Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Abbott Government Bullshit

Something that has been in the news all week is the “shocking” revelation that some Australians have left to fight in conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Sounds bad, but it is not something new. Young and stupid men have always gone off to the world’s trouble spots to fight since antiquity and before.

Bringing this very old fact to the surface right now is all about politics and it disgusts me. The people of Iraq and Syria are being used by the Abbott government simply to scare the public into giving their support to the government. They know that in dangerous times the public tends to support the incumbent government. It is just a sad cynical exercise to distract us from the budget aftermath and several other things that the government has done to upset voters.

Just a couple of things that the Abbott government has done:

Appointing a new human rights commissioner Tim Wilson a former Liberal Party member, vocal conservative commentator, former member of the right wing think tank the Institute of Public affairs, a man who once argued that the human rights commission should be shut down.

Abolishing the position of disability discrimination commissioner a position filled by Graham Innes – a blind man.

Scrapping funding for the ABC Ramp Up website edited by Stella Young - another disabled person!

Planning to introduce a ridiculously over generous paid parental leave system. Why should somebody who earns over $1 million get any money from the government? Women who are millionaires are probably just as perplexed by this as I am.

Appoints a Cabinet with 17 men and only one woman. Out of the 32 other government roles only 8 are women.

Forcing young people to wait six months before receiving the dole which has the potential to simply increase the crime rate probably costing more money than they save.

Making it more expensive to go to University.

Introducing a $7 fee to go to the doctor. This might not sound like much but to some people on a disability or carers pension, and others, who are living really close to the poverty line it could mean a choice between having an empty stomach or going to the doctor. Then somebody doesn’t get the antibiotics they should have got and ends up in the hospital with a far more serious illness - costing the government far more than $7.

I see a pattern here with minorities such as students, the poor and the disabled being disadvantaged, but the super wealthy actually benefiting. Making lots of little cuts instead of a couple of big cuts (negative gearing) is stupid in my opinion. All it does is make the government look petty and cruel. Many of these cuts could damage our country in the long term and maybe end up costing more money than the amount saved

I see a pattern here with minorities such as students, the poor and the disabled being disadvantaged, but the super wealthy actually benefiting. Anyway, I’m not going to waste any more time grumbling about this.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Meet Cyclops!

Over the past couple of weeks Nick has been playing around with an AI vision library called Open CV with the Emgu CV .NET wrapper. Anyway, he finally got it to recognise a circular object and this morning he created a 3-D printed mount to attach his web cam to a servo so it could track objects - and Cyclops was born! I came up with the name…

Cyclops continues to be very disagreeable and refuses to look at the object or at anyone - especially if they are dressed in red.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Evitable Conflict*

The recent loss of a court case for Google and the current protests by cab drivers against Uber are two examples of a coming conflict between a new technological elite and what could be termed as the old world. The old world represents the physical, the status quo, patents, copyright parliamentary democracy, some multinational corporations and entrenched bureaucracy. The technological elite believe in the free flow of information - think open source.

One example of this conflict is the way car dealers in America feel threatened by the way Tesla Motors does business selling cars over the web and not in dealerships. They wish to force Tesla into selling cars the way they have always been sold.

Another example is the music industry. Many record companies felt threatened by the advent of the Internet, because it allowed people to easily send music tracks to each other. Instead of embracing this new technology they branded it a “fad” and fought it tooth and nail until it magically disappeared – it didn’t. If they had have listened to some of their younger employees they could have developed their own peer-to-peer file sharing network and actually made more money over this period. Now programs like bit-torrent are entrenched and the record labels may disappear for real.

This technological elite, for want of a better term, believes that information should be free. Not free in a socialist sense just that our society would be richer, with greater freedom and economic activity for it. This group likes to push the boundaries. They believe that the Internet is a force that will unite humanity and make us truly equal. Anybody who has an Internet connection now has access to the sum of human knowledge. The biggest reason why there is such inequality in the world is simply that education is not shared equally. The Internet will change that if we are able to give everybody equal access to it. With the cost of electronic devices plummeting this may just be possible.

It is amazing what can become accomplished with the current crop of open source software and hardware. But many of the products we use are still proprietary. When hackers started to use the Microsoft Kinect in all sorts of computer vision and robotics applications Microsoft freaked out. But eventually Microsoft realised that this could actually help sell more products and actually started to assist hackers and are now releasing a version built specifically for them.

Some computer game makers actively assist users to “mod” their games. Some users can add features to the game and help make a game much better, in every way, than it would otherwise have been. This benefits the user experience while also selling more games.

Imagine what could be accomplished if every company and government allowed free access to formally closed information. Tesla motors obviously believes in this philosophy as they have just released all their patents to be used by anybody.

It is obvious to me that there are many laws that are holding us back socially, technologically and economically. You may say that corporations and inventors need to be able to protect the investment that they put into develop programs and products. But this has always been a balancing act between the free flow of information and protecting investor interest. It is a myth that getting rid of the patent system will destroy innovation – the open source software movement proves this.

The secret to our future prosperity lies in the free flow of information. I can show you two Melbourne based businesses that prove that free flow of information is good for the economy. Nine years ago a group of students in Italy developed a cheap easy to use microcontroller called Arduino. It was an early example of open source hardware. Since then it has become a lot cheaper with some clones being delivered to your door for $8.00.

A group of Arduino hackers from Melbourne wrote a book called Practical Arduino it sold well but the authors were soon inundated with requests for kits and stuff to help with the projects in the book. So they started a business called Freetronics and have gone on develop their own versions of the Arduino called the Eleven, EtherTen and others.

Another company called M9 Design have created an Internet of Things (IoT) device called the "MeshThing" which can be used to create low-cost networks throughout an environment such as home, business or anywhere. The MeshThing will one day be a part of many IoT devices from sensors to wearables to applications nobody has thought of yet. Their aim is to reduce the barriers to entry for developing IoT gadgets and other solutions based on open standards. It would not have been possible to do this without the groundwork being laid by the global Arduino, Contiki and open-source hardware and software communities.

Another important link in the chain supporting this network of makers and hardware/software hackers is the development of Hackerspaces such as the Connected Community Hacker Space in Melbourne. The Internet, the open source movement and Hackerspaces all feed off each other - snowballing.

These people are developing electronic hardware that once upon a time was strictly the dominion of multinational corporations.

Our society needs to open up - the world is changing faster than it has ever changed before. People are smarter than they have ever been before. We need to embrace this change not fight it or use it for evil. We all now have the capacity to change the world, so let’s do just that.

*Yes, I did steal the name of this post from the last story in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot - now a major motion picture!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Raspberry Pi Static IP with Wi-Fi and Ethernet and a Free Set of Steak Knives! (Not Really)

I’ve been a bit sick for the past couple of days so I haven’t been blogging much. Although, I have found a bit of time to play around with my Raspberry Pi. I usually log onto the Pi using SSH or sometimes use VNC. For both of these it is useful to have a static IP address, so I found a couple of tutorials that will assist getting a static IP to work with both Ethernet and Wi-Fi.

First up is setting a static IP for Ethernet. This is a great tutorial that will step you through the process:

Enabling Wi-Fi is pretty easy as well and here tutorial to do that:

Wi-Fi static IP tutorial:

You may need to reserve the IP on your router so the IP doesn’t get given to something else on your network. This is also easy.

1. Find your MAC address. Go to the command prompt and type: ifconfig and press enter. If you also Connect to your Pi using an Ethernet cable they will be two MAC addresses on this page. Look for the line:

wlan0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:0b:81:93:a5:f7
the MAC address is that string of numbers and letters with : in between. To find the MAC address for Ethernet you are looking for a similar line that starts with: eth0

2. Go to a page that looks sort of like this.
On my Netgear router it is a link under advanced called LAN IP. Enter the MAC and IP address and click add.

Thursday, 12 June 2014


The BonsaiBot prototype is finally together and driving around. Most of it was developed from scratch. It was designed by Nick Fryer and Peter McKenzie using 3-D printed and laser cut parts. That blue 3-D printed box in the front of the robot is for the electronics which consists of an Arduino Mega, a Pololu Dual VNH5019 Motor Driver Shield and an XBee S1 paired with one plugged into my PC. As you can see it is a differential drive rover, the design was inspired by an old Sibbing front wheel drive electric wheelchair my brother and I used to drive.

This rover is driven from a Windows 7 PC using a C# application that I wrote. It uses the Command Messenger library to talk to the Arduino sending serial commands using the paired XBees. On the Arduino side is a pretty simple program that uses the Dual VNH5019 Motor Driver and the Command Messenger libraries. Video is sent using an IP camera at the moment although we do have a far better system (we hope) on its way.
It is very much a prototype but it does work well enough to chase the dogs around and scare small children. On the to-do list is to develop a single program that does it all without having a browser window open in the background. It would also be good to have a system that uses Wi-Fi as that is far more ubiquitous than XBees. If it is to be used as a telepresence robot you really need to be able to send commands to it through the Internet, so I am also playing around with TCP/IP as a way to send information to the robot.
So it’s awesome, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Below is a video of the robot driving around inside (please ignore the part where I crash into the fridge). C# and Arduino source files

Sunday, 8 June 2014

GM Bullshit – Dick Shit More Like…

I was watching Landline yesterday and there was an interview with Paul Copemen one of the guys behind the recent anti-GM lawsuit. Mr Copemen is general manager of NCO, the agency responsible for anti-GM certification in Australia.

Steve Marsh is suing former childhood friend Michael Baxter after harvested seed heads from Baxter's genetically modified canola crop blew onto Marsh's farm in the state of Western Australia, court documents said, contaminating land used for his organic oat and wheat crops.
Sounds reasonable enough, but just have a look at that last sentence again, “contaminating land used for his organic oat and wheat crops.” When I heard about this lawsuit I assumed that both farmers were growing canola. Don’t these people understand that very different species are unable to breed together? This is a bit like that time our religious instruction “teacher” said evolution was impossible because a horse could not mate with a giraffe.

Apparently, this is called “zero tolerance.” During the court case a witness claimed that a sheep would be contaminated if it came in contact with a genetically modified product. Any logical person would agree with me that this is taking zero tolerance to a ridiculous place. For example I got shit on my dick once (I shit myself really bad) -using that definition of zero tolerance - this makes me a homosexual. Or I am in an incestuous relationship with my mother because 36 years ago my penis was inside her.

Yes I am being disgustingly funny here, but this illuminates an important point - there are a lot of objects in this world and sometimes these objects touch each other even when they shouldn’t. I’m afraid that’s life and life is messy sometimes - deal with it.

Throwing logic and science out the window and wasting everybody’s time with pointless court battles is not doing the anti-GM lobby any favours. It just makes them look like a bunch of crazy people. People have the capacity to be so intelligent, but why do some also have to be so stupid, illogical and petty? So very frustrating.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


Markets are a little bit like oxygen you need it to survive but too much is deadly. The market was not a deliberate creation it has always existed ever since somebody traded a sheep for a goat (they got ripped off). The rich and powerful along with multinational corporations do use the market to keep themselves in power and this isn’t good for the majority of citizens. But having everything owned by the government also has a number of problems such as endemic corruption.

Yes governments need better controls over the market. The rich and large corporations need to be prevented from influencing Democratic governments through political donations and special access for VIPs at the party level. The government itself should not be a market, but in most parts of the world it is just that. Just look at Clive Palmer, in Australia, he basically bought himself a seat in the lower house and the balance of power in the Senate. This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen.

There are many good things about markets. I look at the burgeoning trade in electronic gadgets such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. This market supports a large and growing DIY community called the maker movement. Also supporting the maker movement is open source hardware and software communities.

Open source is about the free exchange of ideas - it could be considered to be a market just one in which everything comes free of charge. Members of such communities all benefit as they can leverage the power of multiple brains to solve problems and to do things they could never do alone.

Open source is really the opposite of patents. The current patent regime is a market for ideas, while also being used as a glass prison for ideas - they can be seen, but not used, not without paying somebody anyway. I think this system is incompatible with a world where ideas rapidly evolve where education is fast free and easy. B can grab As idea put their own spin on it and have a product that they can sell at unprecedented speed. Then A can then do a similar thing with Bs idea. B is not a thief as A freely distributed their idea with the intention that somebody else would improve it. Both A and B are richer for it. Patients had a purpose once upon a time but now they are just a wrench in the gearbox - a bug in the system.

I've said this before, there needs to be some way to use the power of the Internet to create an open source government where power truly is in the hands of the people.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Things That Drive Me Nuts - Aggressive Marketing

I am a big fan of open source software (mostly because it’s free ;) and I also really hate purchasing something that I really don’t need or in a perfect world shouldn’t exist. An example of this is antivirus software. The super paranoid part of me believes that it is the antivirus software companies themselves that is behind computer viruses... I’m 99% sure that isn’t true. There is no doubt that a whole underworld industry exists creating viruses that can intercept passwords install malware or recruit your computer into a botnet that can then be used to send, spam emails, phishing and denial of service attacks.

Unfortunately, anti-virus software is necessary - that doesn’t stop me from getting the free version of whatever antivirus program I choose. The problem is the free version is really just a marketing exercise designed to push, trick or harass you into buying the full product. The last software I had, Avast, was a real bitch from the instant I installed it did not stop. Multiple, times a day it would spring up to remind me to upgrade.

Then at about two months ago it started saying that time about run out and that it was critical that I update it. So I clicked to update it and I could not find the free version and when I did work out where to click to get the free version it tricked me and tried to make me buy it anyway. I lost it and installed Avira antivirus which hasn’t bitched once so far. Then I uninstalled Avast. Non-ironically it was really sad that I uninstalled it and gave me a chance to continue using the free version - arseholes*.

This is just one example of marketing gone crazy. Yes I guess I was trying to take advantage a bit but I think of all the products out there, from cars to funeral insurance, created by companies with hyper aggressive marketing departments. They use harassment, fear, envy, guilt and greed - taking advantage of our most vile emotions to make a buck. It makes me sick.

If you have your own story about the evils of marketing I would like to read about it in the comments.

*Wikipedia has a page called Arsehole! I'm such a child, sometimes.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

We Hope You Enjoy the Ride

Self-driving cars have been predicted by science-fiction for many years and finally they may be hitting our roads. Google recently unveiled its first self-drive autonomous car which has no pedals, steering wheel or seemingly no method of control. Not having any way to control a car other than voice seems a little scary to me. Maybe they should have some sort of smiley faced driver to give an illusion that there is at least something driving.

Science-fiction fans will remember Johnny Cab out of the original (and by far the best ("consider that a divorce")) Total Recall movie. Although, I seem to remember Johnny Cab tried to murder Arnie… Okay, just ignore that sentence.

Self-driving cars are definitely on their way with car manufacturers gradually building in more and more automation with every new model. Some cars available today will swerve or apply the brakes to avoid accidents, keep the car in the centre of its lane not to mention cruise control and parking assistance. These cars are sneaking up on us.

Hopefully, this won’t result in a Disney Cars situation where they gain sentience kill us all and then replace us. Joking aside, I believe that self-driving cars will probably be a lot safer than the cars we use today. It will allow the elderly and disabled a lot more freedom even if they do not have the ability to drive a car. It will undoubtably change the way we think of cars and open up new ways of using them. Car sharing will become commonplace as cars are able to look after themselves, you will not need to worry about some idiot getting drunk and crashing it. Taxi and bus drivers could be a thing of the past.

You may think that self-driving cars are a rather benign future technology and I thought so too. In the light of Edward Snowden revelations there are one or two concerns that could potentially change our lives. The Google car has 360° vision and would probably be able to record it too. Cars may be able to lock the doors on unsuspecting criminals and deliver them straight to the police. Governments, may mandate that all cars must be self-drive - they could do this to reduce the road toll. Meanwhile, our cars may be watching our every move able to report information to law enforcement authorities. No more Thelma and Louise, but no more getting heavy or lighting up a joint on the back seat either.

Self-driving cars have the potential to be a wonderful technology, but we need to make sure that they aren’t used as another weapon to eliminate privacy and bring on a police state.