WE MAKE TOOLS FOR THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE. No more.

Apple is starting to crack and everyone is throwing curve balls at it. The greatest company on earth is not growing anymore. What? Panic? What should I do? What happened? A few quick notes.

  • The most painful truth about apple is that in recent years apple focused more on the superficial than on the essential. When Steve Jobs was at the elm of the company, priority number one was to make great products. And great products != numbers shipped. Apple always built useful tools that you couldn’t find anywhere else. That’s why designers and creative people bought macs, not because of the aluminium shell but because the platform had the best tools for them. The iPhone was the same thing. At launch no one had the same tools, therefore the iPhone was useful. With time Android played catch-up and surpassed iOS and apple focused on selling the shell instead.
  • The pinnacle of this announced disaster came with two products that clearly show how adamant Apple is right now: The $10,000 watch and the 1 port MacBook. Two products that are so clearly wrong that I’m amazed it took so long for them to stop growing.
  • Apple always took some existing market product, made it 10 times better and sold it. This was what happened with the iPod and the iPhone, but since these blockbuster products (that they milked, milked, milked like Microsoft milks Windows and Office) there is nothing. Their `love’ for music? They bought beats headphones (the crapiest, low-fi headphones in the market) just because 99% of soccer, football and track players where using them. Did they make a good product out of it? Nah…
  • When apple announced the iPhone it was a revolution, but during that announcement Steve Jobs also made another announcement that made me scary at the time: They changed the name of the company from Apple Computer Inc. to just Apple Inc. Dropping the Computer from the name wasn’t the issue. The issue was the mindset that this created. A Computer is a tool. Is the digital era equivalent of a piece of plywood and a hacksaw. You can build houses with those. Dropping the Computer meant a change in apple mission. The change from making premium tools (that they charged premium money for) to the making of great gadgets (that they still charged premium money). But a great gadget is not the same thing as a great tool. The later doesn’t need to be useful while the former needs to be useful to succeed. In the end they started targeting the sheep instead of the shepherd and their sales exploded. Until now.
  • The “Think Different” ads that defined Apple said:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

  • WE MAKE TOOLS FOR THESE KINDS OF PEOPLE. No more.

5 essential tricks for R users

R is very powerful and is becoming the language of data scientists. But some things require a bit of learning and are not obvious to the R newcomer. Here are five useful tips if you are just starting out:

  1. Sometimes data is not in the correct format and you need to reshape data to use it in R. Instead of using external software you can do it directly in R.
  2. Plotting multiple series in the same figure. This can be accomplished using R ggplot2 library producing better looking graphics.
  3. If you do Network Analysis, you’ll need to partition the graph into communities. Finding communities in R is easy with the igraph package.
  4. Still playing with graphs, you can colour different nodes according to some data property. Check how to colour graph nodes in R.
  5. R ggplot2 allows you to accept most of the defaults and have great plots, but sometimes you might want to customise them further. Check how to customise ggplot2 axes labels.

Extra: If you use Sweave to automate your reports with live data in R, you might sometimes want to extract the R snippets to a new R file. Instead of copying and pasting, try this:

Stangle("big_sweave_doc.Rnw", output="big_sweave_code.R")

Data Analysis of 2015 Tourism in the EU: Why raw numbers are worthless (tl:dr)

2015 EU Tourism

Eurostat released a short statistic about the number of tourism nights spent in the EU in 2015. Curiously, Spain shows up as the top tourist destination in Europe. Hm… right at the moment when everyone is speaking about the Spanish influence everywhere. Top. What does that really mean? And what is it about all these rankings in absolute terms that are not comparable across countries in the first place?

When looking at the data we can see that there is no “normalisation”. All comparisons are made in absolute terms. And this is like comparing apples to oranges or comparing China population to the Vatican. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

The data contains also the number of tourism nights of Non-Residents and of Residents for each country.

This in itself is very interesting, because we can take different strategies to compare the two different types of tourism. Non-residents visiting the country vs Residents visiting other other parts of their own country.

The issue with this type of raw data is that it gives the impression that things are very different when sometimes they aren’t. Portugal and Spain appear very different from this chart, but the it doesn’t take into consideration the sizes of both countries.

We need some normalisation of the data so we can compare the numbers between different countries. Comparing Malta and France, or Spain and Sweden doesn’t mean much if one doesn’t take into consideration other things like country population, country GDP, country area, etc… Is summary we need some variable that acts as normalisation.

I fetcheb the population and area of each of the countries in the report and normalised the data by population and area. Here are some interesting results (full results at bottom of post).

Residents tourism

Normalising by population allows us to have a comparable measure between countries for the tourism that each country had in 2015 from its own residents. By doing so we are just getting an average number of nights each person spent doing tourism in his own country.

It is clear that Spain is not the top country anymore. Norway, France, Sweden and Netherlands take the spotlight. Their nationals are the ones that make the most tourism inside their own countries. On average a Norwegian spends almost 4,5 nights doing tourism in Norway contrary to Spain where this number drops to 3,3. Clearly rich countries residents do more tourism inside than poor countries residents — hinting that analysing this data against the GDP might be an interesting approach.

Non-Residents tourism

On the other hand if we want to see how attractive a country is to tourists, we can’t normalise to the countries population (not entirely true), but instead we can normalise in relation to the area of the country. The reasoning behind this is that the interest is proportional to landscape features — beaches, monuments, cities, etc… — that the country presents to tourists, and those are proportional to the area of the country… Obviously some locations have higher densities of tourist spots than others.

The results are surprising. Malta being a very small island is fully dedicated to tourism. It is clearly the outlier here — and forced me to use a logarithmic scale — but it shows clearly that the ranking of tourism cannot be measured by raw numbers alone. Performance and efficiency require comparable measures not raw data.

In this case Spain and Portugal are very close together. Wouldn’t that be expected? Portugal and Spain both have strong beach summer tourism, a pure geographic factor. In history terms Portugal has a common past with Spain of war and family. Therefore monuments and historic cities should be relatively similar in terms of attractiveness to tourists. Both countries have excellent food and their cultural heritage ashamed none. Why would they attract tourists in such a different way as the first chart tried to indicate?

Spain might be slightly more efficient at attracting tourists, they are closer to the European center, and there are probably some supra linear effects, but in the end iberian countries are very similar.

Conclusion

It is clear that what european agencies sometimes published should be taken with a pinch of salt. Not because their data is wrong, but because the reading of the data might be misleading.

Yes, Spain has the largest number of tourism nights in Europe. Does it mean that Spain is the most efficient country in terms of tourism? Does it mean that Spain has the largest number of touristic features to attract foreigners? Well clearly not.

Croatia seems impressive in taking advantage of what it has. Malta, Cyprus are also very effective because they are islands. If you look at nationals tourism, rich northern countries like Norway, France, Sweden and Netherlands, seem to have more nights per person than any other.

What this shows is that there are many narratives that can be written about the same data. Raw numbers alone is misleading. The difference between Portugal and Spain is not that different if you try to correct for the size of the countries.

The full analysis is available in R Markdown format and you can play with the script yourself by using RStudio.

This post is available in PDF format

AlphaGo beats Lee Sedol. Lessons from 1997

Go was praised as the last frontier for AI. Computer programs were not good enough to tackle the complexity of the game because they lacked the intuition and creativity shown by human professional Go players — that studied the game all their life. This lead to the idea that Go players, as opposed to chess players, were protected from the silicon invasion.

But now it is GAME OVER. Google’s AlphaGo demonstrated that silicon is now able to win against the best Go players. Is this a Shock? Why would anyone think so?

While the line of players queuing up to lose to AlphaGo is growing, the important think about AlphaGo is not to play against it, but to use it as a machine for improving. The line of Professional Go players wanting to buy a copy of AlphaGo is growing bigger.

Like in chess, where the Stockfish and Rybkas of the game changed the training process of the players, the same will happen in Go. Professionals already use computer databases of Go games. Now they will embrace the computer style of play to become stronger players. Others, like in chess, will do the opposite and try to do what the computers lack. Creative play, even if objectively inferior against other humans, might give some players the pleasure of taking the fight to places where the machine has not been before and might have a blind spot.

After 1997 defeat to Kasparov, the world of chess was also in shock. The end of the human domination. #AI was here to control us. In the end no one worried much and even had a little bit of fun when in 2006 Kramnik played Deep Fritz and left a mate in one on the board for the computer to win. That’s the reality of AI engines. We have fun and make mistakes like Kramnik. They are just machines and can’t loose like that.

The problem of having strong silicon players available is that cheating will now become an issue they will need to deal with. Cheating in chess is a problem and strong measures have been put in place to try to solve the issue. Will we have a Go Toiletgate? Go play will certainly have to adapt.

Another final point about the match. Lee Sedol is one of the Go monsters and there’s nothing to be sorry for this match. He won one game against the computer, and not many players will be able to say the same from now on. Anyone that comes next in the line to play AlphaGo, is just going to face a stronger engine and will have diminished chances to win. Meanwhile Sedol deserved his place in history.

The game of Go, like the game of chess, sees changes in the style of play from time to time, namely when some genius grandmaster comes and starts applying a new style. AlphaGo greatest legacy will be how humans will start playing Go in the future. Maximising winning chances instead of maximising winning margin will be on everyones mind and those seemingly spurious moves will be analyses until understood fully. The game of Go will not be the same in the future and for that AlphaGo alone is the most important stone in the board of the XXI century.

What’s next for #AI? Well, the game Arimaa — that was invented after Kasparov’s defeat to Deep Blue, and can be played with a traditional chess set — was specially constructed to be difficult for computers to master, was beaten in 2015 (And honestly, what were they thinking with that childish set pieces of the comercial Arimaa, cats, dogs and rabbits?). My suggestion is that the next challenge to #AI has to be in games were information is not complete as Vitorino Ramos puts it:

Will #AI move in that direction? Backgammon is a game were the roll of the dice can change the results. Poker depends also on chance and human strategies (bluff) that are difficult for the computer to understand. Talking about adaptability, can #AI move in a direction where the same program learns the rules of all these different games and starts playing them well without human tweaking of the underlying computational paradigm? That would be truly revolutionary.

As for me, I tried Go but I’m just a stone thrower. I’ll stick to that inferior game of Chess, play some gambits, and loose in many creative ways.

Email is not dead, but it is not private either

Get Smart Privacy Bubble

“I have the impression my email is being read”

I have lost count of the times this exact phrase was repeated to me.

What makes email users assume that their emails and accounts are private if the protocol doesn’t ensure anything related to privacy when they press the compose button?

People tend to assume something private as long as the communication is established in a binary relation. Users don’t assume emails to be private in group emails but they fall back to this mental illusion when emails are being sent to one person alone. Worse: when the emails go back and forth in a “chat” style, people feel like they are in an intimate conversation that no one will ever find. THINK AGAIN.

Also, users assume that their emails accounts are safe from prying eyes. That no one is able to read what they’ve written and that keeping a good password is all that is needed for privacy in email. DON’T THINK YOUR EMAIL IS SAFE. Your company is the owner of the email server. Assume every email you send and receive as public communication.

Start treating email as a conversation held in a PUBLIC SQUARE with people walking by. 99% of the people will not listen to a single word of your conversation, but some will, and some will use that information AGAINST YOU.

If you are in a public square and you need to talk “privately” you need a code. A cypher that only you and your counterpart know and can use. In email the only way to be sure YOUR COMPANY (or the police/dictator/google/ad company) DOESN’T READ YOUR EMAIL is to use encryption — PGP, or GPG in it’s open source implementation. USE IT, LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE HURDLES OF ITS DAILY USE. Only then can you be assured of not being pried of your privacy rights like a PIG IN A SLAUGHTER HOUSE.

Using PGP is not straightforward I concede to that — but many things in life aren’t — and you cannot send a secure email to someone that doesn’t want to setup a PGP public/private key. But you can incentivise more people to use start using it. FIRST STEP TO SOLVE A PROBLEM IS TO RECOGNISE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.

Add a line like this to all your email signatures:

PLEASE TREAT ALL EMAILS YOU SEND AS PUBLIC
IF YOU NEED FULL PRIVACY USE PGP ENCRYPTION
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretty_Good_Privacy
MY PUBLIC KEY/ID IS 517F6E08

More people think that their communications aren’t safe. They need to be protected from eavesdroppers while speaking in public squares. We don’t need Get Smart’s privacy bubble, but software exists that allows us to ensure high levels of privacy. We just need to stop being LAZY.

AppleScript: search clipboard text on sixhat.net

When I’m working on something interesting I usually want to check if I’ve already mentioned it the blog. This script allows me to quickly open a new tab on Google Chrome and search on sixhat.net for a text that I’ve copied into the clipboard.

-- This script is based on a script of Computer World
-- http://goo.gl/CZgIw0
 
set url1 to "https://www.google.pt/#q=site:sixhat.net+"
 
tell application "System Events"
	set myquery to the clipboard
end tell
 
-- changes space to plus using function at end of file
set thequery to SaR(myquery, " ", "+")
 
tell application "Google Chrome"
	activate
	set theURL to url1 & thequery
	open location theURL
end tell
 
on SaR(sourceText, findText, replaceText)
	set {atid, AppleScript's text item delimiters} to {AppleScript's text item delimiters, findText}
	set tempText to text items of sourceText
	set AppleScript's text item delimiters to replaceText
	set sourceText to tempText as string
	set AppleScript's text item delimiters to atid
	return sourceText
end SaR

You can easily adapt the script for your own use by changing the variable url1 in the conde. If you prefer to use Safari instead of Google Chrome that is also easy to change in the code above.

To use the script you can use the Script Editor (AppleScript Editor in previous versions of OS X) and then save the script in your User Scripts folder (~/Library/Scripts). If you prefer you can also download the applescript and the edit from there.

Anti Ad Blockers NO VISIT Websites list

  1. Anti Ad Blockers are now being used by online publishers as a counter measure to, well… Ad Blockers.  I find this outranging and intrusive.  This is an interference with my private choice of having an ad blocker installed.

  2. If I don’t want to see Ads, I don’t see ads, PERIOD.  I can do it on TV and turn off ads during soccer breaks, so why can’t I block websites attempt to send ads down to my computer?

  3. Imagine if you could’t turn off your TV while commercials where playing?  Or if something imprisoned you in the sofa during the Super bowl break when you wanted to go to the bathroom because you still hadn’t seen a FAIR DOSAGE OF ADS — have you taken your pill today?

  4. Anti Ad Blockers are a kind of SELF-CRYPTO-RANSOMWARE for websites.  Their content becomes locked and unreadable hoping suckers/users will pay for something before checking the quality of the product.

  5. Meanwhile, users will give up on them and move on to the next thing.  Worse.  The next time they see a link to another story from the same website they won’t even bother clicking on it.  Websites that are using Anti Ad Blockers are in reality diminishing the value of their brand, because they are putting their brand in a mental NO VISIT list.

  6. The argument that they need to have some revenue from their work is flawed mainly because no one is asking them for the ads in the first place.  It was the publishing industry that first started using ads with malicious practices of tracking users via cookies and gathering information without users consent.

  7. Television and radio also have their own abusive practices like increasing volume of emission during breaks so ADS SEEM LOUDER and cut through room talk during breaks.  On the web they want to target users using ad blockers as responsible for their loss of revenue.  As if ad blocker users are SECOND-ORDER PIRATES.

  8. A solution to this race is no where to be seen in the near future.  Publishing companies need to STOP INTERFERING with client options and realise that maybe those losses are just operational costs.  Meanwhile maybe users will come up with lists of NO VISIT websites similar to the MALICIOUS SOFTWARE website listings.  The idea being to protect users from WAISTING TIME with companies that don’t respect users privacy.

Driverless bus trial in Netherlands

An electric, driverless shuttle bus has taken to Dutch public roads on Thursday, rolling six passengers along a 200m stretch of road in the first trial of its kind worldwide. — in the guardian

And this is not really much, but it is a start, although I think that having self-driving mass transit buses is going to take longer to be accepted by users than private self-driving cars. The main reason being that in the former responsibility for what happens is more diffuse. Who can take over in the case of a problem? In a self-driving car the owner ends up being accountable for what happens.

And there’s also the devil aspect of having mass transit systems being self-driven: dismissing the driver will send thousand of professional drivers to unemployment, while in the private car realm you wont see that impact.

Where are we heading in knowledge preservation?

The Internet Archive is not Google. The Internet Archive is a chaotic, beautiful mess. It’s not well-organized, and its tools for browsing and searching the wealth of material on there are still rudimentary, but getting better. — by Andy Baio

The discussion about the how to preserve knowledge and make it available in a time when many want to close down history, condemn classic books as inappropriate, and simply decide what you can or cannot think. When corporations like google intervene and fail and all their money is just another way of Lock In. We need many projects like the Internet Archive. Society need creative people to invent things, not just for the sake of making a quick buck, but because our collective knowledge must be preserved. Only by building on top of the past will we be capable of having a bright future.

Since the mid 1980s the preservation of knowledge became a new emerging topic mainly because of the digital realm that started flooding our lives. Companies started searching for ways to archive digitally the accumulated knowledge. And this is not just in the realm of the internet. It also included discussions on the preservation and digitisation of analogue works. Yes, books can be digitised and OCR’ed but how do you preserve digitally a statue? or a an Oil painting? Also what about the preservation of digital only knowledge?

This leads to many fields and many discussions and there isn’t a one solution to fit all. It also leads do discussions about copyright and open licenses and also about the longevity of the intelectual property rights — that everybody more or less agrees, are to long for the digital world.

Variety. The idea of putting all eggs in the same basket is one that we should not embrace, even if in the end it is not cost efficient. But having many projects that aim to preserve the past is important because human knowledge is fragile and ephemeral. The right nationalists movements that you see across America and Europe are an expressive attack to knowledge, progress and modernity.

If society concentrates the preservation of knowledge in few guardians, then they will be easily targeted and controlled. Books will be burned if not conforming with the ideology — Putin pulling a Bebelplatz? History repeating itself again and again?

The XXI century challenge is not to incur in the same mistakes that led us into two world wars of ignorance. For some reason stupidity has this property of being able to survive and creep into societies like a cockroach. Diversity of archival and preservation strategies and distributed systems like peer-to-peer are probably our best options to ensure that no fanatic can take control over what we are allowed to know. The march of progress might be unstoppable, but only if we all participate in it together.

Guardian Puzzle Feb 1, 2016 – The shady puzzle that will keep you in the dark

This is my solution to the Guardian Puzzle of Feb 1, 2016. The puzzle asks the reader to “design a room with straight walls in which there is a position for a single light source that leaves either part or all of every wall in shadow.”

My solution guarantees that each wall of the 6 segment polygon AFBGCE is part in shadow. The source light is D and is in center of the ABC triangle. The second triangle EFG is slightly rotated inside the outer triangle and this allows the creation of three shadow areas each affecting two walls. Don’t know if there is a simpler solution, but I don’t there is.

Play with the Points of the Inner Triangle EFG to see how they affect the shadow areas. If you can’t see the applet here you can play with it at TubeGeoGebra

Forget Inbox ZERO. ARCHIVE old EMAILS instead.

Every now and then someone talks about having a Inbox Zero. Fxxx them. It is like asking a pidgin not to crap on public statues. My email inbox is that statue, a catch all for the important emails/projects I’m working on. This is what most of us who complaint about the inbox do. I just live with all that email.

When the consciousness bells toll (usually during early January) I try to clean some old emails. Every new year I “archive” old stuff. All emails older than 12 months are out, ARCHIVED. In Google’s gmail I just search for

before:2015-01-01, label:inbox

select all, and archive, … and presto, a light (cof cof cof) inbox — who really wants inbox zero anyway? And I’m ready for a Nespresso. What else?

Feriados portugueses de 2016. O regresso do merecido descanso nacional.

Questões sobre os feriados portugueses de 2016.

  • Porque é que a república portuguesa tem feriados religiosos? Pior, porque é que todos os feriados religiosos são da igreja católica romana? Não percebo esta “politiquice” de dizer que já que se repõem os feriados civis “igualmente” se repõem os religiosos. IGUALMENTE? Mais uma vez os nossos politicos esquecem que a república é laica e parecem ter medo dos sermões de Domingo e dos votos potencialmente perdidos.
  • Feriados com ponte. Não compreendo os feriados com ponte até porque não compreendo o outro lado da moeda que é o estado dar “tolerância de ponte”. Que os feriados sejam gozados até me parece bem, mas as pontes do chico espertismo [sic] nacional já acho um exagero. Porque não fazer com que os feriados sejam gozados sempre na primeira segunda-feira seguinte ao feriado, mesmo quando calham ao fim de semana? Assim nunca se perdiam os feriados em anos em que coincidem ao fim de semana, mas também se acabava com o abuso dos fins de semana de 4 dias.

E se olharmos para a lista de feriados portugueses para 2016

TipoDiaDia da SemanaDescrição
R1 de JaneiroSexta-feiraS.St.ª Mª Mãe de Deus
R25 de MarçoSexta-feiraSexta-Feira Santa
R27 de MarçoDomingoPáscoa
C25 de AbrilSegunda-feiraDia da Liberdade
C1 de MaioDomingoDia do Trabalhador
R26 MaioQuinta-feiraCorpo de Deus
C10 de JunhoSexta-feiraDia de Portugal
R15 de AgostoSegunda-feiraAssunção de Nossa Senhora
C5 de OutubroQuarta-feiraImplantação da República
R1 de NovembroTerça-feiraTodos os Santos
C1 de DezembroQuinta-feiraRestauração da Independência
R8 de DezembroQuinta-feiraImaculada Conceição
R25 de DezembroDomingoNatal
  • Em 2016 vamos ter OITO feriados religiosos (R) e CINCO feriados civis (C). Mesmo que se desconte os Natal e o dia de Ano Novo continuamos a ter demasiados feriados religiosos no calendário. Mas claro que com um pouco de “fé” até voltamos a ter jejum obrigatório e crucifixos nas salas de aula.

2016 será o ano do carro elétrico?!

BMW_i3_02

Sabem quando estão com uma pequena comichão nas ideias e não conseguem perceber porquê? Eu estou assim em relação aos carro eléctricos em 2016.

Honestamente acho que até agora todos os carros elétricos existentes são uma bela mostra de tecnologia, que nos coloca um sorriso nos lábios, mas que não nos convenceram ainda a dar o salto.

Não há estações de carregamento, o carregamento é lento e honestamente ninguém acha que autonomias de 200Km sejam práticas. Numa viagem pelo deserto somos todos capazes de nos ver a caminhar até à estação mais próxima com um jerrycan de 5L de gasolina, mas não me parece que a electricidade venha em frasquinhos. E isto atira o automóvel eléctrico para a categoria do produto de nicho, MUITO NICHO mesmo.

No entanto

No entanto acho que 2016 pode ser um ano de viragem, principalmente porque as tecnologias subjacentes vão ter evoluções fantásticas. A baterias estão a conseguir armazenar mais energia por quilograma de peso total, os motores elétricos estão mais eficientes, os recuperadores de energia de travagem também, e cada vez mais fabricantes estão a apostar nestes veículos.

O automóvel elétrico será o produto de todos os ganhos marginais de se eficiência que se conseguir extrair da tecnologia, e serão uma realidade. Juntamente com os carros autónomos 2016 pode ver crescer de forma clara a tecnologia das baterias para automóvel.

TLDR – better man pages

We don’t need to know all unix terminal commands and how they are invoked. If, like me, you are lazy like a cicada to read through the entire man page, this app is for you.

Geeks around the world thank the time saving of this and code faster in result. No more scratching our heads for that simple command. Just go to the Github TLDR page and install this companion app to man.

BICT 2015 New York Conference

And here we go for another conference. Following the paper A Model For Foraging Ants, Controlled By Spiking Neural Networks And Double Pheromones another work on Designing Behaviour in Bio-inspired Robots Using Associative Topologies of Spiking-Neural-Networks with Cristian Jimenez-Romero and Jeffrey Johnson is going to be presented at the BICT 2015 conference (both a talk and a poster, not bad, not bad).

Meanwhile, I’ll be in Portugal at Covilhã chairing a session on riverfront research at the IECUBI 2015 conference and presenting a paper on the Random-Walk Connectivity of the plans for the reconstruction of Lisbon in the aftermath of the 1755 earthquake. Not my usual line of work this historical one, but probably one of the lines I enjoy the most.

Peugeot-Citroën de Vigo a Madrid sem mãos no volante

Claro que esta viagem entre Vigo e Madrid em Espanha parece mais uma habilidade para jornalistas do que propriamente um programa continuado de desenvolvimento. Basta ver a quantidade de engravatados que o video mostra.

O que é interessante é que quase todas as companhias automóveis tem neste momento planos de desenvolvimento de automóveis de condução autónoma e esta concorrência será certamente o driver de novas soluções.

Há um detalhe que no entanto é de se considerar que estes sistemas precisam de milhões de kilometros para que as redes de deep learning possam funcionar bem. É por isso que acho que a forma de distribuir a aprendizagem da Tesla pode acelerar rapidamente os resultados — em benefício próprio é claro.

Outro aspecto que vai ser necessário ter em linha de conta é que para que estes veículos funcionem, alguns países vão ter que harmonizar a forma de construir estradas. É fácil encontrar em Portugal situações de estradas onde se fica a pensar quem terá sido o iluminado que desenhou tal solução e que são um perigo para a condução. Estes outliers serão certamente uma dor de cabeça para os sistemas autónomos.

Dell pulling a Lenovo/Volkswagen?

You don’t need David Cameron to break encryption, or the feds, or any secret agency in the world. Computer companies are doing it gladly. Dell laptops have been found to be pre-installed with rogue SSL certificates that can allow attackers to impersonate as any HTTPS protected website. Want a backdoor? Dell will provide it quickly and for everyone with a few skills. The worrying part on this story is that this certificate is what has been found until now. Who knows what else has Dell (or other companies) done to break trust in and give access to their laptops?

Are we buying smartphone spies into our lives?

With all the “apps” you can eat (install) mantra, smartphones represent one of the biggest threats to our privacy. MIT researchers found that most popular Android Apps are killing device’s batteries with constant background covert communications. 63 percent of the external communication has no effect on user-observable functionality. The authors concluded that the covert communications could impair transparency and undermine the users’ trust in the mobile application ecosystem. The top 500 apps in google play are full of phone-home crap. What information are they sending? Why are they sending? Smartphones are empowering a new generation of users but are also challenging our rights and privacy. How can we protect ourselves from these negative impacts?

Telegram shutting down ISIS sites won’t solve the problem

While some argue that the fact that ISIS is using encryption is a good reason to break encryption — it is a little like saying that because ISIS uses guns, then the West should ban guns too (hm, might not be a bad argument after all…) — the fact is that banning their channels from existing communication services will not be enough as they will certainly setup new channels. In any case it is a measure that can have some effect on the recruitment and propaganda. If we make ISIS propaganda expensive (both in terms of cost and in terms of man-hours to setup, a bit like making SPAM expensive by forcing them to buy more servers), and with limited reach, then we might start winning part of this war. On the other hand it might also create the illusion that they are under control. Don’t get into that delusion. Telegram shutting down ISIS sites and all the active monitoring and control of ISIS propaganda is just a small step. Their activities need to be stopped on a global level.

Printing all Bibtex references into a single document

When dealing with Bibtex reference files sometimes they just grow BIGGER THAN LIFE and sometimes it is important to have a printed copy of all references for handing out to some colleagues. Well. Some people still make fire with flint.

Here is my trick to produce a printed version of all the references in my master bib file references-master.bib. together with the file I keep a references-master.tex file with the following content:

\documentclass[11pt, a4paper]{scrartcl}
\usepackage[utf8]{inputenc}
\begin{document}
\nocite{*}
\bibliographystyle{plain}
\bibliography{references-master}
\end{document}

When I need to produce an updated print of all references I just typeset this small document. The document uses the \nocite command to output all references in the references-master file.

This is also a great way to check the bib file for errors in the entries as it forces you to correct them into proper format. One by one you can fix the entries and in the end you’ll get better bibliographies in Latex that are ready to use in any paper or publication.

More stupid attacks on Encryption

The NYT reveals that the Paris terrorists used encrypted systems to communicate and organise the attacks. WHAT IS THE SURPRISE IN THIS? The stupidity is that the MILITARY want to push for broken encryption systems, and that mentality is so flawed that one has to ask HOW ARE THE INFORMATION SERVICES PROTECTING US AGAIN?

The role of encryption is to guarantee privacy end-to-end in any kind of communication. Encryption runs the world today and If it wasn’t so the world would just collapse. Financial systems would be broken and caos would be everywhere.

The military mentality behind requesting backdoors assumes that they can stay ahead of the competition. While this could be used in the context of real physical military weapons, in digital realm one has to assume that EVERY THING I CAN DO, SOMEONE ELSE CAN TOO.

That is why putting a hole in encryption will just create a new target to be used by terrorists. Please stop this stupidity of thinking that encryption has to be BROKEN BY DESIGN. The scenario would be even worse than having terrorists encrypting their communications. They would be the ones using the loopholes to create global HAVOC.

The age of easy things in software development

With the advent of App Stores in many platforms we’ve seen a change in programming paradigm and a decrease in software quality in general.

When there was no other option to sell your product other than making it so good that word of mouth would carry if forward, developers invested a lot of time in the quality of their code and great pieces of software were produced. But now, with stores and fast distribution channels for the many platforms, software developers realized that shelf time of most of their products is very short in these stores — that are the de facto channel for software distribution. This pushes software developers to lower quality software. It is not an intentional decision, but is a matter of survival and having a quick meal while the food is hot.

The tools to develop software are more accessible and widespread while at the same time more cross platform. Write code once and distribute everywhere is of interest for comercial developers that save time and optimise workflows to be more productive. This “productivity race” has created a situation where quality software is more difficult to obtain and in the meanwhile we are seeing a lot of subpar products that are cheap, but one has the feeling they will never see an update because the brains behind it have moved on to another quick-buck-to-be-made.

Can we solve this? I don’t really know if we can. A few years ago while discussing with Maria João Valente about software she was in the camp of those defending the little app developer charging some money for it and her argument against open source versions was that the paid version would have more quality because of the commitment of the developer with the client, forcing a cycle of interaction that ultimately would drive the quality of the product up. And it was hard to fight this argument. In the Mac environment there were many examples of software that were just perfect examples.

But today, with the profusion of the stores can we still say the same? I’d probably say that 90% of the paid software in the stores is useless or broken or of dubious quality. I would argue that Open Source on the other hand, with all its flaws, still offers a more rewarding experience — even if at a slower pace. And as the software production is not driven by the need to make a quick buck, its quality increases steadily over time. Is open source the solution for everything and everyone. Some will say it is, some will say no. But its importance is without a doubt different from that of a few years ago. Every time a website prompts me to visit the “App Store” I immediately ask myself it it is worth even that click.