Thursday, June 27, 2013

Empowering women in Dublin

I’m leaving tomorrow for the Empowering Women through Secularism conference in Dublin. The schedule looks good. The only downside is that I suspect we won’t be able to get near the lift for people photographing it. It is that elevator.

After the conference we’re driving right across to the other side of the country for some reason.  I’m starting to wonder why we’re flying instead of taking the ferry.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More on NFC tags

I played about with Tasker and managed to do some fairly cool stuff.  I can now make bumping a tag do different things based on variables like location, time, date and even things like air pressure and strength of magnetic fields.

A simple example:

I can bump my phone on a wristband or necklace when I’m at home, and my phone will fire up navigator so I can plot a route.  When I’m not at home, it will fire up navigator and automatically plot a route home.

Or, more interestingly, when I’m at home it will toggle wifi or something and when I’m somewhere I don’t know – somewhere not a place I’ve specified such as work or my friends’ houses – it will plot the route home.

Fairly cool.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out this guy:

He has a magnet implanted in his ear which can be used as a speaker via a coil he wears round his neck.  He has very cool ideas about what to do with it, including echolocation and super-hearing. This could work with NFC tags too. Since my phone can detect magnetic field strength, he could hold it to his ear and bump it against a tag on his other wrist and that could trigger, say, playing or stopping music.  If the phone wasn’t to his ear, bumping the same tag would do something else.

Monday, June 24, 2013

testing, testing

Testing out some tasker and NFC stuff later today. Can’t wait.

More on NFC tags

I just played around with Tasker for a few minutes.  It looks as though I ought to be able to make the phone behave differently when I bump a single tag, depending on things like time, location etc.  For example:

When I bump a tag at bedtime, it turns notifications off. When I do it in the morning, it turns them on. Or same based on location: if I’m at work, perhaps bumping will toggle sound on/off. When I’m at home, the same tag might call my voicemail. When I’m in the pub, it might tweet my friends to invite them.

So far, all I’ve been able to get is a message saying Tasker hasn’t granted permission to run tasks. Perhaps I need to root my phone or something.  If anyone has any ideas, let me know.  But it’s a pretty cool idea.  SOMEONE must have done it.

Update: fixed it! It’s really cool.

Does anyone have any cool ideas for NFC tags?

NFC tags are pretty cool.  I’ve been playing around with them lately, although I haven’t had much time.  Here are a few of the things I’ve done and the frustrations I’ve had.  Anyone else have any cool ideas?

1. A tag by the front door that visitors can bump to connect to my wifi

2. A tag on a bracelet that brings up my wunderlist todo list.  I find the physicality of this useful – the bracelet helps me to remember to look at the list, otherwise I tend to forget. Wunderlist is good for this because it’s cloud-based, so I can update the list from any browser (and so can my wife, as I’ve shared the list with her) and the up to date list will appear on my phone when I bump the bracelet

3. A bracelet that reminds me to take my pills. When my leg is bad, I need to take pills every four hours, but when it isn’t bad, I don’t. So I have another bracelet that sets an alarm for four hours time.  When my leg is bad, I take some pills and bump. If it’s still bad 4 hours later, I bump again…. then stop when it gets better.

4. A tag that texts my wife to tell her I’ve arrived to meet her or pick her up.

5. A tag by the bed to turn notifications off

6. A tag that starts the audible client and displays the library screen.  This is actually quite annoying, since audible doesn’t have an activity to start the current book playing, which is what I wanted.  When I get into the car, my phone automatically connects to the car’s bluetooth and I wanted to just bump to start playing my current book instead of having to scrabble about with my phone, which is usually in my bag… I’ve put in a feature request to audible, but I’m not holding my breath.

7. Tags that run various scripts I’ve written on a webserver.  So far, I’ve just done a few test scripts because I haven’t had time to do anything else, but my ultimate aim is to combine NFC tags with my privacy research. For example, I want to be able to bump a tag I’m wearing when, say, I walk into a pub or get home which changes the privacy settings on all my social media to reflect my environment. Maybe, for example, I want people (or maybe only certain people) to know I’m in the pub so they can come and join me.  Or maybe I don’t because I’m supposed to be at work.  I like the idea of the physicality of the tags controlling the bubble of information around me and exactly how it leaks.  My first idea was to use Twitter’s API to toggle my feed between protected and open, but the API doesn’t allow that, thwarted again!  Actually, I only really wanted to do this as a demo, but it was still annoying.  But controlling your global privacy settings with wearable NFC tags would be pretty cool.

Anyway, what do you do with your NFC tags?

Update: I’ve been meaning to play about with Tasker to see if I can add some kind of location or time awareness, but again, I haven’t had time.  I’m fairly sure I’m going to end up having to write some Android apps to do the sorts of thing I want, but there are worse fates, I guess.

(Image courtesy of

Monday, June 17, 2013

This is the sort of thing I worry about

The spacebag advert troubles me. The woman talks about using her vacuum cleaner to compress her clothes so she only has to take carry-on luggage when she goes on holiday.

But what about when she comes home? Doesn’t she have a suitcase full of clothes, only a carry-on bag they won’t fit into and no hoover? This is not tactically sound.

I worry about people being unable to bring their clothes home.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Did I expect anything different?

I spent a few days largely away from Twitter due to A MILLION WORK and came back to find some fairly sinister aggression aimed at me for the apparent reason that I support some people and views that the aggressors don’t like for reasons they’ve never been able to explain without being fucktangles.

I’m starting to come to expect this sort of vague abuse. It bemuses rather than offends me. As I’ve said before, I’m not really vulnerable to this sort of thing for reasons of – mostly – privilege. Perhaps that’s why I get only a small amount of fairly mild abuse (more likely is the fact that I’m not very interesting or important). But I don’t particularly like it anyway.  It’s unproductive. It doesn’t move any reasonable agenda forward, as far as I can tell. This kind of thing is aimed entirely at trying to shut people up. And aimed by snipers: people who scour conversations and pull things out to complain about.

It’s water off a duck’s back to me, but lots of people get much worse abuse from the same people and their friends in much higher volumes than I do and don’t have the luxury of dismissing it.

Attack arguments, not people, you fucking idiots.

Friday, June 07, 2013

When things go wrong

You know, I’m quite an optimistic person, really.  No, really, I am.  I couldn’t be a scientist if I weren’t.  Being a scientist is - for me – at least partly about wanting to make a better world. Scientists have to believe that newly-created knowledge will not be abused to make the world worse. My own work on privacy has this potential: the more I find out about how people can protect their privacy, the more I learn about how to exploit people to find out their stuff and about the potential value of that stuff. But I’m optimistic that my work will lead to people being able to protect themselves from exploiters rather then helping the exploiters exploit. Optimistic, see?

But then something happens to crush my optimism and it is almost always comments in the Daily Mail.

There’s an article about – in the DM’s words – “ Gay parents have ‘healthier and less argumentative children’.” Ah yes, the ubiquitous DM airquotes. What better way to absolve responsibility? But that’s a whole different rant.  I’m talking about the comments. And so you don’t have to visit the site, I’m reproducing them here. Entirely without permission because – let’s face it – these people are fucktangles.

But some housekeeping is necessary. I haven’t read the paper but if the study is as reported then it might be flawed. There are at least four ways for a gay couple to have children: adoption, surrogacy, children from a previous relationship or insemination by whatever means. None of these means are exclusive to gay couples, of course.  But let’s assume – as absolutely every single commenter there does – that the only way a gay couple could have a child is through adoption, then there could be an important selection bias. It would be a better idea to compare children adopted by gay parents with children adopted by not-gay parents. But that assumption is not valid. Lots of gay people have children through any of those four means. The article doesn’t describe the study’s methods, so it’s possible that the study is flawed but I – unlike the Mail commenters, apparently – don’t know whether that’s true.

But the main point is that it doesn’t matter.  It isn’t necessary for gay parents to be statistically superior for them to be parents. There are kids who need parents and couples who want to be parents and the solution seems pretty simple to me. If the study shows anything, it’s that it is certainly possible for the children of gay couples to be happy and healthy, which seems to rob some of the people I’ve been quoting of their ammunition, doesn’t it?

But it’s not that simple to the Mail. It’s not that simple to the Mail at all. So, as promised, here are some of the comments. Usual trigger warning of abject assholeary:

what a load.....i wonder what gay lobby group Sponsored this study? i am not a bigot but what ever became of the traditional nuclear family that has existed for thousands of years? one father is good two fathers is better......right?

- Dark Stanley , san diego, United States,

Then let them have their own kids oh wait a minute they can't and why because it's not natural.

- vote-ukip , Lancashire, 07/6/2013 00:17

Gay parents have --- No they don't HAVE they look after someone else's children, they cant have children. Only a man and a women can HAVE a child. As for one previous comment, sorry but is the Gays who need to get over themselves not the straights.

- Chris , Sidmouth, 07/6/2013 00:16

Maybe they are less argumentative because they are more submissive to the dominant male in the family? Just a hypothesis?

- Twostars_83 , Roving, United Kingdom,

nicer soft furnishings...

- truebrit , Plymouth, 07/6/2013 00:09

Well, who knew that we were doing it wrong all these centuries. Should we now look forward to a world where all children are conceived in vitro and turned over to same sex couples to better raise them? And what of the research that has long suggested that a child needs a mother AND a father. No matter what fresh Utopia liberals may seek, homosexuality will never be the norm nor will it ever be preferable to Mother Nature's design.

- gobnait, this fresh hell, 7/6/2013 2:09

There are so many hetrosexual happy families. This is trying to justify gay adoption. Gay people have made their sexual choice and should accept cannot produce. Children are not pets, they are what hetrosexuals produce.

- Black Panther, Bedfordshire,

Too early, much too early to say. And who wrote the report, gays?

- Vivien, Mulhouse, 7/6/2013 0:25

........I know, let's all be gay! That way, we will all be better parents. This survey has probably been taken by a handful of people to come up with this ridiculous result. Honestly...... Better self esteem!!

- iNXS, The land downunder, Australia,

Then let them have their own kids oh wait a minute they can't and why because it's not natural.

- vote-ukip, Lancashire, 7/6/2013 0:17

I don't believe this rubbish. Go away.

- Peach, London, 7/6/2013 0:07

"Gay parents have healthier & less argumentative children" I didn't know gay people can have children, oh wait they take SOMEONE ELSE'S CHILD

- truthhurts, Birmingham, 7/6/2013 0:05

Oh, and so on. You get the idea. Lovely people. There are currently 459 comments, overwhelmingly of this sort. They didn’t publish mine, even though I nearly bust my keyboard clean through my desk typing it.

Stop pretending that your objection to gay parents adopting is anything other than prejudice toward homosexuals. Your arguments don't make any sense and I think you probably know that.

Lots and lots of things to talk about, will do it later.