Asking for help by Brainjamming…

Back row

Marc Canter, the founder of Macromind the company which became Macromedia. Messaged me recently as he wanted to let me know about a new type of event called a Brainjam. Marc is fantastic guy and I had the joy of having him talk at London Geekdinners way back near the start of it.

Join a community of your peers who are committed to the development of a better world by building bridges between diverse perspectives and differing opinions in order to develop solutions cooperatively, instead of through activism by opposition. Following our first event in Washington DC on October 9, and a second one in San Francisco, CA on October 22, our movement’s founder, Chris Heuer, will briefly share his vision for We Are the Solution and facilitate one of his signature unconference conversations, a BrainJam, to connect you with other people, ideas and resources that will help you to accomplish your goals and live your life’s purpose.

What does that mean? Well, to put it simply, we are building a community of communities for leaders, concerned citizens and others interested in social good so that you may help each other in ways big and small. So it’s a kind of networking event with a specific emphasis on ASKING for help from each other and finding opportunities to share your gifts by making connections that might not otherwise happen if we didn’t sit face to face in conversation with each other.

Reading about it… Sounds something between the original spirit of BarCamp with a bit of the share one moment events.

I do wish I could be in London for it but with the week of events and talks coming up, theres no way I can do this too. I mean my life packed solid with too much already. Of course if you are in London or Dublin. You might want to check out the events.

It also kind of reminds me of Makerba.se which recently went into public beta and the well loved Google Schemer but  in real life. Maybe brainjam is a inspiration network? Very fitting as the workshop  at Thinking Digital Manchester is all about shared opportunities, genuine connections and collaboration.

There was also a conversation about what next after BarCamp, some people were kicking about a long while ago.  Maybe Brainjams? Maybe a brainjam in Manchester is a good idea? Sounds like something we tried to do with common ground a while ago.

Lots to think about… but if you are in London or Dublin, get yourself down to one!

My home network explained again

My Home network setup

So this is a turn around from my now usual ranting about dating…

Last Friday, we were in the northern quarter and some how got around to talking about networking. I mentioned I had 3 gigabit switches and everyone asked why the heck have you got 3 gigabit switches? To which I tried to explain, very badly. So I promised to do a diagram of why I need those switches and not just extra long cables.

So here it is… Funny enough its not the first time I’ve explained my home networking setup. With a little more time I might have done something a lot more attractive.

First thing is the rooms are serial not exactly how you see them above. Aka the bedroom is as far away from the living room as possible and the spare room is in the middle of them both. Ok maybe I should consider redrawing them… The ADSL2 line works best off the main socket in the cupboard (Its how I can achieve my 1.5meg upload consistently rather that 1meg upload). The next room with power is the spare bedroom, where the ADSL2+ router lives. The router is only 10/100, so I use it just as a modem but I’ve recently been turning on the 54G wireless and using it for guest connections. Turns out at the time it was very difficult to get a ADSL router with gigabit wired points, might not be true 2 years later.

The next step into the network is the WRT firmware upgraded Switch complete with 108N wireless. Because its running WRT I can do many things like Quality of Service (QoS), VPN and port knocking for remote access. I class this part the inners of my home network.

Due to the room layouts, I’ve decided to string the network together by putting a gigabit switch in each room. This means I only have to feed one cable room to room rather than 4+. As you can see I have about 4 devices in the bedroom and living room and thats not including a spare one for guests.

So why wired and not wireless? As I live in a set of flats, theres a lot of people with those BT/Sky boxes on random channels (would show how messy it is but you can imagine). The wireless is good but not really for sending full HD videos to my TV without waiting 5 secs for it to buffer and maybe some pauses in the middle. If I switch to wired 100megbit networking, its fine but if I start to do a large transfer over the network, for example if I’m working on some footage on the server at the same time, its noticeably slower and you may get slight pauses. Now I’m certain it might actually be a IO issue with my 54000rpm disks. But I get nothing like this with my gigabit network.

Once I went Gigabit, everything just worked smoothly. I don’t ever see any latency issue, even when streaming stuff to the Xbian in the bedroom at the same time. I once did a test of both my Lenovo XBMC and RaspPI playing Inception at 1080p with me pulling the same file to my laptop. Although the PI struggled playing it back, everything seemed to work as expected. I bought into Gigabit at the point when it just dropped in price. My laptop, Server, Lenovo XBMC box, etc have gigabit ports so it was a no brainier really.

I am keen to try out 802.11AC but right now my main focus is to replace my Lenovo XBMC box which outputs in VGA to the LED screen. This is why I was trying out Simon’s Ouya. I already removed all other desktop machines from the network (got 3 mini desktop machines in the spare room to get rid of).

So thats the crux of why I got 3 gigabit switches…

Feel free to talk about other solutions but they need to be cheapish and not interfere with much else. Its worth pointing out the runs of cables between the rooms are roughly 20meters long. I will at some point drill into the walls but not quite yet. Finally I looked into powerline solutions but there pricey and I’m not sure of how good they are in a set of flats. Think I prefer a ethernet cable, as I would end up with a setup similar to what I have now.

Decentralised networking is hard, no really?

Sydney, January 2009

Straight out of the “No Sh*t Sherlock…” book….

Although I think its amazing what developers do, I can imagine how hard it must be to write decent decentralised software. The Diaspora guys spell out how difficult it is… which Adwale likes to make sure I and others fully understand.

  • If you build a decentralized application, you actually need to ship software. You need to package, test, create installers, test on a variety of platforms, write defensive code to work around misconfigurations your customers are likely to create, etc. For a centralized website, you can often edit files in place on the production server.
    Result: decentralized is 10x harder at least.
  • Somebody somewhere will run every single version of your app that you ever shipped. It will be badly out of date, full of security holes (you fixed years ago), outmoded graphics etc. It will cost you additional support, and your brand will suffer. Almost nobody upgrades to the latest and greatest within a life time it seems.
    Result: decentralized is less functional, less pretty, and less secure.
  • Decentralized software is much harder to monetize. You can’t run ads on somebody else’s installation. You can’t data mine your users (because most of them aren’t in a place that you have access to, it’s somebody else’s installation). You can’t do cross-promotions and referrals etc. You can charge those people who install your software, but there’s a reason most websites are free: much better business.
    Result: decentralized produces less money for you, so you have less investment dollars at your disposal.
  • Database migrations and the like for decentralized apps have to be fully productized, because they will be run by somebody else who does not know what to do when something fails 15 minutes into an ALTER TABLE command.
    Result: decentralized is 10x harder at least.
  • Same thing for performance optimizations and the like: it’s much easier to optimize your code for your own server farm than trying to help Joe remotely whose installation and servers you don’t have access to.
    Result: decentralized is slower, more expensive, and harder.

Frankly although I take the points… If you want to stand out in a clearly over crowded field, and one which has a major elephant using up all the space. You need to think differently (to quote someone we all know too well).

This means doing the difficult things which no one understands and owning the platform!

Your business model should/could be charging other developers to build and be creative on top of your platform. App.net have got the right idea, charge the developers who then create the experiences. Your focus should be on managing the platform and supporting their creativity. Anything else is greed and/or lack of focus.

What do I mean by creativity? Think about Tweetdeck

Tweetdeck innovated on top of the Twitter platform and in the end the platform twitter bought them (stupid move). Tweetdeck for a lot of people made twitter usable at long last. The amount of news rooms I’ve been to and seen tweetdeck with a million panels open is untrue. The same isn’t true now… Tweetdeck guys innovated on top of Twitter and instead of sharing revenue with them or something. They bough them…!

A quote which comes to mind is something like…

The train company thought they were in the railroad business, what they didn’t get was that they were actually in the transportation business.

I really like twitter but frankly their control/greed/whatever is getting out of control. While on a panel yesterday at the London transmedia festival in Ravensbourne College. I was sat with Danielle from Tumblr, Bruce from Twitter, Cat from BBC and Doug Scott from Ogilvy. Although its tempting to make a few comments about there change in stance, I passed. Although I did notice say something which could be seen as slightly negative. Doug said how useful Twitter is for understanding users and I agreed but I said,

“Well its important to remember Twitter is only explicit data, implicit data is the stuff people really want to get there hands on…”

Anyway, the point stands and its hard to see how Twitter will get into the implicit data game at this point. If they acted like a platform, maybe someone else would do the innovation for them. But back to the main point why would you do it on someone closed system?

Decentralised network systems are harder but will drive much more interesting creativity… I can see how this might be at odds with setting up a business, startup and having investors etc… But I’m sure I could make a argument that its better in the long run…

What ever happened to the PAN?

Hooping

I remember ages ago when I was at University the concept of a Personal Area Network was heavily talked about but over the last 10 years I have heard very little about it. Now with the internet of things (IoT) coming into full effect, it seems a very good time to revive it from its dormant sleep?

From Wikipedia

A personal area network (PAN) is a computer network used for communication among computerized devices, including telephones and personal digital assistants. PANs can be used for communication among the personal devices themselves (intrapersonal communication), or for connecting to a higher level network and the Internet (an uplink). A wireless personal area network (WPAN) is a PAN carried over wireless network technologies such as IrDA, Bluetooth, Wireless USB, Z-Wave, ZigBee, or even Body Area Network. The reach of a WPAN varies from a few centimeters to a few meters.

The PAN should always operate in your benefit and not against you. Devices can freely communicate within the PAN but not so easily outwards. I imagine it would work something like a 2 way firewall blocking items within it from communicating out and vice-versa. As devices enter the trusted PAN zone, then permissions will be granted to allow external access, etc.

This does beg the question of how you do these type behaviours on a device with no buttons, screen, etc. But to be honest that’s a lovely interaction design problem to solve.

Fancinating to also see where the PAN is in the greater network topology…

Would be great to be able to specify rules based on the position of the thing/device. For example if an thing is classified/identified itself as needing to be on the BAN (body area network) then you can say its only allowed to talk to the PAN and never the NFC layer for example. Maybe it should come with defaults but they are changeable like the permissions used when trying to connect via OAuth.

Once again I’m not sure how to surface this to the user without some kind of external access like how you configure routers and switches now. But someone is working on it now I’m sure of that…

I quite like the Hula Hoop analogy. You can have multiple, some are bigger than others and some will overlap. You can even hula hoop around certain parts of the body rather than just your hips. Hula hoops are also shareable and I guess you can fit more than one person within them. However it still doesn’t explain how you control the wiring/influence/networking of the devices/things…

Playing with Twitter, but I’m not all that happy yet

Twitter screenshot

After hearing Ryan Freitas talk about Twitter among other things, I've been trying out it out. If you don't know what Twitter is, check out Derek Powazek's description.

Twitter lets me SMS to a group all at once and creates a handy 'what I'm up to right now' insert for my site. A kind of in-situ, realtime, status message blogging. Fun!

So yeah its a good way to send short timely messages to a pool/group of friends. Those messages can be text messages (sms) or even im using jabber. It sounds really good but it has problems. Tantek posted up shots of ways to improve the pretty poor signup process. But I've been having problems registering my work mobile phone which is on O2 with Twitter. What also bugs me is the fact you can only register one mobile number. Yes I know its rare people have more that one mobile, but those who would use Twitter are much more likely to have 2 phones or 2 lines. My other issue is around adding your friends. Please please, allow me to add either my flickr network, upcoming network (why flickr and upcoming don't interop, is still beyond me), Plaxo contacts or even a Foaf file. I just can't be bothered to setup another network of friends in Twitter.

I do see the use of Twitter, specially for setting up adhoc geekdinners and getting people organised. But I would prefer to see Twitter used as an output point for messages. So I could send messages to it from almost any application or service and it would amplfy it to a certain group. Maybe it can do this already, it has an API so its certainly possible.

My username on Twitter is cubicgarden under the name of ian forrester, as you'd expect.

David Czarnecki has wrote a Twitter Plugin for Blojsom 3.0. Its currently in CVS but it will update twitter when there is an update or new entry to a blojsom blog. Damm I need upgrade to blojsom 3.0.

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Ultra Wifi is coming

11.99 pounds unlimited wifi

This arrived in my inbox today.

Thank you for registering your interest in Ultra WiFi. We've been thrilled by the response to the offer and we are pleased to announce that Ultra WiFi will go on sale July 4th. It's a big step forward for WiFi in the UK as Ultra WiFi will finally bring people the great value, always on, internet access on the move they have been asking for.

Ultra WiFi is unlimited low-cost WiFi for just £11.99 per month. You commit to a 12 month contract and we commit to bring you low cost all-you-can-eat WiFi at Cloud hotspots and Hotzones across the UK.

With over 7,000 Cloud hotspots across the UK, including 9 city centre hotzones and hundreds of new sites every month, we are confident that no other WiFi provider can match this offer in terms of price and coverage.

We will email you next week so you can sign up for Ultra WiFi directly from The Cloud website.

Kind Regards

The Cloud Networks
Your wireless route to the Internet

Please see www.thecloud.net/ultrawifi for details.

Well like I said previously, its tempting. I mean its far off most broadband costs and everything mobile device I own, supports wifi including my phone. I like the idea of running Skype on my phone, specially now I know it works thanks to David. Yes I understand the cloud isn't everywhere and there are others like Fon arriving on the scene everyday. But to be honest, everywhere I tend to go has the cloud. Hummm, I might wait this one out a little and see what happens.

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VPN tunnel your way to safe ground with Hamachi

Hamachi on windows

What is Hamachi?

Hamachi is a UDP-based virtual private networking system. Its peers utilize the help of a 3rd node called mediation server to locate each other and to boot strap the connection between themselves. The connection itself is direct and once it's established no traffic flows through our servers.

Hamachi is not just truly peer-to-peer, it is verifiably secure peer-to-peer.

Believe it or not, but we are able to successfully mediate p2p connections in roughly 97% of all cases we dealt with so far (few tens of thousands as of early March). This includes peers sitting behind different firewalls and/or broadband routers (aka NAT devices).

Oh my goodness, if you have not tried out Hamachi and want access to your home network from elsewhere. You need to try it out! I heard it about it ages ago but dismissed it because I didnt really see the need. Well that was before I learned about how insecure Wifi can be. So during hearing this week's Security Now podcast

I spent a hour checking out Hamachi. At the moment it runs on Windows and Linux but after verison 1.0 (there currently 0.99) it will be developed for the Mac too. I dont see why you cant run the Linux version on a Mac command line but I'm sure there is a reason. So anyhow once you got it installed you can follow the Wizard which is a little too simple but good for those not deeply into networking, its easy to escape at anytime.
Once your setup its just a matter of making a new network or joining another one. You can easily make one and the the security is then all hanged off your stupidly impossible to crack password. GRC recommends some 63 character password string which can be generated here at the High security password generator. I actually went for a stupid 96 ASCII character password with all types of characters. I'll switch it down to 63 because Hamachi uses a 256bit AES crypto for authentication. After setting the password and name of the network you can go to another machine and do the same but this time hit join and enter the same details.

Before you know it your on a new type of network. Actually a 5.x.x.x IP address. I didnt even know you could actually have one of those for a network, I always thought 10.x.x.x was the lowest things went. Ok so once you got two machines on the same p2p network your away. I was able to tunnel out of my work network and on my own computer at home and launch VNC and access the net and machines attached to the same physical network. Everything is accessable and the speed is amazing. Oh yeah by the way, I only had to open one port on Smoothwall for it to work, most firewalls and NAT environments can be traversed without opening ports and port forwarding according to the Hamachi creators. I did nothing to the work network, like Skype it just worked. Crazy but true. I also tried using Hamachi with some of the sniffing tools out there and glad to say it works perfectly. All traffic is secured and even insecure connections like POP3 retrivial can not be discovered as it all looks like normal web traffic. Honestly I cant wait for version 1.0 of Hamachi. Its solved so many of my problems its untrue.

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