Tag Archives: google

NASA + Google = SPHERES

This is quite amazing. Google and NASA are working on robots that will float around the International Space Station helping astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station. I love the zero G test of the SPHERE in the video. It looked like a lot of fun!

I found this video on Johnny Chung Lee’s blog post. I remember I started following after he blogged about hacking the Wii motion controller a few years ago. Now into space? Great!

Since the summer of 2013, the Project Tango team has been working closely with a team at the NASA Ames Research Center. The goal: to integrate a Project Tango prototype onto a robotic platform, called SPHERES, that flies inside the International Space Station. The SPHERES program aims to develop zero-gravity autonomous platforms that could act as robotic assistants for astronauts or perform maintenance activities independently on station. The 3D-tracking and mapping capabilities of Project Tango would allow SPHERES to reconstruct a 3D-map of the space station and, for the first time in history, enable autonomous navigation of a floating robotic platform 230 miles above the surface of the earth.

Project Tango and SPHERES are scheduled to be launched into orbit this summer. The future is awesome.

Privacy: Don’t let Gmail show images by default

Recently Gmail started caching all images sent to its users and by default will now display them when you look at your email. At first glance it seems like a good idea. It protects your IP address, stops the sender dropping cookies in your browser and possibly speeds up image loading for you. What it doesn’t do is stop the sender knowing that you opened the email. Your privacy is at risk if you enable this. Marketing efforts just became a lot easier.

A carefully crafted image filename will let the sender know that a particular user viewed his spam email, even if Google host the file on their own servers. Google has to fetch the file from the sender’s server and that will contain a number or string identifying that user.

http://example.com/logo.jpg?email=joe@example.com

As soon as that image is opened by Google the sender knows they have a valid email address.

How easy is it to track usage? It’s simple! I wrote a plugin in 2007 called blog voyeur that could track visitors who viewed my blog through RSS readers if they had left comments here. (I’m not using that plugin any more, don’t worry, your anonymity is safe!)

The documentation on the new settings says as much but I doubt many people will look there.

In some cases, senders may be able to know whether an individual has opened a message with unique image links. As always, Gmail scans every message for suspicious content and if Gmail considers a sender or message potentially suspicious, images won’t be displayed and you’ll be asked whether you want to see the images.

Gmail does a good job of spotting spam but legitimate email can contain these tracking images too. I get promotional emails from companies I’ve dealt with. I would much rather they not know when I open or even if I have opened their emails. If I wanted them to know, I’d tell them.
So, when you see that popup informing you that images will be displayed, click on Settings and disable image loading.

disable-images

I forgot my Android unlock pattern!

Damn. I changed the unlock pattern on my Nexus 7 and stupidly locked it “to test” the code. Unfortunately I got it wrong each time and now my inbox has 20 emails from Cerberus with pictures of the top of my head and occasionally my eyes.

Panic! Luckily there is a way out. Fail enough times and the device asks you to login to your Google account. It’s supposed to appear after 5 or 6 attempts but I have the 20 Cerberus emails and the “Forgot pattern” message did not appear that quickly.

Nothing easier than logging into Google which I try but it says my email or password are incorrect. I try again. No, nothing. Then it hits me. Two step auth. I had to generate a new application specific password. That worked!

A few minutes later and there’s a notification warning me my Google login has failed. After using an application specific password on the lockscreen I had to login again using my real password. Weird.

Phew.

tl;dr If you have two step auth enabled use an application specific password to login to Google if you forget your Android unlock pattern. Breath again.

Google Reader Alternatives

Google Reader, an online app that allowed you to read and be notified of updates to blogs like this, will close on July 1st. It’s unlikely that anyone reading this isn’t aware of that but just in case. Export your data now!

google-reader

There are a number of alternatives to Google Reader, each one has it’s own quirks and advantages. Gamma Goblin has listed a few on his blog but I’ll recommend my favourite one, Feedly.

After the frankly stale and unmaintained user interface in Google Reader the UI in Feedly takes some getting used to. At first I hated it but in the last few months they’ve improved it. I could try and describe how they’ve changed it but I’m just a user of the service. I notice when things go wrong but when they work right I don’t notice. However, I was reminded by Joseph Scott that Feedly doesn’t have an export option so make sure you backup your data out of Google Reader or you won’t be able to try other services quite as easily as you can now.

Feedly is moving at a great pace. Make sure you follow their blog (in Feedly, or the WordPress app as it’s on WordPress.com!) for further updates.

Also make sure you subscribe to this blog if you haven’t done so already!

Extra Adverts showing in Chrome?

For the last few weeks I’ve noticed unusual floating adverts from superfish.com on amazon.co.uk, focalprice.com and other shopping sites but I couldn’t figure out what was causing it. Turns out I’m not the only one to notice them.

superfish floating advert

It was an extension I had installed in Google Chrome. I went through each of the extensions I have installed, checking the options for each. Some didn’t have any options page and only one mentioned adverts at all but it wasn’t the Superfish one. With those checked I disabled each extension one by one, reloading Amazon until the advert went away.

I found it. “Flash Video Downloader” version 2.3.5 (id: ggkfikfcbnpfoicfjammigpnakpogebh) was responsible for the adverts. Authors of software want to be paid but this was very underhand. The extension has no options page and doesn’t mention adding Superfish adverts on the extensions page. It’s also a reminder of how much trust we put into the authors of software with access to our personal and private data. Since finding this I found the CNET download page and reviews for the extension. The latest reviews warn of the added malware:

Pros
Flash Video Downloader used to be an easy & safe product to download flash-based videos embedded into various websites.

Cons
They’ve secretly slipped Adware/Malware into their product (Superfish “Featured Shopper”). Flash Video Downloader obviously tracks your browsing history (that’s how it know’s when there’s a flash video available to download)… who knows where your browsing data is going now that they’ve got AdWare/Malware involved.

Also, Flash Video Downloader recently removed support to download YouTube videos. (I suspect Google/YouTube probably forced that change for copyright purposes.)

Summary
With Adware/Malware added to the product and YouTube support removed removed, I suspect most users will no longer find this product helpful or safe to use.

The extension isn’t on the Chrome Web Store. The last time I went searching I couldn’t find a decent one on there but maybe that has changed since. I don’t want to pirate Youtube videos. Sometimes I just want to watch a gameplay video offline!

Who gets your data after death?

I have to admit that filling in the inactive account settings for my Google account gave me the shivers. There’s not much that would stop me logging into my Google account for more than 3 months. It would have to be one of the following:

  • Trekking through a rainforest pursued by secret agents monitoring all radio communications.
  • Lost on a desert island with only 80′s computer equipment to keep me amused.
  • In a coma after a botched attack by terrorists who are hell bent on killing open source developers.
  • Dead.

None of the above are very appealing options but at least one is as inevitable as, err, taxes, so it must be faced.

I added a trusted contact and was then presented with a popup asking for a subject and email body. Writing that was unsettling but I hope more services do something similar. I’ve heard too many horror stories about Facebook accounts that have been frozen on the death of an account holder.

You can choose what data is or isn’t shared with a contact. Included is Latitude, which has tracked my whereabouts for the last 2 years and will continue to do so. It makes me wonder how my descendants will cope with the deluge of information. It may very well end up as an anonymous zip file on someone’s computer I guess.

The list won’t be frozen in time either. Do I add my siblings? What about my son when he’s older? What age? I should set a calendar reminder for his 18th birthday. I’ll have to warn those trusted contacts because Google sends an email and a text message when the account goes inactive. Like a letter from the grave.

Paddy’s Day through Google Glass

A stereotypical St Patrick’s Day through Google Glass. Call the day Patty’s Day in Ireland and someone will ask you if you want fries and a drink with that burger. It’s Paddy, not Patty!

Aren’t national stereotypes wonderful?

What the video completely fails to show is the bustling crowds, children on their father’s shoulders watching the parades, food stalls, hawkers selling memorabilia and the crush and stress and the “Oy, stop pushing there!” and getting home exhausted. :)