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Archive for March, 2014

The Worst Does Happen

The worst does happen, and it does not take a god to initiate it: White Blotches. I hope the Meyer family finds the strength to overcome this new crisis; a small medical “miracle” would be nice as well…

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BMW takes care of the motorcycles it builds: it keeps a serious stock of the pieces for many of its models. Nevertheless, it’s quite surprising to see that it is possible to build a brand-new BMW R90S from stock pieces – after all, the R90S was first produced in 1973! I don’t suppose this is possible for any BMW bike, and it’s not a cheap exercise by any means… The end result, in this case, is a fine machine – I wouldn’t mind driving it for a weekend!

On the left: the pieces. On the right: the R90S in one piece!

On the left: the pieces. On the right: the R90S in one piece!

Bike EXIF tells the story, and the build is documented on the website of BMW MAX Motorsport. A fantastic build it is, considering the fact that they just missed a handful of original pieces (and the replacements all come from BMW as well).

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Just read “‘If you step into Crimea I’ll break your camera’” (from the AFP Correspondent blog). And read “Turkey widens Internet censorship” (Hürriyet Daily News). Read “Turkey moves to block YouTube access after ‘audio leak’” (BBC News website). Or check the website of Reporters Without Borders, say on the subject of Syria. Then check out the discussion “Blogger vs Journalist” on Scripting.com. When journalists are being muzzled, let the bloggers report what is happening!

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I am writing a bit of .NET/C# code to add a SHA1 hash to a PDF file. Since I’m not a .NET specialist, I am slowly making my way through the .NET API’s. And since the documentation is not always as clear or expliciet as I would like to see it, I’ll ask the question here: the two methods in the sample class below are functionally equal, but is the one using the ‘BufferedStream‘ the best way to make sure that a large file will not gobble up all memory when there are multiple hashings ongoing on a single server? Or is there an even better way?

using System;
using System.IO;
using System.Security.Cryptography;

public class Sha1Hashing
{
    public String getHash( string FilePath ) {
        HashAlgorithm sha = new SHA1CryptoServiceProvider();
        String hashAsBase64 = "";
        byte[] dataArray;

        if ( File.Exists( FilePath ) ) {
            dataArray = File.ReadAllBytes( FilePath );
            byte[] hashvalue = sha.ComputeHash( dataArray );
            hashAsBase64 = Convert.ToBase64String( hashvalue );
        }
        return hashAsBase64;
    }

    public String getBufferedHash( string FilePath ) {
        HashAlgorithm sha = new SHA1CryptoServiceProvider();
        String hashAsBase64 = "";

        FileInfo fi = new FileInfo( FilePath );
        if ( fi.Exists && ( fi.Length > 0 ) ) {
            FileStream FS = new FileStream( FilePath, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read );
            BufferedStream BS = new BufferedStream( FS );

            using ( BS ) {
                byte[] hashvalue;

                BS.Seek( 0, SeekOrigin.Begin );
                hashvalue = sha.ComputeHash( BS );
                hashAsBase64 = Convert.ToBase64String( hashvalue );
            }
        }
        return hashAsBase64;
    }
}

PS. You know how to add your own namespace, and you know how to create unit tests in Visual Studio, don’t you?

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Dave is thinking aloud: “What would an open Secret look like?” – he’s referring to the Secret chat app, of course.

What is a web application if it does not have an API (an Application Programming Interface)? An API will allow developers or users to apply certain functionalities to their own data, and combine those data with functionality from another application, running e.g. on a PC or a mobile device. Without an API, you could not reuse things like the maps from Google. Without an API, a web application is just a website, closed and incapable of being integrated into the rapidly expanding universe of mobile apps!

Source: http://www.dssw.co.uk/blog/2011-02-11-how-to-run-an-applescript-when-switching-to-mains-power/

Source: DssW

Do you want to throw your data into a closed silo? Perhaps when those data are very private – but that raises other questions to ask the app owner. But take AppleScript, for example, or the *nix shells like ‘bash‘. They’re the glue that allows you to assemble data from different programs into something worthwhile for you – based on the fact that there is a more or less standard way to communicate with individual apps. AppleScript uses the verbs and nouns exposed by compliant apps; *nix shells have their own way of dealing with many applications and executables.

Shouldn’t all web applications expose a minimal but serious API, whether it’s based on ReST or just plain web services? The minimum should be a way to get your data in and out of the app, by the way!

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Yes, yesterday March 16 was a great day for a ride on your motorcycle here in Belgium. Here’s a bit of proof.

Blue sky, blossoms on the trees, touring on your motorcycle: spring is in the air!

Blue sky, blossoms on the trees, touring on your motorcycle: spring is in the air!

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Bitcoin and its ilk have been very visible the last few months. And that means many people are looking for answers to rather fundamental questions, like these: is virtual money different from “real” money? Is it safe to use? Should you have some to pay with on the Internet? What’s so “crypto” about cryptocurrency? Etc.

(Source of the image: The Great Northern Prepper)

If you are like me – a developer interested in virtual currencies – then you will like what Ars Technica did. In order to illustrate the concept they have created their own *coin, and they tell you all about it in these articles:

Followup articles will be there as well. All in all, a nice educational effort by the Ars Technica editors. And spare me the wisecracks about the name of their coin, please.

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A Constitution For The Web!

On the Google blog, Tim Berners-Lee writes:
image

On the 25th birthday of the web, I ask you to join in—to help us imagine and build the future standards for the web, and to press for every country to develop a digital bill of rights to advance a free and open web for everyone. Learn more at webat25.org, and speak up for the sort of web we really want with #web25.

Off we go, then!

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This is the next episode of my troubles in debugging a homemade SharePoint feature.

Yes, it is possible to have two lookup fields pointing to the same list in SharePoint 2010. However…

… In a recent update to SharePoint, a bug was introduced in which all Complex Dropdowns originate on the same location on the page. This means that if you have more than one dropdown on a page, all except one will appear to function incorrectly…

You’re in luck, reader, because the author of the quote above also offers a solution for the problem (one can only wonder why Microsoft isn’t rolling this out – we don’t pay enough licence and support fees, I guess).

PS. Re: our problem in my first blog post on this subject – Yes, in a second (or was it already a third or fourth?) attempt we managed to get our custom edit page right…

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nsa-listens.jpg
Is your government listening to you? Or is it, just like the NSA, just listening in? As reported on Ars Technica (“It’s OK to parody the NSA“):

Citizens shouldn’t have to worry whether criticizing government agencies will get them in trouble or not.”

Let’s hope the Turkish and Kurdish citizens have the same right, regardless of what PM Erdogan thinks: without freedom of speech there is no democracy.

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As a student of history (Ghent University) in the late 1970’s I was introduced to the concept of “oral history”: using interviews as a source of historically relevant information. We used it to explore the role and actions of the organized resistance against the German occupation of Belgium during the Second World War, typically a phenomenon for which hardly any written documents exist.

British soldiers at Passchendaele, 1917.  Photo: BBC/PEN AND SWORD

British soldiers at Passchendaele, 1917. Photo: BBC/PEN AND SWORD

The british newspaper The Telegraph, in an article called “Unseen interviews with WW1 veterans recount the horror of the trenches“, pointed me to a BBC TV broadcast called “I Was There: The Great War Interviews“. In 1964, the BBC filmed an extensive series of  interviews with WW1 veterans – 70 hours in all. Most of the material wan’t used, until now. A few transcripts have already been published, and they make for poignant reading. Soldiers aren’t pawns on a battlefield, they are people – and their sentiments afterwards usually aren’t told to a large audience.

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This is a fine story: “How Black Holes Led to the Creation of Web Browsers” (Scientific American). It illustrates how fundamental research always pays off, albeit perhaps in a surprising and unconnected way. Or in other words: accumulating knowledge will lead to innovation, one way or another.

research-in-dicationary.jpg

In the words of a Golden Goose Award winner:

Fundamental research, even the most esoteric, bizarre-sounding studies, can do more than just satisfy our curiosity. “If you were a farmer, you wouldn’t eat your seeds.” Smarr says. “You’ve got to plant your seeds. Basic research is really the seed core of innovation.”

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Mat Honan is, as you all know (of course), the author whose online presence as well as a large part of his private digital assets were destroyed by hackers, just because they wanted his Twitter account and wreak havoc (he wrote about this in the article “How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking“).

Click the image to see the complete "joke"...

Click the image to see the complete “joke”…

Six months later, Mat returned to the subject and asked us to “Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore“. His conclusion then was very explicit: passwords are not a good way to protect your data.

We could ban dumb passwords and discourage reuse. We could train people to outsmart phishing attempts. (Just look closely at the URL of any site that asks for a password.) We could use antivirus software to root out malware.

But we’d be left with the weakest link of all: human memory. Passwords need to be hard in order not to be routinely cracked or guessed. So if your password is any good at all, there’s a very good chance you’ll forget it—especially if you follow the prevailing wisdom and don’t write it down. Because of that, every password-based system needs a mechanism to reset your account…

And that means:

The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet. And no one has figured out what will take its place. What we can say for sure is this: Access to our data can no longer hinge on secrets—a string of characters, 10 strings of characters, the answers to 50 questions—that only we’re supposed to know.

I’m not so sure about his conclusion. After all, the real problem isn’t the form of the password or key. The core of the problem is man and her/his “gullibility”; “social engineering” is what the hackers are using as their main weapon. So the question is: how can we avoid that reliance on human memory, as long as we have no replacement for passwords?

Should the operating systems of our devices take a (much) larger share of the memory burden? Do we need small or big applications, in combination with some kind of hardware, to help us? Or perhaps we could use a standalone “passphrase device” with a standardized interface to any relevant device, like the remote “key” that operates almost any modern car? Or are biometric solutions the way of the future?

I’m guessing here, but I have a hunch that passwords aren’t exactly going away soon.

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Remember that strange silky construction discovered in the Amazon, which I mentioned in September 2013? Wired reporter Nadia Drake has written a follow-up on the subject: “We Went to the Amazon to Find Out What Makes These Weird Web-Tower Things“.

Photo: Courtesy Lary Reeves

Photo: Courtesy Lary Reeves

It turns out that these spires are indeed built by spiders, although the identification of the species still has to be done:

Now, even though the team is sure that they’re looking at some kind of intricate spider nursery, they’re still confused. For starters, a spider laying only one egg in a particular spot is exceptionally rare […] We’ll have to wait and see, as Torres and his colleagues continue their investigation.

There is so much knowledge written down, stored, filmed, photographed, memorized,… – and yet there are still so many mysteries, and so many discoveries yet to made. Great!

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Ars Technica enumerates “7 classic versions of Windows and Mac OS you can run in a browser“. I never saw or used Windows 1.0, but I have hands-on experience with all the other 6.

windows1-on-xt.png

If you want even more of the same, visit the “Virtual Operating Systems for Windows and Macintosh” website. Wait, it’s the Nintendo’s and Game Boys you’re after? Check out the “OpenEmu” website.

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