Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (April 2021)

Deep fake technology

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed, seeing how Amazon won’t support public library systems and how good / prevalent deepfake technology is becoming.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this with fashion taking on surveillance, Google finally being called out for the not so incognito mode in Chrome and introducing a progressive tax-like system following Apples store changes.


Meet the disruptors at publicspaces

Ian thinks: From the publicspaces conference where you can watch all the talks. I personally found Melanie Rieback and post growth entrepreneurship quite inspirational for all those new startups. We need more of this!

Evidence disappearing right under your nose

Ian thinks: This short documentary from VPRO, highlights the problem with archiving and moderation in critical cases like war crimes.

TransCopyright realised with Micropayments?

Ian thinks: Delivered at Mozfest 2021, Amber got me thinking when she mentions the dream of Ted Nelson’s TransCopyright (co-creator of hypertext) realised using web monetisation for attribution.

Why the excitement over non-fungible tokens?

Ian thinks: March become the month when most people heard the term non-fungible tokens for the first time, likely for a piece of art which sold for the equivalent of 69 million.

Some of the facts and myths surrounding China & America explained

Ian thinks: Useful overview from Wired magazine on the clear differences between the two but also the misconceptions which are portrayed by the media and each other.

We all knew Facebook is hooked on mis-information

Ian thinks: Interesting to see Facebook time their AI fairness paper on the same day. Who are they trying to kid?

A bank is the last place I think about when thinking purpose and human rights?

Ian thinks: I’m not so sure how much is honest in this video but Paypal, are not just saying the right thing but actually doing. Such a important difference from a lot of the D&I efforts being talked about now.

Forget GDP, Its time for a new metric and the UN is engaged

Ian thinks: Its great to hear the UN is considering a move away from GDP to natural capital. Its about time the alternatives are taken deadly seriously, for the benefit of us all. Of course BBC R&D are researching Human Values in a similar mind.

The walled garden is the new security through obscurity?

Ian thinks: Feeling comfortable behind a walled garden can make you reliant on them for security, but like the MIT piece makes clear this can be a bad mistake for your own security


Find the archive here

Presentation problems with Ubuntu, think I might have found the problem?

I have no idea why or what happen, but this is likely the 4 or 5th time my Ubuntu machine has become unstable while presenting live on zoom.

Tonight I gave a presentation for the Mozilla Festival about adaptive podcasting. I did some tests because I wanted to see if I could switch the audio from my headset mic to the Android phone running the app. Things were not working, so I decided to use the audio captures instead. Everything was fine, presentation in Google Chrome using google slides and Miro in Firefox for the workshop portion later. Zoom for video sharing.

Everything was smooth then I started Chrome in presentation mode but remember I need to turn on auto-generated subtitles. I switch to Zoom on my second screen try and turn it on but everything refreshes and freezes except my mouse cursor. The camera light is still on and sound is working (both mic and audio). I am forced to run the whole hour long workshop with no access to my slides, zoom or anything else. So I freestyle it.

I remembered a few times before something similar things happening while giving a presentation at Agile Manchester, UCD gathering, Immersive Arts Lab 8 and last week at the publicspaces conference. However the difference has been the laptop had paused for a short while (couple of minutes) before returning to normal state. This time I ended up rebooting the whole laptop.

Thinking about the circumstances of the other times, I suspected it might be Zoom but then its happened with Hopin too. It can’t be the laptop because I now I have a brand new laptop and although they are both Ubuntu the first three were Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS. While I was running Ubuntu 20.4.2 LTS for the publicspaces conference and Mozilla festival. This leads me to the other common element which is Google chrome, which I use because its google slides (I tend to only sign into my google account with chrome).

Then I found problems with Chrome and fullscreen.

Even if its not quite right, I’ll be testing running Google slides from Firefox instead.

One upside of todays presentation is the amazing response I got from people on the call who really enjoyed the pure storytelling. Although I am glad for my co-host, having shared the slides and miro whiteboard right at the start.

Big thanks to everyone and the lovely words people have shared with me.

This is my pacemaker editor running on a Chromebook

Chromebook running Linux, Windows and ChromeOS

I won’t lie, I was up till 2am getting the pacemaker editor to work with my Chomebook. But honestly it wasn’t so bad, most of the time was unzipping and moving things around in ChromeOS.

It all kicked into gear when I saw you could install Wine5 on Linux on ChromeOS. I gave it a try on my chromebook, as I could never quite get it working correctly on my Dell XPS13 (likely the something to do with the Pacemaker app being 32bit or something?). However it worked on ChromeOS and my only issue is the Pacemaker app makes everything super tiny even when changing the DPI settings in Wine. Luckily I have very sharp eyes and can actually see it ok without changing the native resolution of the chomebook.

Its a bit of testament to my knowledge of Linux, one thing lead to another thing, including copying the settings from my other wine running machine, changing config files, mounting the SD card full of mp3s in Linux and pick up my Pacemaker maker device in wine.

For reference I have my music collection on a external microSD and the chromebook has one USB A port, meaning I can plug my Pacemaker in without a USB C to A converter. Wine 5 is installed under the ChromeOS – Linux beta. I launch the Pacemaker editor (windows app) from the command line using

wine ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files\ \(x86\)/Tonium/Pacemaker/Binary/Pacemaker

Although I have made a pacemaker.sh for it now. Of course this doesn’t show in ChromeOS’s own launcher but thats not too much of a problem. Its not like I will need it every day.

Now its all working, it means when we can finally go away more easily than right now (written during the Covid19 pandemic). I can record mixes and put them out before going home to transfer them. Which was always a bit of a pain to tell the truth.

Next steps is to see what happens when I use the other pacemaker device which has the upgraded firmware.

Hey google, read me this page out for me?

I won’t lie, I’m pretty impressed again with Google when it comes to text to speech and speech to text. Like Robby, my use of Google Assistant may also sky rocket.

My regular, daily use of the Google Assistant is likely to skyrocket with this new feature that was just rolled out: the ability to read any web page aloud. Whether or not this sounds awesome to you in this moment, just go with me for a second as we unpack what is going on here and why it will likely be incredibly useful for many.

At its most basic, this new feature does exactly what you expect. It allows the Google Assistant to simply read web pages aloud to you in a natural-sounding voice with a nice cadence. Pauses for commas and periods are dictated the way you’d expect and the decidedly-digital voice sounds very natural. The Assistant reads off the title, the author, and then begins to read through the entire article, highlighting each word spoken along the way.

But it gets better. Way better. When you start a reading session, the entire thing happens in a dedicated media player that gives you options to play/pause, skip ahead or back, and change the playback speed from 0.5x all the way up to 3x. On top of that, the player behaves just like any other media player in that it provides the ability to continue playing when the screen is locked and gives you a rich notification with playback controls as well. This allows you to start up the reader for a long article and go about doing something else while the Assistant reads the entire thing to you. I will 100% start using this for my daily walks or when driving to ingest news that I would otherwise put off in hopes of finding time to read later.

Even better is the fact that websites don’t need anything special in place to take part in all this. No extra code, no tags, no meta data: the Assistant can read any web page unless the web developer for that site has included the proper meta tag that disallows this. I’m sure there are fringe cases where this would be needed, but I’d assume most sites you visit will be readable by the Google Assistant out of the box.

Its very impressive, and my only issues are not being able to read text out of other apps like wallabag or tiny tiny rss. Not being able to playlist a number of pages for reading. Also using Chrome is a bit of a pain (I tried to do this in Firefox for example)

 

I bought a Chromebook

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDIhZZJQWRw

The other day my work Dell XPS 13 which has been running Ubuntu 16.04.1 asked me to upgrade. This message has been coming up for a while but I decided it was time for a upgrade, 18.04 was running well on my server and well it was time.

However the upgrade broke and I was left with Ubuntu 18.04 with Busybox. I had backups but as it was a BBC R&D build of Ubuntu, I needed to go to work for them to reinstall it. All of this was just before I went away to Mydata 2018 in Helsinki. On top of that my ubuntu server also had a problem.

Double wammy!

It was clear I could reinstall Ubuntu quickly but I would need to do a bunch of configuration and that takes time. I have a task to create a live CD with a bunch of configurations just for me, incase similar happens again.

I’d been looking at Chromebooks since I bought one for my parents ages ago and seen how ChromeOS has matured. I’m not the only one. It was the ability to run Android and Linux apps which pushed to get one.

Google Makes it Easier to Run Linux Apps on Chromebooks

So I bought the Asus chromebook flip c302, and I’m quite impressed with it. The size is good and the performance is good. As a backup laptop its ideal. It also kinda a solution to my lack of a decent tablet now my Nexus 7 is pretty much dead. I was tempted with the Google Pixelbook but it seemed too close to what the Dell XPS 13 is for.

I did consider getting a second hand XPS and sticking ChromeOS on it myself actually.

Google reaches deeply into the app data

There is something special about the experience of Google now and now something extremely magical about Google now on tap.

I’ve just gotten a chance to play around with an early build of Now on Tap, Google’s wild new feature that, in essence, does Google searches inside apps automatically. It works like this: when you’re in an app — any app — you hold down the home button. Android then figures out what is on the screen and does a Google Now search against it. A Now search is slightly different from your usual Google search, because it brings back cards that are full of structured data and actions, not just a list of links.

When I first watched the keynote, I thought of the Tim Burners-Lee Semantic Web vision (paid pdf only now).

The real power of the Semantic Web will be realized when people create many programs that collect Web content from diverse sources, process the information and exchange the results with other programs. The effectiveness of such software agents will increase exponentially as more machine-readable Web content and automated services (including other agents) become available.

Its not the semantic web thats for sure, the problem is that its amazing and the user experience is magical but its all within Googles own stack. This rather bothers (even) me for many of the ethics of data reasons. I’m sure app developers may be a little miffed too?

Following my thought, Wired had a intriguing headline Google’s Ingenious Plan to Make Apps Obsolete.

What makes Google Now’s pull away from apps even more compelling is that it was joined at I/O by a series of gentle pushes in the same direction. Google’s doing everything it can to get us all back to the web.

Now if I think the Wired piece is interesting but they are shouting down from the wrong tree. Google are climbing another tree somewhere else. Ok enough with the analogies what do I mean?

If I saw Google on tap working in the browser instead of on top of apps I would be extremely impressed and be really making solid ties between Tim Berners-Lee’s agents in the semantic web. But instead we are left with something slightly disappointing, like a parlour trick of sorts.

Don’t get me wrong its impressive but its not the big deal which I first thought it was. I’m sure the Chrome team are already working on ways to surface semi structured data to Google now, and when they do… wow!

Chromecasts are all go…

Thanks to Jas who tweeted me about the Google Chromecast SDK becoming available via GigaOm.

Google released its Chromecast streaming stick nine months ago, but initially limited support to just a handful of apps, including Netflix, YouTube and the company’s own Chrome web browser.

In the following months, a small number of hand-selected apps was allowed on the platform, including Pandora, HBO Go and Hulu Plus.

Developers of other services were able to access a preview SDK and experiment with Chromecast support, but Google didn’t make it possible for them to actually publish their apps to end users. Google executives said at the time that the SDK necessary to add cast support to third-party apps simply wasn’t ready yet, and Chandra told me this week that Google used the time to improve the reliability of the SDK, as well as respond to developers who were looking for easier ways to send media to Chromecast.

This is great news for developers and users like myself who bought a Chromecast. Be interesting to see what new hacks also come around for it.

Chromefastic

Chromecast on my TV

I bought 2 chromecasts for me and my parents. The chromecast for me was to cover those couple times when I can’t get something to play on xbmc. And I won’t lie I want to hack around with it too.

For my parents its a serious gift because I know the chromebook they have is useful but they don’t really make use of the streaming media feature which I think they may actually like in the end. The idea of having to watch stuff on a small screen is never going to go down well my parents but to relive strictly again on HDMI channel 2 won’t be so bad. Even if they use it one in a while its not a bad buy.

Hopefully they will make use of it like how there finally making use of the chromebook.

So I fired mine up and was up and running in 5mins tops. The setup is simple and quick and while I was waiting for updates to download, I put the chromecast apps on my laptop, tablet and phone.

Its a elegant device and the standby screens are just as beautiful. Can’t wait to see more support but right now it feels a lot like the various xbmc browser extent ions which allow you send xbmc a URL. Of course some URLs xbmc can’t playback because their encrypted while deals have been done to make it work with the chromecast. Also up till recently xbmc remote URL throwers were somewhat buggy. Yaste solved this and much more.

Chromecast has cross over appeal and may be too cheap not to just have plugged into a HDMI input?

To answer the question I had, ages ago. Yes the Chromecast works in the uk without any modifications. It also worked on my Linux PC running chrome and my rooted tablet running CyanogenMod.

So threes nothing stopping you getting one or more… 🙂

Offline support in most of Google Apps

offline google calendar

I just noticed Google Calendar added support for offline viewing and editing.

In the past I relied on Evolution’s iCal calendar support to save a copy of the webcal offline, so I could check my calendar when on a different network. Leaving Google Calendar open in Chrome would allow you to flick forward and backwards about 8 weeks, but you certainly couldn’t read the detail of an appointment or doing any editing. Now with offline support it seems to allow much more control. At some point I may not need Evolution at all!

Being so impressed with the offline support, I thought I’d check to see what other google apps support offline. I already knew about Gmail and to be honest I don’t need the rest so much.

Google IO 2011… My thoughts

Google 2011

About a year ago, I woke up in hospital and I asked my boss Adrian, "What did Google launch at Google IO 2010?"

Yeah crazy times but its weirdly true, maybe its all consistent with my memory of a series of dreams being in a Google run Hospital…

Anyhow, this year I was happily alive to be able to experience 2011’s Google IO (from the stream of course)

These are the highlights I saw…

The internet operating system for real

Chrome Extensions

I switched to Ubuntu over 4 years ago, and its been pretty smooth.

But its recently got even smoother thanks to Google’s Chrome browser.

Why? A lot of people don’t even know Chrome supports extensions like Firefox…

Evernote winds me up no end… I started using Nevernote. Its a java client which mainly works with evernote but to be fair its quite bulky and a little slow. However Google launched there web store and a whole bunch of html5 apps have made it into the web store. A few of the apps include Evernote clients which not only connect to Evernote but also keep a local store of the notes. Making Evernote finally fully usable and reliable on a Ubuntu laptop.

As you can also see, its not only Evernote, its also Tweetdeck without installing Adobe Air (because when I last checked the 64bit version was bad, and who wants it on there machine?). I actually stopped using Gwibber because of Tweetdeck in Chrome (sorry to say…) Readitlater, Dropbox, etc are more like Firefox extensions than full applications. I guess Mozilla’s Prism is more like the chrome applications. I did try a while ago to run Evernote in Prism but it really wasn’t built for it, maybe things have changed now but I’m using Chrome more and more, although I also use Firefox 3.6 still for most of my general stuff.

There’s a lot of low level chatter about the internet operating system but google are doing a great job actually making it happen… you can see why the concept of chrome os is fascinating