28 May 2014

Unusual uses for 3D printing

3D mugshots from DNA

Analysis of crime scenes and witness reports can be more of an art than a science. One problem is that witnesses may not recall a face clearly, and investigators can run the risk of sending the wrong suspect behind bars if they rely too heavily on this kind of evidence. However, new technology promises to change that.

Mark Shriver and colleagues from Pennsylvania State University have spent months gathering 3D images and DNA of hundreds of volunteers. Over time, they managed to plot over 7,000 facial points of reference, which have been fed in to software that links similarities between facial features, DNA, race, and gender.

The team found that only 20 genes with 24 variants proved to be "reliable indicators" of facial shapes — and by using 3D printing, human heads with resemblance to the volunteers were created based on their DNA. In future, if there is DNA at a crime scene, it is possible that suspects faces can be printed from it, and witness reports may be less of a factor in proving a crime.

3D printed clothing

The N12 bikini is the first ready-to-wear garment produced purely through 3D printing technology. Designed by Continuum fashion, in cooperation with the Shapeways 3D Printing online printing store, the N-12 is composed of tiny nylon disks that hook together. Each component — including the strap, cups, and halter — are printed and sold separately, amounting to roughly $300 to own one for yourself once you snap each part together.

Make your own musical instruments

3D printing can supply us with medical devices, guns, and vehicle parts, but it can also include the musical realm. Two examples: One, the Dreaming Pipes project on Kickstarter, wants to allow 3D printing enthusiasts to create their own set of bagpipes at home. Considering the cost of traditional models, such a scheme could bring more pipe players into the fold. Secondly, the ATOM 3D printed guitar is on sale. Inspired by Les Paul, the bodies are fully printed from nylon, and each feature a wooden inner core. The guitars are dyed to order, and each one will cost you $3,500.

A food 3D printer

Natural Machines has launched the “Foodini 3D food printer” via a Kickstarter campaign. The Foodini Printer comes with empty capsules, which the user fills with whatever foods they wish. By using the printer's touchscreen display, you choose the shape and settings you want in order to create your dish. There are also pre-programmed recipes for dishes, including pumpkin gnocchi, pizza, burgers and cookies. The point of the invention is to remove the hassle of cooking, but encourage you to use fresh food rather than sticking to pre-packaged food.

3D printed meats

The future production of food is likely to be a problem as the human population expands and so do our meat requirements. Scientists are trying to create test-tube burger meat in labs to prepare for the potential crisis, and the Thiel Foundation has awarded Modern Meadow funds to try and create bio-printed meat to satisfy the human need for protein. Modern Meadow wants to use 3D printing to create synthetic meat in a less resource-hungry manner.

Do Chromebooks have a role?

Desktop PCs, ultrabooks, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and… Chromebooks. What a choice! But, wait… Chromebook? What is it? Is there a role for it in this densely populated technological world?

What is a Chromebook?

The name “Chromebook” was invented by Google, the developer of the Google Chrome Internet browser and the Chrome operating system (OS) which is based on Linux. A Chromebook is a laptop that runs Chrome OS and the Chrome browser. They normally have basic, low-cost hardware specifications. They are designed for use primarily when connected to the Internet. They use applications (apps) that reside on the Internet, instead of traditional apps that reside on the machine itself.  You obtain apps via the Google Chrome Web Store. All data is stored on cloud services accessed through an Internet connection.

What can you use a Chromebook for? 

Normally, a Chromebook has very limited local disk capacity because of using cloud storage.  Chrome OS loads very quickly, so a Chromebook starts up very fast. Chrome OS keeps itself automatically updated with security updates, etc, so the user never needs to be concerned about that.

While Chromebooks are designed to be used when connected to the Internet, users can use Google apps such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive while offline. Chromebooks come with a built-in local music player and a photo editor that can be used without Internet access. So you can listen to music, write emails, and edit photos offline, ready for when you go online to share or save them.

Why use a Chromebook instead of a normal laptop?

Increasingly, people’s perception of technology revolves around the Internet.  Millions use social networking sites to inter-react with their friends and colleagues, and online email services like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook.com are very popular. If you spend most of your computer time on the Web, then the Chromebook might well be for you. When you need to do a bit of word processing, you can use Google Drive to create and edit documents both online and offline. It isn’t as sophisticated as Microsoft Word, but it does do a good job.

Why use a normal laptop instead of a Chromebook?

By definition, a Chromebook does not run Microsoft Windows. It can’t run Windows applications such as MS Office (Word, Outlook, Excel, etc) or others that depend upon Windows. If your computer use demands a Windows application that has no matching one in Chrome, such as an  application for company book-keeping, then you need a normal Windows laptop and not a Chromebook.

You may also be like me and be very concerned about the safety of your documents. With a Chromebook, they are all stored on the cloud in Google Drive. I prefer to have multiple backups on local network drives, as well as using the cloud (in my case I use Dropbox and Google Drive). Can you tell I had a bad experience with data loss?  I doubt you can keep so many backups with a Chromebook.

So, there are many advantages, and some disadvantages, to the Chromebook. In a world where so much time is spent online, demand for low-cost access has meant widespread popularity of low cost devices like the Chromebook. You may well make one your next purchase.

25 April 2014

2014 is "The Year of Code"

In the United Kingdom, the government has named 2014 the “Year of Code” and has started a campaign to prepare all schools in the country to start teaching children to program computers from the start of the next school year in September 2014. Prior to then, all teachers have to ensure they have the right training themselves to be able to teach computer programming.  Extra money has been promised from central government to support this initiative.

The UK government is responsible for setting out a national curriculum, which most schools have to follow when devising their lesson plans for the year.  In September 2014 coding will be introduced to the UK school timetable for every child aged 5-16 years old, making the UK the first major G20 economy in the world to implement this on a national level. This is a landmark policy change that will arm a generation of school-leavers with the skills for the 21st century, and “Year of Code” wants them to make the most of this first class opportunity.

“Year of Code” is an independent, non-profit campaign to encourage people across the country to get coding for the first time in 2014. Through code, people can discover the power of computer science, changing the way they think about, and get the most out of, the world around them.

The campaign will be banging the drum for all the fantastic coding initiatives taking place over the course of year and wants to help many more people engage with technology and access important training opportunities.

Over the course of the year the “Year of Code” website will signpost national and community tech events, crowdsource funding to help parents, pupils and educational organisations. It will commission detailed polling and analysis on how to take coding far and wide.

More on this campaign can be found at: www.yearofcode.org

What do you think of this? Do you feel that more schools should be teaching our children how to program computers? Why do you think this might be important?

This is an example of a youngster who taught himself to program and made a lot of money from his skills.

British teenager Nick D’Aloisio, taught himself to code at the age of 12, and created an application program called Summly while revising for his mock GCSEs in 2011. He made $30 million from selling it to Yahoo! in March 2013. At the age of 18, D'Aloisio is now a product manager at Yahoo! The app has been rebranded Yahoo! News Digest. The new app will give users news summaries twice a day. Each summary is comprised of nine stories, with each article constructed from multiple sources, which will feature tweets, videos and maps.

Here is another example of a youngster with big ideas.

Jack Kim learned to write HTML code at school and immediately decided to create Benelab, a search engine that earns money for charity.  His company only employs youngsters, all staff members are aged 17, and it has already donated thousands of dollars to numerous charities. Kim aspires to donate $100,000 before graduation.

This isn’t to say that everyone will have great business success simply because they can code, but it does open up opportunities that you might not otherwise have had.

09 April 2014

Why you need a safe password and how to create one

How easy is it for you to remember your computer’s Windows logon password? Does it even have one? How about the password you use for your online bank account? Are the two passwords the same or are they different? And how many online services do you use? How many have unique passwords? If you are like most people, who have trouble remembering their phone numbers, how (you might ask) are you supposed to remember all of your different passwords? Why not use the same password everywhere?

The main problem with using the same password for everything is that if someone finds out what your password is, they can potentially log in to your email account as you, and your banking service as you.
What security consultants recommend is that you use a unique password every time you create an account that requires a password to keep it secure. AND DON’T WRITE DOWN YOUR PASSWORDS
ANYWHERE! This is all very well, but when I worked as a PC support guy in a bank, I had to support 40 different systems. It took me a long time to successfully remember the password for each one.  Until I had an idea.

A safe password strategy

How DO you set about creating a safe, memorable but unique password for every service you use? A safe password needs to have these features:
  • It should be a mixture of lower and upper case letters
  • It should contain one or more numbers
  • It should contain a punctuation character

First of all, think of a phrase that you can easily remember. Example: “Barney and Paul are my two kids’ names” – you need your own phrase not this one!

Secondly, take the first letter of each word in that phrase. Example: BaPamtkn

Thirdly, substitute an ampersand for any use of the word “and”. Example: B&Pamtkn

Now, change to a numeric each number in the phrase or add a number on the end. Example: B&Pam2kn
This is the “base” of your future passwords. Whenever you need a password for a service, start it off with the “base” and then add two letters from the name of the service you are using. Always choose the same two letters for each service, either the first two letters of the name or the first letter of each word in the name.

Examples: American Express might be “AE” or “AM”, Google Mail might be “Go” or “GM”. How you choose which letters is important as that is the only difference between your passwords.

So in our examples, the full password might be B&Pam2knAE and B&Pam2knGo.  How long would it take someone to guess those?

The beauty of this system is that you only have to remember your easily-remembered phrase and you can have a unique password for everything. The qualifier, or suffix you add on the end, is taken from the name of the service you are logging in to. So easy, so unbreakable.

Why not give this a go for yourself and see how easy it is? 

13 March 2014

How to cope with cravings when you are on a diet

Here is some advice on how to deal with cravings for certain foods when you are trying to lose weight.

  • Avoid triggersChange what you eat. The longer you avoid your trigger foods, the less likely you may be to want them. In fact, you’ll probably begin to crave the foods you eat, a real bonus if you’ve switched to fresh fruit.
  • Destroy the temptation – If you have given in and bought a box of biscuits, and feel guilty when eating them, destroy them. Pour savoury sauce, water or something else over them to make them uneatable. Don’t think about the money you’re wasting. If the biscuits don’t go into the rubbish bucket, they’re going straight to your hips.
  • Go nuts - Drink two glasses of water and eat an ounce of nuts (6 walnuts, 12 almonds or 20 peanuts). Within 20 minutes, this can extinguish your craving and dampen your appetite by changing your body chemistry.
  • Remove stress from your life - Since stress is a huge trigger for cravings, learning to deal with it could potentially save you hundreds of calories a day. This will take some practice. You can try deep breathing or visualizing a serene scene on your own.
  • Distract yourself - If only chocolate will do, it’s a craving, not hunger. Cravings typically last ten minutes. Recognize that and divert your mind: Call someone, make some tea, listen to music, run an errand, meditate or exercise.
  • Plan or avoid - Vary your usual routine to avoid passing the bakery or pizzeria. If you know you’ll be face-to-face with irresistible cake at work, allocate enough calories to fit it into your diet.

27 February 2014

Top 5 IT certifications to improve your career in the Government sector

The following are some qualifications that are relevant to the Government IT sector. Holding at least one of these will raise your standing before hiring managers. The ones you go for depend upon your skills and career aspirations.

These qualifications are suitable for people who want to understand how to use Microsoft software in a more professional manner, how to use computers and networks to an industry-standard level and how to manage projects.  I suggest that everyone should try to gain the first one shown in this list because ITIL is becoming the standard for IT service management and deployment of hardware and software in large organisations such as government.

ITIL (version 3) Foundation Certificate in IT Service Management

ITIL is a best-practice framework for IT Service Management that is being adopted by IT departments around the world, after being developed by the UK government. There are four levels of ITIL certification. The Foundation certificate is the entry level certification. It shows general knowledge of the key parts of ITIL v3. ITIL lays out guidelines and practises for the best utilisation of IT services within an organisation. Understanding these principles will help you know how IT services ought to be managed.

ITIL certifications are most beneficial to managers and team leaders, although junior staff will also benefit from knowledge about using ITIL standards.

MCITP – Microsoft Certified IT Professional

Microsoft Certified IT Professional certification enables IT professionals to demonstrate their skills and knowledge of planning, supporting, and maintaining IT infrastructure based on Microsoft technologies. There are various categories of MCITP qualification, each related to a particular area of expertise, such as Office 365, Microsoft Server 2012 or Microsoft Sharepoint.

Gaining a Microsoft professional certification will show that you strongly desire to help your colleagues and users to be more effective in their use of Microsoft software and it will help your own performance too. You will become more proficient in using their products.

CompTIA Security+

Network security is an important part of IT. The CompTIA Security+ certification is an international, vendor-neutral certification that demonstrates the holder is competent in network infrastructure, system security, access control and organizational security.  These are all worthwhile goals when working for a government department.

Although not a requirement, it is recommended that you have at least two years of technical networking experience, with an emphasis on security, before attempting this qualification.

CCNA – Cisco Certified Network Associate

CCNA is more advanced than the CompTIA Security+ certification. CCNA has become the standard for network and IT professionals who work in network-related areas. Cisco Certified Network Associate certification reveals your ability to install, operate, and troubleshoot routed and switched networks for small companies or the branch offices of larger ones, using Cisco-branded hardware.

It is recommended that people who sit the exam have 1-3 years prior networking experience with Cisco hardware, and maybe already have the lower-level qualification CCENT.

PMP – Project Management Professional

Since so much of what IT does today is project-related, a Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute is a valuable certification for project managers. The PMP certification shows you have proved you have the knowledge and skills for leading and directing project teams and in delivering project results within your constraints of schedule, budget and resources.


Becoming certified in the IT industry shows that you are reaching out for more skills and it validates your past experience and knowledge.  Government departments may well pay staff more if they are recruited with an existing certificate or they obtain one while working for them. So becoming certified has many benefits.

Why Understanding Vulnerability Management is Important

Wikipedia describes vulnerability management as "the cyclical practice of identifying, classifying, remediating, and mitigating vulnerabilities, especially in software and firmware". Vulnerability management is an integral part of computer and network security. If you are responsible for managing company servers and/or networks, it is vital for you to understand about, and implement, vulnerability management.

Where can vulnerability attacks come from?
  • From outside the network
  • From inside the network, perhaps via a VPN (virtual private network)
  • From outside over the telephone, using such tricks as social engineering
  • From an insider on the local network
  • From an insider on the local system
  • From malware
What might management fear from network vulnerability? These are a few examples:

  •  A web server compromise can expose the organization to widespread ridicule.
  • A server compromise might allow private customer data to be stolen, which could lead to claims for compensation, especially if it involves credit card details.
  • An insider who is angry might do something mischievous, like launch a logic bomb to destroy data.
  • An insider who feels aggrieved sells company trade secrets.
  • Employees might be deceived by social engineering tricks, which might leak sensitive data to the press.
  • A hacker who penetrates systems might find evidence of wrongdoing that can then be used to blackmail the company.

What should you know about vulnerability management?

  • Vulnerabilities are gateways through which threats become manifest.
  • Scanning for vulnerabilities without remediating them has little value.
  • A little scanning and remediation is better than a lot of scanning and less remediation.
  • Vulnerabilities that need fixing have to be prioritised based on those that pose the most immediate risk to the network.
  • Security experts need processes to allow them to stay focused on vulnerabilities so that fixes can become more frequent and effective.
All an attacker needs is a toe-hold. If there is a single vulnerability left unfixed and it can be reached from outside the organization AND it is compromised, then the vulnerability can be used as a springboard to attack other systems on the network. If a data breach occurs and it is traced back to a flaw the company was aware of but hadn't fixed, the consequences can be serious.  Think of the “damages” phase of a court case!

So the regular pattern of vulnerability management should be to: scan the network and identify vulnerabilities; prioritise those that are found; identify fixes; and, apply the fixes.

The starting point for managing computer vulnerabilities is an asset register. What hardware AND software does the company own? What versions are they? Where is it? There are many software packages that can be obtained to automate this process, normally by searching the company network for attached systems and devices, discovering disk drives and auditing them for installed software. Don’t forget to include backup or spare systems that may not be switched on all the time – they have to be audited too in case they contain risks from unpatched old software.

Depending upon the types of threats that an organisation might expect, it might be necessary to implement a networking monitoring system to check network traffic continuously for unusual activity. For example, if a little-used server suddenly receives many data transfer requests, this might be suspicious.  Some companies set up traps by loading a server with interesting – but fake – data with the aim of sidetracking hackers away from the real data they are after.

Vulnerability management should be high on the agenda of essential IT processes for most businesses. It is important, vital, for business management to understand it and how it can protect the company.