Tiny Websites have no Server

A big trend in web services right now is the so-called serverless computing, such as Amazon’s Lambda service. The idea is you don’t have a dedicated server waiting for requests for a specific purpose. Instead, you have one server (such as Amazon’s) listening for lots of requests and on demand, you spin up an environment to process that request. Conceptually, it lets you run a bit of Javascript or some other language “in the cloud” with no dedicated server.  https://itty.bitty.site takes this one step farther. The site creates self-contained websites where the content is encoded in the URL itself.

Probably the best example is to simply go to the site and click on “About itty bitty.” That page is itself encoded in its own URL. If you then click on the App link, you’ll see a calculator, showing that this isn’t just for snippets of text. While this does depend on the itty.bitty.site web host to provide the decoding framework, the decoding is done totally in your browser and the code is open source. What that means is you could host it on your own server, if you wanted to.

At first, this seems like a novelty until you start thinking about it. A small computer with an Internet connection could easily formulate these URLs to create web pages. A bigger computer could even host the itty.bitty server. Then there’s the privacy issue. At first, we were thinking that a page like this would be hard to censor since there is no centralized server with the content. But you still need the decoding framework. However, that wouldn’t stop a sophisticated user from “redirecting” to another — maybe private — decoding website and reading the page regardless of anyone’s disapproval of the content.

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Social Networking Robot Actually Respects Privacy

[Fribo] the robot is a research project in the form of an adorable unit that hears and speaks, but doesn’t move. Moving isn’t necessary for it to do its job, which is helping people who live alone feel more connected with their friends. What’s more interesting (and we daresay, unusual) is that it does this in a way that respects and maintains individuals’ feelings of privacy. To be a sort of “social connector and trigger” between friends where every interaction is optional and opt-in was the design intent behind [Fribo].

The device works by passively monitoring one’s home and understands things like the difference between opening the fridge and opening the front door; it can recognize speech but cannot record and explicitly does not have a memory of your activities. Whenever the robot hears something it recognizes, it will notify other units in a circle of friends. For example, [Fribo] may suddenly say “Oh, one of your friends just opened their refrigerator. I wonder what food they are going to have?” People know someone did something, but not who. From there, there are two entirely optional ways to interact further: knocking indicates curiosity, clapping indicates empathy, and doing either reveals your identity to the originator. All this can serve as an opportunity to connect in some way, or it can just help people feel more connected to others. The whole thing is best explained by the video embedded below, which shows several use cases.

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Edward Snowden Introduces Baby Monitor for Spies

Famed whistleblower [Edward Snowden] has recently taken to YouTube to announce Haven: an Open Source application designed to allow security-conscious users turn old unused Android smartphones and tablets into high-tech monitoring devices for free. While arguably Haven doesn’t do anything that wasn’t already possible with software on the market, the fact that it’s Open Source and designed from the ground up for security does make it a bit more compelling than what’s been available thus far.

Developed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Haven is advertised as something of a role-reversal for the surveillance state. Instead of a smartphone’s microphone and camera spying on its owner, Haven allows the user to use those sensors to perform their own monitoring. It’s not limited to the camera and microphone either, Haven can also pull data from the smartphone’s ambient light sensor and accelerometer to help determine when somebody has moved the device or entered the room. There’s even support for monitoring the device’s power status: so if somebody tries to unplug the device or cut power to the room, the switch over to the battery will trigger the monitoring to go active.

Thanks to the Open Source nature of Haven, it’s hoped that continued development (community and otherwise) will see an expansion of the application’s capabilities. To give an example of a potential enhancement, [Snowden] mentions the possibility of using the smartphone’s barometer to detect the opening of doors and windows.

With most commercially available motion activated monitor systems, such as Nest Cam, the device requires a constant Internet connection and a subscription. Haven, on the other hand, is designed to do everything on the local device without the need for a connection to the Internet, so an intruder can’t just knock out your Wi-Fi to kill all of your monitoring. Once Haven sees or hears something it wants you to know about it can send an alert over standard SMS, or if you’re really security minded, the end-to-end encrypted Signal.

The number of people who need the type of security Haven is advertised as providing is probably pretty low; unless you’re a journalist working on a corruption case or a revolutionary plotting a coup d’etat, you’ll probably be fine with existing solutions. That being said, we’ve covered on our own pages many individuals who’ve spent considerable time and effort rolling their own remote monitoring solutions which seem to overlap the goals of Haven.

So even if your daily life is more John Doe than James Bond, you may want to check out the GitHub page for Haven or even install it on one of the incredibly cheap Android phones that are out there and take it for a spin.

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DIY Air Cannon Snags Drones from the Sky

Who hasn’t had the experience of a pesky drone buzzing around that family picnic, or hovering over a suburban backyard where bikini-clad daughters are trying to sunbathe in peace? A shotgun used to suffice for such occasions, but with this compressed-air powered drone catcher, there’s no need to worry about illegally discharging a firearm to secure some privacy.

Before the comment line lights up with outrage, the above scenarios are presented entirely in jest. We do not condone the use of force on a drone, nor do we look favorably on those who use drones in a way that even hints at an invasion of privacy. We can all get along, and even though we hope [Make It Extreme]’s anti-drone gun will never be used in anger, it’s still a neat build that gives us lots of ideas. The rig is essentially four coaxial narrow-bore compressed-air cannons, each launching a slug attached to the corner of a lightweight net. A fairly complex set of linkages sets the spread of the barrels, and a pair of old oxygen tanks serve as reservoirs for the compressed air. A fast-acting dump valve is tripped by an interesting trigger mechanism mounted to a complicated stock and grip; we’d have liked to see more on the fabrication of that bit. The video below shows a test firing that results in a clean takedown of a drone, although we doubt the owner of the quad would characterize it as such.

This build is a bit of a departure from [Make It Extreme]’s usual fare of DIY tools like a shop-built vise or big belt sander, or their unusual vehicles like an off-road hoverboard. But it’s always great to watch a good fabrication video, no matter what the subject.

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Linger Keeps You Around After You’ve Gone

We’re not sure if this is art, anti-snooping guerilla warfare, or just a cheeky hack, but we do know that we like it! [Jasper van Loenen]’s Linger keeps the SSIDs that your cell phone (for example) spits out whenever it’s not connected to a WiFi network, and replays them after you’re gone.

Some retail stores and other shady characters use MAC addresses and/or the unique collection of SSIDs that your phone submits in probe requests to fingerprint you and track your movement, either through their particular store or across stores that share a tracking provider. Did you know that you were buying into this when you enabled “location services”? Did the tracking firms ask you if that was ok? Of course not. What are you going to do about it?

Linger replays the probe requests of people who have already moved on, making it appear to these systems as if nobody ever leaves. Under the hood, it’s a Raspberry Pi Zero, two WiFi dongles, and some simple Python software that stores probe requests in a database. There’s also a seven-segment display to indicate how many different probe-request profiles Linger has seen. We’re not sure the price point on this device is quite down to “throwie” level, but we’d love to see some of these installed in the local mall.  Continue reading “Linger Keeps You Around After You’ve Gone”

Paramotoring for the Paranoid: Google’s AI and Relationship Mining

My son approached me the other day with his best 17-year-old sales pitch: “Dad, I need a bucket of cash!” Given that I was elbow deep in suds doing the dishes he neglected to do the night before, I mentioned that it was a singularly bad time for him to ask for anything.

Never one to be dissuaded, he plunged ahead with the reason for the funding request. He had stumbled upon a series of YouTube videos about paramotoring, and it was love at first sight for him. He waxed eloquent about how cool it would be to strap a big fan to his back and soar with the birds on a nylon parasail wing. It was actually a pretty good pitch, complete with an exposition on the father-son bonding opportunities paramotoring presented. He kind of reminded me of the twelve-year-old version of myself trying to convince my dad to spend $600 on something called a “TRS-80” that I’d surely perish if I didn’t get.

Needless to say, the $2500 he needed for the opportunity to break his neck was not forthcoming. But what happened the next day kind of blew my mind. As I was reviewing my YouTube feed, there among the [Abom79] and [AvE] videos I normally find in my “Recommended” queue was a video about – paramotoring. Now how did that get there?

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The AI is Always Watching

My phone can now understand me but it’s still an idiot when it comes to understanding what I want. We have both the hardware capacity and the software capacity to solve this right now. What we lack is the social capacity.

We are currently in a dumb state of personal automation. I have Google Now enabled on my phone. Every single month Google Now reminds me of bills coming due that I have already paid. It doesn’t see me pay them, it just sees the email I received and the due date. A creature of habit, I pay my bills on the last day of the month even though that may be weeks early. This is the easiest thing in the world for a computer to learn. But it’s an open loop system and so no learning can happen.

Earlier this month [Cameron Coward] wrote an outstanding pair or articles on AI research that helped shed some light on this problem. The correct term for this level of personal automation is “weak AI”. What I want is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) on a personal level. But that’s not going to happen, and I am the problem. Here’s why.

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