Tag Archives: computer

Camouflaged encryption

Many governments (US, Australia, all dictatorships) want to make end-to-end encryption illegal and prevent IT firms from providing it. The open-source community can create their own encryption software, but the creators and users of this could be punished as well. The reasoning of the governments for banning encryption is that criminals and terrorists use it. However, the same reasoning applies to knives, guns and cars, which are used much more directly to harm people and yet are strangely excluded from the ban. This contradiction makes me doubt the motives of these governments.
The obvious solution to a ban on some software is to camouflage it and its products. The code for the encryption software could be hidden in a seemingly nonexistent part of computer memory or blended in one log file among many, perhaps encrypted as well.
The encrypted messages passing through the internet should not look like encrypted messages, but would be embedded in innocuous-looking files. A simple way is to change the colour of some pixels in a self-made photo or video file, with the locations of the relevant pixels being known to the sender and receiver, but secret from others. The colours of the pixels can encode the data. Someone intercepting the picture or video would have to spend significant resources analysing it to find whether some pixels are of an unusual colour, especially if the starting image is riotously colourful and confusing. Publicly available images are not useful, because comparing the message-image with the original reveals the changed pixels.
A more sophisticated version of this idea has already been done by http://camouflage.unfiction.com/ A similar idea is to hide one’s browsing history in random websurfing (http://www.qqqtech.com/about.html), but this only hides the relative frequencies of websites visited, not the fact of visiting a site on a government watchlist that most people don’t visit.

On photos at tourist attractions

At every tourist attraction, there are numerous people taking pictures of the attraction, themselves and their companions. The same photos have been taken thousands of times before and are available on the internet. It would save a lot of time for people overall if someone wrote a computer program that photoshops a person or group into these pictures. Basically, pick a location of which there are photos available online and load some pictures of yourself into the program, which returns photos of you at this place. With this, everyone can skip the photoshoot at the tourist sites, save money on the camera(phone) and still obtain all the generic tourist photos they would have had under the current system.

The next step for attractions that consist of sight and sound only is to experience them through virtual reality goggles instead of actually going there. It is more environmentally friendly, safer and cheaper this way. Most tourist attractions fall into the visual-auditory category, e.g. architecture, museums, monuments, some of nature tourism.

Technological advances are required before tourist attractions that rely on smell, taste or touch (physically doing something, e.g. surfing) are replaced with virtual reality.

Yoga teachers are not using their comparative advantage

A substitute good for yoga classes is yoga videos on the web. The advantages of following a video over going to class are that you can do it at home, at any time that suits you, can skip or repeat parts, it is free, clothes are optional and the selection of teachers and classes is much larger. If you prefer to do yoga in a group, you can get some friends together, but this reduces the time flexibility and a large group needs a large room. The advantage of a yoga teacher is that they can correct your posture mistakes, either by telling you (doable in a video call based yoga class) or by physically moving your limbs to a different posture. A teacher may also be a commitment device – if you have trouble motivating yourself to exercise, then someone’s oversight may substitute for willpower.

Most yoga teachers seem to not use their advantage, meaning they just instruct in front of the class and don’t correct people’s postures. I have seen this in online yoga videos taken in actual classes and experienced it in most classes I have attended. I have tried about 30 yoga teachers overall.

Maybe some students do not want to be touched for physical posture correction or the yoga teacher has a phobia of touching, or (especially in the US) there is a fear of litigation related to any physical contact. Even telling someone about their wrong posture may be psychologically difficult (people may be taught that “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say it”), or a student not used to criticism may react negatively to it, however gentle and well-intentioned it is. Maybe the philosophy is “whatever is, is right” and that yoga is so individual that there is no such thing as wrong posture. I disagree on this, having sometimes caused myself slight injury by overextending joints in wrong postures (that went uncorrected).

Raising the efficiency of the housing market

Empty housing is wasteful from society’s point of view. Both landlords and renters would benefit from finding a suitable counterparty to contract with faster. There are already online systems for listing housing for rent and sale, and also notice boards for people seeking housing. This is a good start, but a predictive system would be better. Given enough data, computers could forecast who is a good tenant or landlord and which apartment or house suits a given person’s preferences. Less searching would be needed by all involved.

Rental agencies already have a tenant database where they exchange references for renters. A similar online system should be created for landlords and housing (distinguishing the two). Also, the rental agency or real estate bureau should be rated separately from the people working in it, otherwise bad agents may move from one employer to another and escape their reputation. A bad notoriety may even motivate a person to change their name. For good agents, the loss of a reputation not tied to their person may make it difficult to change jobs.

Instead of chancing on complaints or praise in forums, a renter could see a summary rating of many rental agencies, agents and buildings in one place. The building database should include objective measures like the distance of a building to the city centre and the nearest supermarket, the yearly electricity and heating bills, the outdoors noise level in decibels, some average air pollution measure, school catchment areas, floor plan and area, etc. This saves labour for prospective tenants, so each of them does not have to search for the same data from various sources. Information entered by past renters is hopefully objective and protects novice tenants like students from being misled by advertisements like “five minute drive to the city centre” (only at 3 am when the roads are empty, in a Formula 1 car), “short walk to the supermarket” (short compared to the Shackleton Solo expedition), “safe neighbourhood” (compared to a war zone), “quiet” (relative to a rock concert), “spacious” (roomier than a shoebox), “close to nature” (insects and rodents inside). Distances to various landmarks could be automatically downloaded from Google Maps when the building address is known. Crime, pollution and traffic density statistics could similarly be autocompleted.

Renters should be able to select the measures they consider important in the data and get a ranking of the housing on offer according to these. Once someone has rated several apartments, the system could potentially predict the housing that would please that person.

Wasteful academic travel

Academics fly around the world to meet coauthors, go to conferences or present seminars. These things could easily be done by videoconferencing, saving money, travel time, environment and productivity lost to jetlag. An objection I have heard is that video calls are not the same thing. What other senses besides sight and hearing do people use to communicate with their colleagues? A handshake maybe. Then build a robotic arm that gives haptic feedback to imitate any person’s hand and that can be used to shake hands at a distance.
If a wall-sized screen disguised at the edges is put in a seminar room and the audience walks in together, it would be a challenge to distinguish a real speaker at the front of the room from a speaker shown on the big screen. Eye tracking software can adjust the screen image as the viewer changes position to give the impression of 3D. Or the audience can wear virtual reality glasses like Oculus Rift.
Other than habit, commitment may be a reason for physical travel. If a person has travelled to give a seminar, the audience would feel embarrassed for not attending. This would be felt less if the presentation is via video and could be recorded. Then the option to watch it later would give people the excuse to constantly postpone watching. If an academic travels to a conference, there are fewer distractions than at home or at work, so a greater chance of actually going to the presentations.
The proliferation of laptops, smartphones and tablets is undermining this commitment – one can attend a talk and not pay attention, checking email or surfing the web instead. Google Glasses would have an even stronger effect: the eyes can be pointed towards the speaker while actually watching and listening something else.

Triangulating translations

If a text has already been translated to a couple of languages with high quality, then it may be possible to improve the quality of machine translation to another language by translating separately from each original language and averaging in some sense. I do not know whether a program currently exists that is able to take into account multiple starting languages – Google Translate and other online automatic translation services I have seen only use one. Several different translations should contain more information than one, so by comparing them, some errors may be eliminated. At least inconsistencies can be discovered by computer and then checked by a human, saving labour.

Automating Facebook conversations

Facebook makes it easy to remember people’s birthdays, it just displays an automatic reminder. Other calendar programs like Outlook can also be made to do that. Every time someone receives a reminder of an acquaintance’s birthday, they send a birthday greeting – it is almost automatic. So why not make it fully automatic by writing a program to check Facebook every day and send a happy birthday message to anyone whose birthday is on that day?

The person receiving a birthday greeting usually replies with a thank-you note, which is also a repetitive action on a computer and can therefore be automated. Continuing this way, Facebook conversations can be made fully automatic without any human input whatsoever, apart from the initial writing of programs. But Facebook accounts could come with these programs built in, so anyone creating an account will automatically start participating in these computerized conversations. This takes the idea of virtual friendships to its logical limit.

The same virtual conversations can be created using other email and calendar programs – if the calendar displays someone’s birthday, an automatic email is sent with a greeting, and the recipient’s email program sends an automated reply.