized in these cases. All data that is deemed innocent must be destroyed within 7 days of seizure unless permission is given to keep it for longer. Many blogs however cast doubt upon whether an unregulated and poorly reported system can actually enforce this however, an online search of the story gives many different perspectives. The Homeland securities News Wire has one of the most informative.

I presume that like me many of you keep a great deal of personal data on your laptops, from tax returns, bank details, love letters and personal photos, and all of these things may be accessed in a case like this. One issue that has come to the fore has been brought by researchers and reporters, who may not be able to reveal sources of information for ethical, security or legal reasons, but may unwittingly do so by leaving evidence of their informers’ identities on their computers.

The line is blurred here, as today smuggling must include information smuggling and authorities may need to search information media, but an individual must be aware that all information carried over an international border is open to search. This must have repercussions in terms of industrial as well as personal privacy.

Why not try Lightbeam?

I have just downloaded and taken a quick look at the new Mozilla add-on called Lightbeam.

I am an UBUNTU user myself, so I don’t know if this will work for other systems, but I would like you to help me decide if it’s an interesting tool either way.

I have always heard that companies share your information. So you go on one site and they share your habits with other organizations. Well Lightbeam shows you who they are sharing your information with.

One thing that I should say is that I do not know what the information they are sharing actually is. If anyone does know I would love to hear. So that is job number one for you down in the comments below.

The actual view that you are presented with when you open this program is very nice. A series of connected triangles that drift around the screen, all tied together like one of those kinnect toys that my kids play with. Some of the triangles have website logos on them, others are blank. It’s almost a snowdrop kind of effect.

Mozilla Lightbeam

Mozilla Lightbeam screenshot

The lines are either white or blue, the blue depicting that the sites use cookies. Probably half of them do.

And it makes a nice little educational game. As you visit another site it joins the page with its connections, the entity wobbles and bounces before coming static. Many of these connections are the same, creating a central mass, but some sites do not share with anyone that the others do, and live in their own little detached bubble.

I was surprised to find that ebay UK is not connected to any of the other sites. It has 3 satellite sites but they are all ebay subsections. I would have to draw the conclusion that ebay do not share your information. Job number 2, correct me in the comments below please.

The Weather channel divulge to another weather channel and 3 or 4 others, CNN and the BBC are about the same. TECHNOLOGY BLOGGERS DOES NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE! Read it and weep and respect where it is due Christopher. My employer the Bassetti Foundation are linked to Twitter, and nobody else.

Oh and guess who is in the middle of the blob, tentacles everywhere, yes of course, Facebook. I have not visited the site but they appear through the mist to take centre stage. No wonder profits are up!

Without understanding more this add on is just a toy to me, but I am sure if I was a bit more savvy it could give me a lot of insight into the dark and murky workings of the web. I think it might also present an opportunity, as we can now see who is prostituting our information and who is not, and maybe we should put more trust in those that keep our data in their own hands, and some others a little less.

Definitely worth a look I would say.

Oh on a final note, I went to Microsoft, Ubuntu and Mozilla. Microsoft share with 10 satellites, 5 of which use cookies. Ubuntu and Mozilla do not share with anyone. I visited 15 sites in total during my research, and that meant that I unwittingly connected to 76 third party sites.

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology

Last month the Northwestern University in the USA published a national survey entitled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology. The report is available for free download through the Parenting CC Portal , but here I would like to take a quick look at some of the findings and questions raised and see if we can provoke some debate.

Multiple Screen Viewing

Multiple Screen Viewing

The study explores how parents are incorporating new digital technologies (iPads, smartphones) as well as older media platforms (TV, video games, and computers) into their family lives and parenting practices, and it gives an idea of how parents use and view this technology.

We should point out that this is a US based survey.

The 10 key finding could be seen as the following:

1 While new media technologies have become widespread, a majority of parents do not think they have made parenting any easier.

2 Parents use media and technology as a tool for managing daily life, but books, toys, and other activities are used more often.

3 Parents still turn to family and friends for parenting advice far more often than to new media sources like websites, blogs, and social networks.

4 Parents do not report having many family conflicts or concerns about their children’s media use.

5 There is still a big gap between higher- and lower- income families in terms of access to new mobile devices.

6 Parents are less likely to turn to media or technology as an educational tool for their children than to other activities.

7 Parents assess video games more negatively than television, computers, and mobile devices.

8 For each type of technology included in the survey, a majority of parents believe these devices have a negative impact on children’s physical activity, the most substantial negative outcome attributed to technology in this study.

9 Many parents report using media technology with their children, but this “joint media engagement” drops off markedly for children who are six or older.

10 Parents are creating vastly different types of media environments for their children to grow up in, and, not surprisingly, the choices they make are strongly related to their own media use.

Some other interesting points arise, such as that 40% of families are described as media heavy and spend more than 11 hours a day in front of the screen. Half of all families surveyed have 3 TV’s or more in the house. 40% of 6 to 8 year olds have a TV in their bedroom. 70% of parents state that having mobile devices has not made parenting easier with 40% stating that they have a negative social skills effect upon the children.

The conclusions are in some ways surprising though as the authors demonstrate evidence that parents are still more likely to resort to traditional means of entertainment as rewards and punishment, and they are convinced enough about the educational possibilities offered by so called new media to not worry too much about their negative effects.

An interesting read if you have half an hour, but comments and debate about the summary above would also be educational.

Can you recondition an old computer?

There are many ways to deal with old computers. One popular way is to get rid of it. This is because old computers have no value, are slow and take lots of physical space.

The other way to deal with them is to sell them for a super low price so that you can buy a new one without paying too much. However, second hand electronic stuff does not really have any value. For instance, you probably ended up selling a graphic card for $50 that you bought for $200-$300 originally.

So why not keep your old computer and make good use of it.

How to rebuild an old PC

1. Format your hard disk to ensure you have completely remove all the data in it – remember that even formatting your disk might not remove all your data.

2. Install an new Operating System. If you are looking at Windows, XP might be a good choice for an old PC, however 7 also handles low spec hardware pretty well, so is also worth considering. There are several reasons why I think Windows XP is no longer the best choice:

  • License rarity – Windows XP is 3 versions behind the current Windows operating system, meaning few firms still stock XP licenses
  • Support has ended – Microsoft have officially announced the termination of the support for Windows XP in 2014
  • Malware issues – Windows XP is prone to more security risks than more current operating systems, simply because it has been around longer; this means you are likely to need a better antivirus software to keep the PC safe

If you don’t want to go down the Windows route, I highly recommend is the Ubuntu, which is a free Linux OS. There are several free Linux operating systems out there but so far, I think Ubuntu is one of the popular Linux distribution and probably easiest to use.

What is the requirement to run Ubuntu? According to the official site, these are the requirements.

  • 700 MHz processor
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 5GB of hard disc space
  • VGA capable of 1024×768 screen resolution
  • Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port – or both

I bet you have a better PC than Ubuntu requires ;-) Ubuntu

Uses for an old computer running Ubuntu

No matter how old the computer, it always has uses. Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Use it for regular web browsing. With a lightweight operating system (which won’t suck up your RAM and CPU usage) your old computer can still perform pretty well for simple web browsing
  2. Use it for data backup. You can always transfer all your important stuff into an old computer, and use it as a backup machine, so you can keep your files safe and access them easily
  3. Home surveillance system. If you buy a webcam or two and install them into your house you could use your old computer to run your own home surveillance system!

So now, if you have an old computer lying around or burred in your storeroom why not dig it out and start making good use of it?

If you have any good idea on how to re-use your old computer, why not share with us below?

Is updating Java really important?

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What do you know about Java? If the answer is not much, then you are not alone. In this article I am going to explore exactly what Java is, and why it is so important that you keep it up to date.

Java or JavaScript?

Java and JavaScript are completely different things, however many people confuse them as one and the same.

JavaScript
JavaScript is a scripting language (like PHP and HTML) that is used in browsers to help render websites, and is also now used to create [relatively simple] desktop games.

We use JavaScript on our blog. One example can be found in our comment form; if you don’t tick the box to confirm you have read the comment policy and click Post Comment, a box comes up reminding you that you have to tick it to proceed – that works via JavaScript.

You can disable JavaScript, but so many websites use it nowadays, your browsing experience would be significantly affected.

Java
Java is a programming language, which is capable of doing far more than JavaScript. Java can be used to create new programs and applications that run virtually on their own, or via a browser.

Most computers come pre-loaded with Java, as do many other devices, including some cars, printers, parking machines, ATMs and more. A printer doesn’t use JavaScript, as it is a browser based language.

Malicious Java

It is possible for someone to gain access to your computer via Java. All you would need to do is visit a website with malicious Java code on it, and unknowingly to you, you could be being hacked. Some websites allow you to add your own code to their site, (like forum’s for example) so it might not even be a malicious website you are visiting, just one page which contains malicious code.

Oracle's Java logoWhen you visit a page with a malicious Java application, your browser will usually start to run the code, which will open up a direct link between your PC and the hacker – remember browsing the net is a two way process, every time you request data from a server, the server can request something back.

On face value, a page with malicious Java could look completely normal and trustworthy, as you wouldn’t be able to see the code – your browser would render it for you.

Malicious code can give a hacker almost complete access to your machine, via the internet. They could potentially browse through your files and open applications, and even receive feedback from input devices like a webcam and microphone.

Java Update

When Sun Microsystems (who are now owned by Oracle) developed Java, they didn’t plan for it to be used maliciously, and still don’t. Like with most code, hackers exploit loopholes and flaws in the language, to enable them to perform malicious activity.

Oracle's logoLike with any software, to combat malicious activity, when flaws are discovered, developers create patches and launch new versions to protect uses against their installation being misused.

Many of the know ways Java can be used to gain access to your computer are preventable, if you have the latest version installed.

It is important that you not only keep your computers version of Java up to date, but also your browser’s version. Many browsers come with a Java plugin, and this can become outdated, even if your system version of Java is up to date.

You should check to see if your browser’s extensions and plugins are up to date ideally once every week. If you have Premier IT Support, or your computer is updated by an external provider, you shouldn’t need to update Java, as that should be taken of care for you.