Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Places API Now Available

Recently, Google made their Places API publicly available. While previously released, the functionality was severely hampered by usage restrictions; only one location at a time could be queried. Now the full power and scope of the kind of results you see when you search Google maps is available to anyone to filter, rearrange, and hook into programs and apps. It will be interesting to see what developers do with it...  *crosses fingers for Urban Dead style game using real world locations*.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gold Farming Operation Relies on Slave Labor

According to this article, the lives of some of the individuals behind gold farming operations are more unfortunate than you would imagine. They are prisoners of the state, forced to work day and night by corrupt officials, driven by frequent beatings to earn gold faster.

Copyright Law Forces Waste of 81 Million Dollars On Physical Information Database

A new library has been built that works a little different than your average browseable book repository. Instead of using an archaic categorization scheme to figure out where the book you want is stored and walking to the location to pick it up, the idea behind this library is that you tell a computer what book you want, and a robot goes and brings it to you. This system costs 81 million dollars.

Something seems really wrong about this to me. We have the technology to distribute anywhere, instantly, all of the information contained in every one of those books, at a cost of somewhere around zero dollars. This doesn't happen. Instead, to get the information out of one of these books, you have to go to within 50 feet of its physical location twice, at enormous expense for someone, all in the name of maintaining backwards compatibility with a 3000 year old data format. Somehow, someone decided this is the best available option. And with the way the world works today, despite how technically simple the alternatives are, they're probably right.

There are legal barriers preventing books being translated into a format that can be used by computers. It is necessary for anyone attempting to digitalize books, in most countries, to first get the permission of each and every copyright holder. Google discovered this the hard way a while back, and these legal barriers continue to effectively prevent the worlds collective knowledge from being made available to everyone that wants it.

Still, for an artifact of a society intent on keeping us all in the dark ages, it is pretty cool looking.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sound to be used to automatically censor pornography

Automated systems have been being used to detect sexual content for a while now using visual strategies. Chatroulette, for example, got fed up with being associated with the flashers that infested their site, so they developed an algorithm to doggedly search for penises and automatically ban their owners. These algorithms usually look for a lot of skin on-screen, but have problems with false positives.

Now they're going a step further, employing techniques using audio analysis. So if you have been relying on Avatar porn to get around your employer's color based filters, watch your back.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Legislation Pursued to Legalize Self Driving Cars

In another google related story, legislation is being pushed on the state of Nevada to allow for letting your car drive itself on public roads (currently illegal everywhere). The idea of driverless cars has been around for a long time, but this time it really looks like it's going to happen. The morning commute may very well be a thing of the past 15 years from now. On the other hand, so might driving altogether, if insurance companies and legislators are impressed by the safety statistics of these machines.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chromebook to Become Available Next Month

Google's Cromebook, the laptop without a harddrive where everything takes place in the Chrome browser (and you can play Angry Birds), is going to be available on June 15th. Available models will range from 350 to 500$, and will include optional 3G cellular network connections built in.

Worth it? Anyone planning on getting one? I personally would not find it very useful since I currently use my netbook primarily as a coding environment.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ruling in P2P Case a Victory for Online Anonymity

Anyone remember the story that broke a while back about the innocent people raided by the FBI for child pornography downloaded by their neighbors? The angle of these stories was that for the people whose homes were invaded, families traumatized, computers confiscated by the feds, it was their own damn fault for failing to lock down their personal wireless networks, nevermind the blundering feds or the actual criminals.

What these people were blamed for, essentially, is failing to adhere to the doctrine that a persons digital identity should be unwaveringly tied to their personal identity. As these articles implied, failing to accept and defend this doctrine makes you stupid and a fair target for the wrath of organizations making the totally reasonable assumption that you are your IP address. This isn't at all the obvious conclusion a reasonable person would draw from the facts of these cases, and it seems pretty clear to me that the much-repeated 'lesson' of these incidents cited in various pieces covering it was merely anti-anonymity scare mongering by the government engineers of the original press release.

In a recent legal ruling, it was determined that a person can not, under the US legal system, be identified in this way. It's a good sign for the cause of open wireless, p2p, and online anonymity, and hopefully one of many steps in the right direction to come.