Author Archive

Linux pretending to be Windows

Monday, March 17th, 2008

My housemate has user account on my Ubuntu laptop, which she mainly uses for browsing the web. Last night I noticed that the online poker game she was playing wasn’t browser-based, but an MS Windows application.

This made me a little nervous at first, as I believe those sort of downloads are a major vector for malware, but as a) the site looked reasonably respectable, and b) I suspect that running Windows malware in an unprivileged account in Linux is less dangerous than running it on Windows – I figure it was probably safe.

But how was this Windows poker program running on Linux in the first place? I had already installed WINE, a Windows compatibility layer, to try and run Populous: The Beginning, and when my housemate downloaded and ran the installer program, it Just Worked – she hadn’t even realized anything special had happened.

Getting Populous to run hasn’t been so easy (I’m still working on it), but well done to everyone at the WINE project for a great system!

U.S. to hunt terrorists in WoW (maybe)

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Via Schneier: The terrorism-obsessed U.S. is running project Reynarda study of massive multiplayer online games looking for “baseline normative behaviors” with the intent to “determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world”.

Terrorism aside, the research is unclassified – so it might be possible to see their results eventually.

Take study groups online and they become cheating, apparently…

Friday, March 7th, 2008 reports on a student facing disciplinary action for running a Facebook study group. Sounds like the institution took a dislike to normal study behavior just because it was happening online.

Lying and telling tales

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

“Kids lie early, often, and for all sorts of reasons—to avoid punishment, to bond with friends, to gain a sense of control. But now there’s a singular theory for one way this habit develops: They are just copying their parents.”

Really interesting article in the New York magazine: Learning to Lie.

Copyright infringement is different from theft

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Although the media industries like to confuse copyright infringement with theft*, it’s not the same thing. The Los Angeles Times has a nice article covering the subject: File ‘sharing’ or ‘stealing’?.

* For instance, the annoying would you steal… trailers, at the start of DVDs.
Whilst on the subject, the fact that you cant skip these messages about not viewing the DVD on an oil rig, etc. is a fine example of DRM – which should be enough reason for anyone to conclude that DRM is a Bad Thing.

Even hard drive encryption can be defeated

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

If an attacker has physical access to a computer, then there is no way to secure its data against him: New Research Result: Cold Boot Attacks on Disk Encryption (via Schneier).

We know where you live.

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

The New York Times has an article about the difficulties of leaving Facebook – or rather, ensuring that all your personal information is cleared off when you leave.

Briefly, to erase your presence there as much as possible, you should:

  1. Delete everything from your profile (Personal details, pictures, messages, wall posts, groups applications, etc.)
  2. Contact Facebook and request permanent account deletion.
  3. You should get a deletion confirmation – try logging in. If it asks if you want to reactivate your account, it hasn’t been deleted – bug Facebook.

More detail in the Facebook group How to permanently delete your facebook account (oh, the irony).

According to the Facebook terms and conditions, deleting all your uploads expires the license you give which allows Facebook to use them for whatever they want. However, they may still have copies on their servers. How much of your personal data is preserved when you delete it isn’t clear, and I wonder how that figures with the UK Data Protection Act.

Creating mashups involves real work

Monday, February 11th, 2008

A nice article at The Register relating the complexity in building mashups that is sometimes forgotten.

Google ♥’s the social semantic web

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

The semantic web is making steady progress in the social networking sphere via microformats like XFN and FOAF, which provide standard ways to describe me, friend, and other relationships between websites – and by proxy, their owners.

Lots of websites and tools already support these (e.g. WordPress, ClaimId,, but there’s a lot of duplication of effort required from users with, for example, having to find and add your friends in multiple social sites – adding the same relationships multiple times.

Google’s Social Graph API looks set to help solve to this by providing an easy way to identify the relationships found in their index of webpages. Social sites can ask about any URLs a user gives (e.g. their blog), and the API it will tell them about any other URLs that relate to it via the microformats, and use those to link up all the user’s me pages, and set match up other users on the site who are identified as friends elsewhere.

This API, along with other efforts such as OpenSocial, really help the web’s network effect, and make it a lot more interesting and useful.

I don’t think we have any projects in TALL that will use these tools yet, so I think some of my next tasks for my band’s website with be to see if I can automatically a) set up some relationships, and b) push out gig listings from our database into social sites like MySpace…

Have you thought about your thoracic cavity today?

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

UC Berkely is releasing videos of course lectures on YouTube (including Integrative Biology 131 – Lecture 05: Skeletal System) .

I don’t think there is anything particularly amazing about this from a pedagogical point of view, as it is just standing in front of a big room with chalk and talk – you could probably get the same facts from a text book. It’s reasonable to expect that lecturers can be more engaging and give more insight than studying a text book alone – but not necessarily true.

The most value here is in widening participation – these lectures could reach a lot of people. Combined with other online resources like Wikipedia, they can be used for learning with far less commitment (e.g. in time and money) than enrolling on an actual course.

Spread the knowledge 🙂