FEATURED STORY

Four short links: 23 July 2014

Selfless Machines, Docker Security, Voice Hacks, and Choiceless Programming

  1. Talking to Big Machines (Jon Bruner) — “Selfless machines” coordinate across networks and modify their own operation to improve the output of the entire system.
  2. Docker SecurityContainers do not contain and Stop assuming that Docker and the Linux kernel protect you from malware.
  3. Your Voice Assistant is Mine (PDF) — Through Android Intent mechanism, VoicEmployer triggers Google Voice Search to the foreground, and then plays prepared audio files (like “call number 1234 5678”) in the background. Google Voice Search can recognize this voice command and execute corresponding operations. With ingenious designs, our GVS-Attack can forge SMS/Email, access privacy information, transmit sensitive data and achieve remote control without any permission.
  4. escher (GitHub) — choiceless programming and non-Turing coding. Mind: blown.
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Four short links: 22 July 2014

Four short links: 22 July 2014

English lint, Scalable Replicated Datastore, There's People in my Software, and Sci-Fi for Ethics

  1. write-gooda naive `lint’ for English prose.
  2. cockroachdba scalable, geo-replicated, transactional datastore from a team that includes the person who built Spanner for Google. Spanner requires atomic clocks, cockroach does not (which has corresponding performance consequences). (via Wired)
  3. The Deep Convergence of Networks, Software, and Peopleas we wire up our digital products increasingly with interconnected networks, their nature is increasingly a product of the responses that come back from those networks. The experience cannot be wholly represented in mock prototypes that are coded to respond in predictable ways, or even using a set of preset random responses. The power of the application is seeing the emergent behaviour of the system, and recognizing that you are a participant in that emergent behaviour. (via Tim O’Reilly)
  4. An Ethics Class for Inventors, via Sci-Fi“Reading science fiction is kind of like ethics class for inventors,” says Brueckner. Traditionally, technology schools ask ‘how do we build it?’ This class asks a different question: ‘should we?’
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Designing real vegan cheese

Synthetic biology surely can get weirder — but this is a great start.

real_vegan_cheese_screenshot

I don’t think I will ever get tired of quoting Drew Endy’s “keep synthetic biology weird.” One of my favorite articles in the new issue of Biocoder is on the Real Vegan Cheese project.

If you’ve ever tried any of the various vegan cheese substitutes, they are (to put it kindly) awful. The missing ingredient in these products is the milk proteins, or caseins. And of course you can’t use real milk proteins in a vegan product.

But proteins are just organic compounds that are produced, in abundance, by any living cell. And synthetic biology is about engineering cell DNA to produce whatever proteins we want. That’s the central idea behind the Real Vegan Cheese project: can we design yeast to produce the caseins we need for cheese, without involving any animals? There’s no reason we can’t. Once we have the milk proteins, we can use traditional processes to make the cheese. No cows (or sheep, or goats) involved, just genetically modified yeast. And you never eat the yeast; they stay behind at the brewery.

Read more…

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Need parking? There’s no app for that…yet

Our parking problems need nuanced civic tech solutions.

Parking meter, circa 1940. Via Wikimedia Commons

Parking meter, circa 1940. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“We will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit,” said the San Francisco city attorney last month, after declaring illegal Monkey ParkingParkModo, and Sweetch, new start-ups that provide mobile apps for buying and selling curb spaces.

Some might see this as a case of cities standing in the way of private-sector innovation, comparable to regulatory fights over Airbnb and Uber. However, those profiting by using Monkey Parking to “share” their on-street spots are effectively trying to sell something that doesn’t belong to them. Curb parking is a publicly owned “commons” — not the private possession of whomever occupies a space.

Even if their solutions are illegal, these start-ups are right: parking is broken in many American cities, and their solution is a business opportunity for both the public and private sectors. We need a thorough reassessment of parking management in American cities, and civically minded technologies are a big part of the solution. That’s the thinking of other departments of San Francisco’s government as well as one of urban planning’s most cited and least read theorists, Donald Shoup.  For the nascent field of civic technology, Shoup’s nuanced research demonstrates how new technologies and policy can together improve city life — and lead to true public good — at the same time as the city attorney’s enforcement actions highlight the potential pitfalls of “sharing” services designed only for private profit. Read more…

Comments: 6

Open source biology

Joe Schloendorn is creating and distributing plasmids that can freely be reproduced — a huge breakthrough for DIY bio.

Photo by mira66 on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

At O’Reilly, we’ve long been supporters of the open source movement — perhaps not with the religious fervor of some, but with a deep appreciation for how open source has transformed the computing industry over the last three decades.

We also have a deep appreciation for the dangers that closed source, restrictive licenses, patent trolling, and other technocratic evils pose to areas that are just opening up — biology, in particular. So it is with great interest that I read Open Source Biotech Consumables in the latest issue of BioCoder.

I’m not going to rehash the article; you should read it yourself. The basic argument is that some proteins used in research cost thousands of dollars per milligram. They’re easily reproducible (we’re talking DNA, after all), but frequently tied up with restrictive licenses. In addition, many of the vendors will only sell to research institutions and large corporations, not home labs or small community labs. So, Joe Schloendorn is creating and distributing plasmids that can freely be reproduced. That in itself is a huge breakthrough.

Read more…

Comments: 3

Governments can bridge costs and services gaps with sensor networks

Government sensor networks can streamline processes, cut labor costs, and improve services.

Contributing authors: Andre Bierzynski and Kevin Chrapaty.

Screenshot from the Waze app.

What if government agencies followed in the footsteps of Waze, a community-driven mobile phone app that collects location data through GPS and allows its users to report accidents and traffic jams, providing real-time, location-specific traffic alerts?

It’s not news to anyone who works in government that we live in a time of ever-tighter budgets and ever-increasing needs. The 2013 federal shutdown only highlighted this precarious situation: government finds it increasingly difficult to summon the resources and manpower needed to meet its current responsibilities, yet faces new ones after each Congressional session.

Sensor networks are an important emerging technology that some areas of government already are implementing to bridge the widening gap between the demand to reduce costs and the demand to improve services. The Department of Defense, for instance, uses RFID chips to monitor its supply chain more accurately, while the U.S. Geological Survey employs sensors to remotely monitor the bacterial levels of rivers and lakes in real time. Additionally, the General Services Administration has begun using sensors to measure and verify the energy efficiency of “green” buildings (PDF), and the Department of Transportation relies on sensors to monitor traffic and control traffic signals and roadways. All of which is productive, but more needs to be done. Read more…

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