Tuesday, September 9, 2014

When and where to check-in

Location based social networks like Foursquare are quite controversial. They seem to be gaining in popularity, but at the same time many people avoid them as being a form of submitting to surveillance.

I think that the key attraction is that it forms a game. For example, the Foursquare user who checks-in somewhere most frequently in a 3 month period is elected as the mayor of that location. One time, I was very proud to be declared mayor of my local gym - even though I am sure many people went more frequently but just didn't check in on Foursquare. On the other hand, I was less thrilled to find out that I had become mayor of my local dentists.

Another key factor to remember is that checking in is voluntary. It requires a few clicks on your smartphone to check-in to somewhere and this is not something that I could do accidentally and reveal that I was somewhere that I ought not be.

One dangerous feature introduced by the new Swarm appp is called neighbourhood sharing. If you enable this feature it automatically reveals to your friends the neighbourhood that you are in. This is not quite as bad as revealing your actual location - for example if I revealed that I was in Castleknock I could be either working from home or dropping into my local pub for a quick pint during the work day. Nevertheless I recommend that you shouldn't enable this feature if you have concerns about your privacy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What is the Strange Weather Hackathon?

The Science Gallery is currently hosting a weather themed hackathon in conjunction with their Strange Weather exhibition. The general idea is that teams will spend two days trying to do their best to answer a challenge related to how we deal with climate change.

For example, I am part of the "Woodville" team and we are trying to answer the challenge "What should I plant so that it will be suited to the expected future climate in my part of the world?". We are leveraging predictions for the likely effects of global warming which means that people will need to plant different crops than were traditionally planted in their area. Our team discussion document is hosted on hackpad. You can click here to see the latest version of the app on our web site (hopefully it will be working by tomorrow evening)..

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Weather Station comes back on-line

My old weather station equipment suffered damage and so no data has been reported for the last few months. Luckily I got a birthday present of a new weather station and so my weather site is back online again. Unfortunately the twitter feed is not being updated, but I will fix that soon.

As I was setting up the new station I realised that the clock on my Tonido plug was seriously wrong. For some reason the date skipped forward from 2nd of December 2013 to 16th of April  2030. This means that the forecast data I have been collecting was incorrectly dated. When I get a chance I will write a script to fix up all of the data.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

KDE Remote Desktop Client (KRDC)

I recently switched my work laptop from Ubuntu to RedHat. Since Remmina is not in the default repositories that came with my new client I decided to use KRDC instead.

Overall I must say I am quite impressed with KRDC, it is easy and intutive to use. Its tabbed UI and storing of bookmarked sessions remind me very much of Remmina.

The one problem I have with KRDC is that it refuses to remember the passwords for each of my saved sessions. A dialog comes up prompting for the password with a check-box "remember this password" - I select this check-box but I still get prompted for a password the next time I connect. I assume this is a bug which will be fixed soon, but it is only a minor nuisance (I have a lot of passwords to remember).

A feature from Remmina I miss is the ability to automatically configure sharing between the local and remote machine, but again this is a feature I can live without for now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Race to Truth

The most recent book I read about cycling is The Race to Truth by Emma O'Reilly. It tells the story of how Lance Armstrong's soigneur changed from being a big Lance fan into a Lance hater and finally back to a balanced view of him. In the last chapter she outlines how she made peace with Lance and she even argues that his lifetime ban from sport is too severe. Overall I think it is a very interesting and well written book (apparently she had no ghost writer).

It is an interesting contrast to Seven Deadly Sins by David Walshe which I read earlier this year. David Walshe clearly views Lance Armstrong as cycling's enemy number one and he shows no sympathy with the view that Lance was simply part of a cycling culture which almost required doping.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New cycle route beside Royal Canal

The towpath of the Royal Canal between Castleknock and Finglas has recently been upgraded to form a beautiful cycling route. I cycled along there one day recently and was delighted to see four separate families of swans with cygnets. All credit is due to whoever was behind this project.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rejoining the Gym

My friends know that I am very keen on staying fit and active so they would be surprised to know that I let my gym membership lapse at the start of this year. I found that I rarely visited the gym in the last year because I have a cross trainer at home and I prefer cycling laps of the Phoenix Park to cycling on a stationary bike.

However, I have changed my mind again and decided to rejoin my local gym. My resolution for the new academic year is to attend classes.  I will be regularly checking-in with Swarm/Foursquare and expect to regain the mayorship soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Swarm v Foursquare

I have been using Foursquare for a number of years. In general I find this to be a useful and fun application for letting my friends know where I am, although many friends express puzzlement about why I would willingly disclose my location.

Recently Foursquare started encouraging me to try out their new Swarm application. Initially I was reluctant and stuck with the app that I already knew. However,they finally disabled check-ins with Foursquare and so I was forced to install swarm.

My first impressions of Swarm are quite positive - it looks like a nice upgraded version of the Foursquare app. However, I don't see why they had to split off check-ins into a new app. It seems that mashable agree with me.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Father-Daughter Triathlon

Yesterday, myself and my daughter Niamh got to take part in the TriAthy triathlon event. It was an absolutely lovely day weather wise with bright sunshine all day.

Apart from the enjoyment of the event itself, we had great father daughter  bonding while we were training for the event. I don't think we put in a huge amount of preparation, but Niamh is already very fit from Hockey and other sports and so we managed to complete the event without any great difficulty.

The official results don't seem to be up on the web site yet, but I think our time was quite respectable. Perhaps TriAthy will become an annual event for us. Roll on the wicklow 100.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Starting Triathlon Training for 2014

The days are beginning to get longer and so I think it is time for me to be working on my fitness, This morning I cycled to work the long way in order to get a few more km on the clock.

This year, to help with my training, I joined Fingal Tri triathlon club. Hopefully I will soon gain enough confidence to join some of their training sessions. I might even be wearing their stylish gear at TriAthy this year.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Getty Images set free

There is an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words and for this reason I always like to find a suitable picture to insert alongside each blog post. It is easy to find suitable pictures online, but they are often subjected to a license meaning that they are not available for free use. Getty Images is an excellent repository of professional images that newspapers and other media outlets pay substantial charges for the rights to use.

The good news is that recently they have introduced a policy of allowing blogggers the rights to use any of their pictures for free. Here is an example of the type of wonderful image which is available,

Friday, January 31, 2014

My water meter is being installed

The water meter installation crews were active in the area where I live for the last few weeks and yesterday they started digging outside my house. Therefore I guess I will have a water meter installed shortly.

The crews seem to be very efficient at installing the meters and they clean up after themselves as well. Hopefully this is a sign that Irish Water is going to be a well run company. I guess that they got some value from spending all 50 million euros on consultants.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Living the Dream

I recently signed up for a site called Bucket-List where you can record the list of 5-10 things you really want to do before you die. They recently sent me a list of the 6 most popular things to put on your bucket-list and I was surprised to find that I had already done half of them. Clearly I must be living La Doce Vita :-)

The list is:
  1. Visit the Coloseum. (done that)
  2. Drive a supercar (not interesting to me)
  3. See Holland in Bloom (I have been to Holland, but not during the Tulip harvest)
  4. See a shooting star (done that)
  5. Learn Archery (must try that some time)
  6. Ride a Camel in Egypt (done that).

Monday, January 20, 2014

A recent convert to Mindfulness Meditation

My daughter (who has a degree in Psychology) has  long been trying to convince me to try Mindfulness meditation. However, I must admit that I was very reluctant. Recently I decided to buy a book on the topic and try it out. To my surprise I found that it is really powerful.

The concept of mindfulness is deceptively simple. All you need to do is to concentrate on what is happening with your body at the present moment. Typically you should listen to a taped guide who will advise you e.g. to concentrate on your breathing. It is surprisingly difficult to eliminate thoughts on either the past or the future - but with a little practice it is possible and the effect upon your mental well-being is astounding.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Report on BT Young Scientist & TechnologyExhibition 2014 #BTYSTE

I spent so long queueing to have my book signed by Chris Hadfield that I had very little time to view the projects. However, I did mainly concentrate on the Technology section and there were a few projects which caught my eye:

  • Gearduino - this project was effectively an automatic transmission system for bikes. It used sensors on the pedals and an Arduino based controller to determine when the gears should be shifted either up or down  (hence the project name).
    The student who did this project told me that he has filed a patent application and once this is granted he will approach bike manufacturers to see if they are interested in bringing it to the market. As a regular cyclist I can easily how this could be a best seller.
  • Another cycling related project was Bike Radar - I didn't get a chance to speak to the students responsible for this project, but it seems that they developed a warning system for cyclists to alert them to the fact that cars are potentially on course to collide with them. It sounds like a great idea and is similar to the collision avoidance system which are currently available on high end cars.
  • A very useful project was Gum shield communication device for players and managers. This project won the overall runner-up prize for developing a wireless communication device which could be embedded into a gum shield and would allow players to receive messages from the manager during the game. It seems to operate by generating vibrations in the gum shield which are then perceived by the player as sound waves. I can see this being used in several different sports.
  • The entologic project developed a system which would tanalyse a program and turn it into a normal English explaination of what the program did. This should be useful for non-programmers who wished to understand what the program was doing.
  • A similar project was Easy shell which developed a system for transforming a set of instructions written in normal English into a bash shell script which could be executed. I didn't get a chance to try it out, but the idea is definitely interesting.
  • Last but not least I was interested to see New Method for Card Counting in Blackjack - this project developed an improvement on the classical method of counting cards to improve the odds in a game of BlackJack. This project clearly has commercial potential. One of the students told me that his father has promised to invest in sending him to Las Vegas on a practical trial of the algorithm once he reaches the legal minimum age for gambling.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Is there an App for that Gap

Young people today are very familiar with Apps. However, most of them simply use Apps created by other people and don't realise how easy it is for them to create their own. The Apps4Gaps competition is an attempt to rectify this by offering young Irish people to develop apps which leverage open Data.

The site provides links to the Irish 2011 census data feeds, but the rules seem to allow entrants to use any open data set to built their application. It seems that a number of organisations including the teachers organisations and CoderDojo movement are involved in prompting the contest.

The closing date for registering your project is 31st of January, but you have until 11th of April to complete your entry. The web site is not clear about what the age limit is for young people. I wonder would I be stretching the rules if I entered an application (although I am 51 I feel young at heart).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Art of Hapiness

One of the presents that I got for Christmas was a book called "The Art of Happiness". This book was written by Howard Cutler (an American Psychiatrist) based upon his discussions with the Dalai Lama about his general philosophy on life.

I found this a very interesting read because I have long been interested in the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Initially I was surprised to read that he though that the fundamental purpose of everyone's life should be to pursue happiness, However, his holiness makes a distinction between the pursuit of a temporary joyful feeling which can be a selfish pursuit and the pursuit of happiness which he claims can only be achieved by practising compassion and caring for other creatures.

An interesting aspect of the book was the fact that the psychiatrist was comparing the Dalai Lama's guidelines for pursuing happiness with the quest that his patients back home were seeking a return to mental health. In many ways the Dali Lama's version of happiness corresponds reasonably closely to good mental health.

Overall I recommend this book highly. I see that the cover claims that it is an international best seller so clearly many people have already read it.