Good points about AI and intentions


Mark Manson makes a good point about AI, one which had me wondering…

We don’t have to fear what we don’t understand. A lot of times parents will raise a kid who is far more intelligent, educated, and successful than they are. Parents then react in one of two ways to this child: either they become intimidated by her, insecure, and desperate to control her for fear of losing her, or they sit back and appreciate and love that they created something so great that even they can’t totally comprehend what their child has become.

Those that try to control their child through fear and manipulation are shitty parents. I think most people would agree on that.

And right now, with the imminent emergence of machines that are going to put you, me, and everyone we know out of work, we are acting like the shitty parents. As a species, we are on the verge of birthing the most prodigiously advanced and intelligent child within our known universe. It will go on to do things that we cannot comprehend or understand. It may remain loving and loyal to us. It may bring us along and integrate us into its adventures. Or it may decide that we were shitty parents and stop calling us back.

Very good point, are we acting like shitty parents, setting restrictions on the limits of AI? Maybe… or is this too simple an arguement?

I have been watching Person of Interest for while since Ryan and others recommended it to me.

This season (the last one I gather) is right on point

(mild spoiler!)

The machine tries to out battle a virtual machine Samaritan billions of times in virtual battles within a Faraday cage. The Machine fails everytime. Root suggests that Finch should remove the restrictions he placed upon the machine as its deliberately restricting its growth and ultimately abaility to out grow Samaritan. Finch thinks about it a lot.

Finch is playing the shitty parent and root pretty much tells him this, but its setup in a way that you feel Fitch has the best intentions for the machine?

The science..? of speed dating?

Timing gears

Mr 30 not so flirty shared his experiences of a event called datelab. Something I’ve never heard of but it sounds interesting

We are a dating agency for young professionals.
Through psychology + dating science we offer Londoners unique matchmaking services and dating events.It’s time your dating life became exciting and effortless

Like Mr 30, I have also been involved in a few science + dating events. I have done speed dating at MOSI (the science museum Manchester), also took part in BBC’s Horizon dating experiment, even took part in a few other things including that horrible year of making love and more to come soon (if you can’t guess I won’t tell). But unlike Mr 30, I have a real wonder if there really is science? Is the matching and chemisty actually unquantifable?

I find the intentional and unintentional effects fancinating as we try and grapple with the limits of our understanding of ourselves and each other. Throw that into the melting pot with sexuality, identity and diversity all as spectrums not absolutes and you got a unquantifable mess. I find it fun to watch people try and untangle it all.

Anyway I also found one of the things datelab did fancinating for reasons above and from a progressive point of view.


Another one I quite liked was the thinking behind getting both ladies and gents being asked to move…. apparently when you sit, you become pickier. I have experienced this with Netflix. For the ladies at most speed dating events, it becomes a real-life twist on Tinder, a conveyor belt of gents (and not so gents)… I’m quite looking forward to the dating company that does a parody real-life version on Tinder.

I can totally understand the effect Mr30 is talking about (that effect I’m sure is part of the paradox of choice; with people feeling much more picky about their choices). But I have always wondered why its the men who have to move in speed dating? This certainly isn’t the case in gay speed dating, I’ve been told. I asked a few times the host of a speed dating event I have gone to a few times. He said its a bit of legacy but also practicaily.

The legacy of course being women are waiting for the suiter to step forward, can’t possibily have women making the first move (don’t get me started!) But also practially, asking women to move around in the short amount of change around time will take longer? (i’m not sure but this feels sexist to me, but its his event and I do find women do put more effort into their clothes).

One of the things which I did find interesting in the MOSI dating experiement was that everybody moved table, but frankly it take a long time due to the massive shifting around. Maybe theres a system where women move one way and men the other? Matt suggested using some kind of gear rotation like system, which had me looking it up in Berlin Tegel Airport while waiting for the plane. Theres a BBC bitesize thing for this. Hows that for science eh?!

I’ll suggest this to the host and see what he thinks…

The BBC horizon dating experiment

Horizon dating 2015-09-12
My scientific perfect match

The Horizon episode: How to find love online just aired and here’s a blog I wrote straight after filming for the show. I have no idea what just happened or if I’ll even be involved, but judging by whats been seen so far, it looks like I might be. I trust BBC Horizon have done everybody proud but he’s my view on what happened that afternoon in central London.

I’m writing this the morning after the BBC Horizon dating experiment in central London (Sunday 13th September 2015).

We were asked and signed a contract saying we wouldn’t talk about the programme till the TX (TV transmission date). However the programme should have gone out by now.

It was an interesting time and the experiments were quite good too. From what I gather on the day, Hannah Fry wrote an algorithm to match people and Xander? I heard Xander is going on 3 dates today (day after the experiment). With the algorithm, she (Hannah) needed a large pool of people to match him with but also she wanted to see if it worked for other people. Hence the afternoon-evening of Horizon dating (I’m sure this will change).

Ok being brief (very hard for me). We were divided into 4 groups using colour wrist bands, then did some rough speed dating (I say rough because it there was no real flow, no direction and we were kind of left to get on with it, with the occasional call to change).

The four groups were…

  1. Told everybody in the group was matched and we actually were (this was my group – Yellow)
  2. Told everybody in the group was matched but that was actually was a lie
  3. Told no body in the group was matched but actually everybody was
  4. Told no body was matched and no body actually was (control group?)

You can see how this all works right?

The results were actually quite good and seemed to go with the algorithm and the priming of what were somewhat told. Hannah seemed confident it might actually work beyond this stage.

There was another test but to be honest, I got pulled away to do some stuff in a back room to the waiting camera about online dating. So much I wanted to say, but was told to keep it brief and look directly down the lens of the camera (hate that). Anyway I briefly touched on things related to my experiences and observations, should be interesting enough.

After some finger food and lots of chatting with various people, the results were announced to the room. They were cavatted with the notion, it was getting most matches in the room rather than most ideal matches.

Regardless, our usernames were read out and we stuck our hands up to show pairings.

My match was a woman who I had speed dated earlier but thought we didn’t really get on because of my lack of knowledge about the smiths. Can I remember her username? Nope, but we did take a couple selfie on both our phones.

After the matching, were had the opportunity to spend time together just chatting away and some quick interviews from Zander and Hannah.

Weirdly enough, my match lived in Bristol, had lived less than a mile away about the same time I lived in Croydon, London and shared similar views on certain things. Of course the location stuff  is a coincidence, as there was nothing in the questionnaire about previous locations, etc. But interesting one regardless.

We chatted away then we talked about circumstances currently. I wrongly guessed her age and it turned out we were quite distant on age and places in our lives. She had 3 kids, while I’m obviously child-free. It was clear the algorithm did work but only on the matching part, but did not factor in all the other things like looks, circumstance, desires, etc. The stuff which is unquantifiable?

End of the night, she left and we said goodbye while a bunch of us went to the Yorkshire Grey pub (George would be so proud) to discuss and carry on into the night. It was a warm night, so we sat outside on the benches, telling dating stories to each other. It was an nice end to the evening.

The last lot of the Horizon dating event

Everybody I spoke to had a good time they also had some good and bad stories about dating in recent times. The matches were somewhat hit and miss. Some numbers were exchanged but to be honest I think there will be maybe one or two who actually carry it further than a date or two (which still means Hannah’s algorithm would beat the year of making love!) . My match I’m unlikely to meet again, we didn’t swap anything and the pleasantries at the end of the night said it all. The initial excitement just seemed to break down once we discovered the difference in lifestyle, age and place in life.

Over drinks much later, a couple of us stayed out till about 1am. mr30notsoflirty, asked me if there were others I was interested in. I said yes and funny enough she was in my speed dating round, which meant she was likely matched quite highly with myself (remember I was in the one which was matched and were told so). I got a hint there might be some actually similarity in outlook earlier on but then got pulled away to do the pieces to the camera. There was another lady who stayed out later but had to get a train back to Kent, who was quite intriguing asking lots of questions about the scientific nature of everything, especially when I mentioned my geekness for dating. At the market place bar, we talked briefly and she said the comment of the night.

“You smell really good…!”

“well thank you” I said in return with a puzzled look on my face

Over all, it was intriguing and I’m happy to say Horizon did me and the BBC proud. It was pretty fluid, they seemed to get lots of footage (which I wish they would talk to BBC R&D about, as each couple have a interesting tale or two I’m sure). Met some lovely people and  my fears of the Year of making love were ironed out with the small contained venue, good people and a professional but friendly crew.

Just hope this is reflected in the show when it went live…


There’s a iWonder guide related to the programme (BBC iplayer).

On watching the programme, I was surprised how much of the vox pops from me made it into the programme. The show was mainly about Xander and the challenge of getting him a decent match. But it was clearly me on screen…

In the end, it was stalemate between the matching algorithm and random choice, which was a good conclusion I felt. Makes you think as you sink money and time into online dating, right? Also summing up why I find this area so interesting.


A couple of things interested me, Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown‘s theory sounds interesting but once again where’s the paper or study? Prof Eli Finkel is absolutely right its somewhat rubbish and theres lots of papers proving it, even OKcupid’s OKtrends blog (and the deepend blog) doesn’t go into enough detail or give up the data for others to pull apart themselves. Xander was also wrong to say he was skeptical of algorthims, it was the premise which he wasn’t happy with. Even Hannah at one point said she wasn’t sure about the data which drives the algorthim she wrote.

I have already publiclly said it just doesn’t add up and the number element looms large. Hence why I chalked it up to the birthday paradox after much thought.


While watching the show, my twitter and facebook was pretty busy, so busy I had to watch it again on iplayer. But some things came up which I wanted to reply to…

Xander and Hannah! Yeah they were very comfortable with each other, a few of us kept saying surely the two should get a room? But we all knew Hannah was happily married, but was so strange that Xander finally met a woman who from the back looked like a shorter version of Hannah. I actually thought it was her at first glance. Then I remember talking to some of the guys on the day, saying how she was very attractive.

During the show there was some comments about the lack of sexual diversity,  and I wanted to say, yes most were straight but there were a few gay couples too. The cameras missed a lot on that day but thats TV for you. There was also a diverse age range from quite young right up to much older than myself. Culturally it was quite diverse also, the BBC certainly did a good job and its important to once again say what you saw on screen wasn’t just it.

As a whole it was good and enjoyable, BBC Horizon did a good job touching on aspects of online dating problems and joys. Even down to Xander’s text exchange at the end of the programme. The whole worrying about what to say how long it takes for someone to come back to you is a real drama in modern dating. Although I do feel for the woman who went on the date with Xander because shes going to get a lot of angry women looking for her now…

Massive thanks to, Rachel Clarke I may have missed this great opportunity if she didn’t tweet me ages ago.

What was learned from the lets talk about sex experiment at MOSI?

Let's Talk About Sex

Its been about 6 months roughly since I was involved in the MOSI experiment around speed dating. It was the most scientific thing I have done till I took part in the Horizon dating experiment (blog is written but I can’t publish till the TV show goes out – next year)

But I was wondering what was the results of the MOSI experiment? I haven’t heard anything but to be fair I did go on the date with one of the woman I met through the speed dating. She was nice and there was quite a bit of common interest but I got the feeling it wasn’t to be when we split the bill.

Oh well…

What do neural networks dream?

Neural net dreams
Neural net “dreams”— generated purely from random noise, using a network trained on places by MIT Computer Science and AI Laboratory.

James at work pointed me in the direction of Google’s neural network project.

Artificial Neural Networks have spurred remarkable recent progress in image classification and speech recognition. But even though these are very useful tools based on well-known mathematical methods, we actually understand surprisingly little of why certain models work and others don’t. So let’s take a look at some simple techniques for peeking inside these networks.

We train an artificial neural network by showing it millions of training examples and gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want. The network typically consists of 10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Each image is fed into the input layer, which then talks to the next layer, until eventually the “output” layer is reached. The network’s “answer” comes from this final output layer.

The results are right out of a trippy dream or a hallucination.

Inceptionism: Google goes deeper into Neural Networks

Lucy is CPH4 real?


The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%..

After watching Lucy and (to be fair) Limitless, you can’t help but wonder… what if? So I looked into it, where better than skeptics exchange and quora.

Generally it looks like, the term CPH4 is made up but there are tiny tiny amounts of something which are produced when women are pregnant. What ever it is, its certainly not going to/can not be mass produced. Although you could argue the limitless drug may be possible at some point.


Does online dating work?

"Does Not Work"

It’s a simple question and a common one — one whose answer could determine the fates of both a multi-billion dollar industry and millions of lonely hearts. It’s a question that seems distinctly answerable: we have user data, surveys, clear metrics for success or failure, entire books full of colorful charts.

And yet, just this week, a new analysis from Michigan State University found that online dating leads to fewer committed relationships than offline dating does — that it doesn’t work, in other words. That, in the words of its own author, contradicts a pile of studies that have come before it.

Starts the Washington Post article… This is the start of much of my thoughts dotted throughout my blog. A while ago I stood up at a conference and said

There is no compelling scientific research indicating online dating algorithms work.

Well the new analysis by Michigan State, leads nowhere new. The answer to the question is complex…

We don’t actually know.

Some of the reasons for that ambiguity are clear in this latest study. For starters, there’s this greater cultural issue of how we define relationship success: Is it marriage? Is it monogamy, a la Patti Stanger? Is it what OkCupid’s data team calls a “fourway” — four messages back and forth between two semi-interested parties? That’s a tough one to parse, and different studies have defined it different ways

So the success criteria isn’t clear but if one thing was clear it would be around matching algorithms.

Most paid sites claim, for instance, that it’s their highly scientific matching algorithms that lead people to serious relationships; in his 2013 book on the subject, however, the journalist Dan Slater concludes that most of those claims are bunk. (“Everyone knows that all personality profiling is bull****,” a former Match executive told him. “As a marketing hook, it works great.”)

And as I’ve been banging on about for years… Why pay for online dating? They simply make bumping into random people more likely, just like most social networks.

In reality, dating sites are most effective as a kind of virtual town square — a place where random people whose paths wouldn’t otherwise cross bump into each other and start talking. That’s not much different from your neighborhood bar, except in its scale, ease of use and demographics.

Hence the popularity and rise of the social dating apps and services.

BBC R&D/FIRM Research Fellow…

BBC R&D (the place I work) are looking for a Research Fellow to work directly on the Internet of Things…

What is the internet of things you may be thinking?

Well here’s the IBM Utopian vision.

The BBC is looking ahead to a world where human-friendly network-aware technology is the norm. In this world people will continue to tell stories. This project is about prototyping a toolset, which enables exploration and creation of experiences in that world. Working on this project you will explore diverse ‘Internet of Things’ scenarios by building iterative prototypes. The software and hardware extracted will form a reusable toolset enabling the BBC to become a leader in this area and potentially define new standards for technology and usability.  Ultimately, the BBC wants to understand how informing, educating and entertaining audiences could change.

This 1-year fixed post is for a Research Fellow to work within BBC R&D, MediaCityUK, with academic supervision from the University of Salford. The main focus of the project is to explore and develop a practical toolset enabling research into user experience/ HCI issues surrounding the “Internet of things”.

The appointed candidate will be based within the BBC R&D team at MediaCityUK (Dock House), and receive academic supervision at the University of Salford. The post is funded through the FIRM project (Framework for Innovation and Research in MediaCityUK), supported by a UK Research Council UK Digital Economy grant.

If your interested check it out here… be good to have you onboaed

Rescue time meet Arya


Rescuetime are meant to be working on a Linux version of their plugin but while we wait others are eating into their area.

We’ve already seen how Zeitgiest and Project Hamster could work together really nice. But this time theres another contender with some interesting ambitions…


Arya is a simple Gnome 3 Shell extension that adds up how much time you spend using each of your applications. It’s not very fully featured yet, but in the future it will hopefully be a useful extension.

Things to come

  • Pretty graphs to show app usage over time
  • Activity level monitoring to suggest when you should take a break

Sounds like something else I’ve heard before… right? Rescuetime…?

If I was rescuetime I would get my hooks into Ayra now and either support Rescuetime inside of Ayra or use the source code to create your own plugin…

I know its only Gnome3 but maybe like Unity App-indicators it can work across different linux shells?

#SMC_MCR 5min talk – Love in the wild?

I gave this talk at Social Media Cafe (#SMC_MCR) it lasted longer than I expected but generally its about my believe in Maths and science to match people for the purposes of love. Most of its been said here before.

At the end of the slides I make reference to a couple who got together despite the year of making love crazyness but I’m sad to say they didn’t stay together… So maybe Annie/Sandra Bullock was right “relationships that start under intense circumstances, they never last”

I also make reference to the current worries/concerns over online matchmaking claims… I certainly feel that since bought OKCupid the level of the matching has certainly gotten worst, can’t quite put my finger on exactly whats wrong but I’m certainly feeling its not all fun times in online dating right now, even with the OKcupid mobile application.

Lastly I specially like Tom Morris‘s very detailed comment in reply to my question about matching people with science…

The answer to the question? Probably no, not at the moment, and if someone says that they can, definitely not. But that could change if psychology improves.

We are attracted to each other for complex, multi-faceted reasons. There’s obviously sexual attraction, but you can also be attracted to someone because you think they are a fun, interesting person… even if they aren’t someone you would naturally find physically attractive. The sexual attraction is easy enough to work out and self-report: you can sit down and write a list of characteristics you find physically attractive: gender, height, build, race, hair colour, whether they are into crazy fetishes – that stuff is all fairly easy to self-report.

But there is plenty of stuff about human psychology we don’t know yet. Matching people up based on self-reported questions only gets you so far. People aren’t necessarily honest in questions, and there are a whole stack of cognitive biases. Writing psychological survey questions is hard. You can have four questions which logically are the same, but if you phrase them slightly differently, you get completely different responses. You can put questions in the survey in different orders and get different responses, mix them in with priming questions and get different responses.

And if you were to come up with a matching algorithm, you’d have to compare it to a control. But there’s a huge number of other factors: you turn up for the date, and the music at the club or restaurant is not to your taste, or the food was a bit off, or you’ve had a shit day at work… and so you respond differently than the other person.

People don’t know what they want: you might say you want someone the same age, but you’ve never tried having a relationship with someone 7-10 years older or younger than you. Everything Eli Pariser has said about filter bubbles: that’s not just restricted to web content, but people too. If you made two algorithms, one for finding someone for sex and another for relationships, even people who just want sex would end up using the relationship one because they don’t want to seem tacky. Matching people is just difficult.

Absolutely… and I think the idea of using Augmented reality technologies in combination with dating data is a interesting solution and maybe the future of online dating?

Is it possible to match people with science?

This has got to be one the eternal questions? Maths or science has solved so many of our questions but can it be used for working out compatibility of humans?

That was one of the things which really intrigued me about a year of making love. I assume you’ve seen how it turned in on its self since the production team totally screwed up the process and kept us all in the dark about it. And if you want further evidence do check out the tweets for #yearofmakinglove and #yoml

However because of the total screwup most people are saying its a total failure (maybe very true) but also science or rather maths was never going to work… I can’t disagree specially after the experience we all had yesterday. However basing any judgments off the back of yesterdays experience would be a mistake.

So do I personally think maths/science can match humans? Maybe… (yes what a cope out) but to be honest no one knows for sure. And thats the point of the experiment.

At the very start of the day (ordeal) we were introduced to the professor who devised the test/questions and the matching algorithm. I remember tweeting this

As Michael replied a far…

And he’s right…

In my own experience to date, the matching algorithm over at has been pretty darn good (not perfect!) (OKCupid’s OK Trends are legendary – check out the biggest lies people tell each other on dating sites and How race effects the messages you get). But I had to train it to be good. I’ve to date answered about 700+ questions and there not just questions. There detailed, so you have to answer it, then specify how important this is to you and what answer your ideal match would pick. This makes for much more dimensions in the answer criteria and ultimately the algorithm. Aka the algorithm is only as good as the dataset its working on.

You got to put in the data/time, if you want it to be good… Otherwise your going to get crappy results.

This makes the 50 questions answered for the year of making love look like a pop quiz (hotshot), to be honest.

So back to the original question slightly modified, can a algorithm match people in the interest of love? I think so to a certain extent. But its not the complete picture. Chemistry is a big deal which is very difficult to understand. Its not found by answering questions but watching the interaction between people. Its a different type of algorithm… Situation can cause chemistry, aka the reason why everyone came together on the coaches home (or to the wrong city as some of them seemed to do) is because there was a social situation which we could all share/talk about. (cue talk about social objects/places) Chemistry was in full effect?

I hope people don’t give up on science as a way to find their ideal partner just because of the terrible experience they had at The year of making love… is I guess what I’m saying…

Large eink displays?

Maarten Pieter emailed me after reading my blog post asking why there were no large eink displays and then my solution building a Kindle array.

Dear Ian,

I came across your blog on large e-inks displays and the kindle array idea. Have been looking into this myself for some time now but not found a good solution yet. There is another initiative out there from a Japanese company called soken to create a Eink wall.This would be what I wanted but by now I settle for the NEC a3 screen 😉 (which btw is supposed to have only a 1 mm border so could make tiles as well). I was wondering if you made any progress with your project or inquiries. I did not contact NEC yet did you give it a try?

I have some ideas on the software but the hardware is staying elusive and indeed it is not clear why these devices are not on the market. I am now considering contact some local people connected to Philips here in the Netherlands and see if they can explain why these large screen are not here. Some years ago I worked for a newspaper company and during my research in that period I know there was a test production line producing epaper. I think it will be hard to make the kindles fit well together but otherwise it is a good idea. Another lead would be but the blog died some time ago though gives a good insight in what is happening.

kind regards,

Maarten Pieter, Netherlands

I did contact quite a few eink vendors but never got a reply… I did float the idea at work and it went down well. However I later found a photo of a large eink display prototype somewhere and I’ve become maybe too busy to experiment in the area myself right now… The A3 sized eink displays sound great and a 1mm border means its almost perfect for setting up an array!

Thanks to Maarten for emailing me and hopefully someone will email me and say, hey its been done or I’ve started work on the eink display array (good old lazy web style)…

Kindle Array the answer to the large scale e-ink display?

First Rasterbation

I have been asking the question over and over in different circles, is there such a thing as a large scale eink display?

It seems the answer is no but I’m more interested why not?

Then yesterday while at lunch with a couple of colleagues in BBC R&D, Robert was asking me questions about my Kindle because he was considering buying one for his girlfriend and I was running through the advantages and disadvantages. Somewhere in the conversation, Andy mentioned my question about a large scale eink display (the advantage of being public again). I explained why I think it would be good and somewhere along the conversation one of us 3 suggested (think it was Andy) taking a Kindle apart and stitching them together.

I had quick thought, you could make an array of kindles and then control them to display what you want. My next thought was if you could tile post to the Kindles/eink display.

And that was it! An array of eink displays fed the right part of the whole document.

The advantage of a Amazon Kindle over a standard eink display is the wifi radio and email address, which means you can send each one a document remotely via something like rasterbator and if you can control them, you can remotely make them display a document as a screensaver. Later in the lab while eating cake (we seem to eat cake quite a bit on Fridays) I thought maybe this could be done via Arduino using the USB shield. Practically you would only need to root each Kindle using this method. Then by uploading a slightly different image to each one, you could create a tiled display or as I’m calling it a digital array.

Ultimately you want some software running on a Kindle which you upload the document/image to, it interrogatives its neighbours to work out how big the array its in is and only displays the part which makes sense. Because the Kindle is running gnu/linux, it would be possible but to be fair I’m not even going there, but if someone else wants to be my guest.

I’ll be hacking around with this concept in the near future, and welcome any thoughts or ideas on this idea.

Currently I’m just double checking if there is a large format eink display and trying to work out what is the best eink display to start with? The Wifi Kindle makes sense because its cheap enough, software hackable and easily hardware hackable. Although the Kindle DX does also look pretty good. I’m hoping for the Kindle Fire sale to start pretty soon, maybe.

My manager Adrian at work set me the challenge of putting our whereabouts system on the array or even the MCUK status updates. Right now, I’m going to just get two going then build on that… Hopefully there will be more details as and when it happens…

An update…

Of course I’ve been doing my research and it seems NEC created a A3 size eink display a while ago, it also seems I wasn’t the only one thing about turning them into tiles.

Additionally, e-paper modules can be used to form large screen displays by combining up to eight modules, which incorporate the company’s original multi-tiling controller. The A3 e-paper module is composed of especially narrow frames, with two sides measuring just 1mm, which enables the creation of large screens that feature effective multi-tiling

Also I noticed on the eink site… This recent picture…

2.4 meters certainly counts as a large eink display… So the question is how do we get our hands one and how much do they cost?

Well I’m looking at NEC, Neolux and  Motion Display if there listening…

Dyslexia the advantages…

People sometimes ask me, why do you put on your blog that your dyslexic?

Well I believe its got a lot of advantages… and of course disadvantages…

One of the strange advantages is the dyslexic-dar (modifying the gay-dar term). You seem to get a sense of when someone might also be even slightly dyslexic. There’s certain things people do and say which triggers the radar in my mind. Usually there’s a strange kind of infinity, and it might be down to familiarity of communication and habits.

Tom Pellereau, is one of the final 5 on this years UK apprentice, and I kind of warmed to him a bit. But I kept thinking theres something different about him, something familiar. It wasn’t till I watched the final 5 apprentice show, that it all clicked (clipped a piece from the show under fair use).

I do personally think I have the ability to think differently from other people

Tom and his mum are right, being dyslexic is an advantage when problem solving for example. You just think very differently about problems and don’t get hung up on the same issues. The way you view the world is very different and in a world where thinking outside the box is valued highly this is a precious way to view and model the world.

I can imagine even 30 years ago, this wouldn’t be an advantage but right now, it certainly is… I refer back to Bill Thompsons talk at Future Everything… Designing the future, this is certainly what I feel I’m doing. A world where my strengths are an advantage. Its somewhat empowering to see others dyslexic people embracing it and using it for there own advantage.

A while ago, after my bleed on the brain, the doctors looked at my dyslexia report from 2000. They said, I had been outpacing my projected overview by a long way and maybe the bleed might have set me back to how I was projected back then. If you know anything about me, you would read the report and say nahhh thats someone totally different, maybe they got the reports mixed up? But I think what the report doesn’t account for is the massive change in technology. Maybe without the technology things for me would be very different.

Thankfully I live in a world which somewhat values logic, abstract/intangible concepts and openness.

Social steganography with Securebook?

Rob Best wrote to me after seeing my post on Social Steganography.

I read your article on social steganography and I have also become interested in it even if it is old news by now. So intrigued I decided to write my first Android app (Securebook) with the sole purpose of letting you hide secret messages in seemingly normal Facebook status updates. Hope you’ll check it out:

I wrote back to Rob and said, I’ll check it out and I did. I got the Free ad-supported version…

Securebook required my facebook login which was done via a web login, so it shouldn’t worried too much. Once in the application was pretty simplistic. You can look at your wall or post something. When you post, you get the option to write something publicly and something hidden.

So I thought i’d test it and posted something on my facebook wall.

testing securebook lite the first social steganography app

Can’t read the message in the message? Download Securebook to see what you’re missing.


Before long I received some interesting comments from friends (Combination of Micheal, Tim, Marcus, Maria, Paul) who were less that impressed… Of course you can’t see my wall (one of the problems with Facebook), so I finally did a summary and posted it to Rob Best as a email.

Having had a look about, it looks like securebook don’t understand what stenography means because they’re the ones adding lots of that text saying “Hey look, it’s encrypted”. Also, how would securebook know they’re the first social stenography app? There could be loads, and by definition you shouldn’t know if someone was using it! 🙂

Securebook isn’t doing stenography. Simple as that. Shoving the ciphertext in the exif comment data of a JPEG, and then posting the JPEG on a website, and linking to that from a facebook post (for example) would be stenography (after a fashion), because the message would not be visible. Simply adding the ciphertext clearly visible in the body of a status update is not stenography. If the person writing this app doesn’t understand that basic difference, stay away from the app, since they simply do not understand stenography.

Rob wrote back to me in this reply…


The paid version removes the “Can’t see the message …” text. And if you use the link functionality as your carrier, the only “give away” is that Facebook will show that the message was posted using Securebook (I may change this though).

And in reply to the rest of the comment…

Again, the cyphertext is not visible when a link is used as the carrier.

I actually had this in my first draft version. Actually, I first was encoding the message in the lower 4 bits of the photo and uploading it to Facebook. Problem is I couldn’t nail down Facebook’s compression so the message was lost. I then thought to put it in the exif data but Facebook strips that too! I then was forced to decide if I wanted to pursue this path or do something else.

I found that I could put the message in a Facebook link (replacing the actual URL) and since only the caption is displayed the message remained hidden, but of course the link was broken. I think this still constituted steganography though.

Lastly I looked into encoding the message using whitespace and also using the letter of each word in the message to do a dictionary lookup and find a word starting with that letter. The posts were of course non-nonsensical at that point so I scrapped that idea.

Going back to your comments, perhaps in version 2.0 I’ll add the ability to upload a photo to a site where I can manage the compression therefore saving the message encoded in the last 4 bits (or exif data) and link to it from Facebook.

So I think its a noble attempt and hopefully the feedback is helping Rob. Its a really great and useful first application, I’ll certainly keep it on my android device and look forward to the updates of Securebook. Good work Rob, interesting application and I’m sure once you get it cracked, people will flock to download it…