Archive for December, 2008

Twitter on toast

December 19, 2008

In a truly inspired combination of breakfast and technology, a man in Pittsburgh, USA, has connected his toaster to twitter. On his blog, Hans Scharler explains how he has wired his toaster up to the Web via a device called the ioBridge. You can follow the progress of toast production in his house and, quite wonderfully, his toaster already has 61 twitter followers. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that his toaster is in turn following eight other twitters. I don’t know about this passing the Turing test, but it shows some signs of basic artificial intelligence.

Seems a great item to end the technology year on and many thanks to my old college friend Martin for raising this one.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Kindle doesn’t catch fire (at least this Xmas)

December 17, 2008

If you’ve listed an Amazon Kindle e-book reader in your letter to Father Christmas then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed (at least in the UK). According to an article in the BookSeller magazine the company will not be able to release in time for Christmas because of problems sorting out Europe-wide Wi-Fi access. There are a large number of operators across the EU and they all need to be squared or the device will not operate when you pack it in your luggage for that holiday in France.

This kind of thing is part of a wider European agenda that was discussed at a roundtable last month in Lyon: the perceived need for a single market for digital services. Given the size of the EU these days there are potentially 27 different markets and according to Jacques Stern of the French National Research Agency, this results in numerous forms of a particular service. A complication. As Amazon is finding out.

Free Software Foundation takes on Cisco

December 11, 2008

The Free Software Foundation has just announced that it is to take legal action against networking giant Cisco over alleged copyright infringement. The FSF allege that Cisco have taken software available to all under the GPL licence, made some changes, and then distributed the modified code as part of their Linksys range of products. The allegation is that in this process of distribution Cisco has not released the source code of the various modifications, a potential breach of the GPL licence conditions.

Peter Brown, executive director of the FSF said: “In the fifteen years we’ve spent enforcing our licenses, we’ve never gone to court before. We have always managed to get the companies we have worked with to take their obligations seriously. But at the end of the day, we’re also willing to take the legal action necessary to ensure users have the rights that our licenses guarantee”.

Readers of this blog may recall that I interviewed Richard Stallman, the president of FSF, a few months ago. In the interview he made his views abundantly clear as to how important the right to view modified code and make further changes is to a user’s freedoms. Anyone should be able to make use of software released under GPL and modify it as they see fit, but they must respect the provisions made under the licence and release the modifications back to the general public.

Given the FSF’s views on this, the size of the company they are taking on and the fact that they have never resorted to the courts before, things could get pretty interesting down at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

DustBot: R2D2 cleans up

December 9, 2008


Talking of robots I came across the following whilst touring the exhibition hall at last month’s conference. The DustBot project aims to improve urban hygiene by developing a network of autonomous, but co-operating, cleaning robots. There are two types: the cleaning robot is equipped with things like a vacuum cleaner whilst the dustcart robot (see photo) is an ‘on-demand’ service that lets you drop a full bin liner into its holder and then carries it away.

Apart from investigating general aspects of robotics it turns out that there is also a pressing need for a system that can handle rubbish collection from the really old, touristy parts of European cities. In places like these there’s often no space for bins and the dustcarts just can’t fit down the narrow streets.

There are going to be five demonstrators set up in cities in Italy, Spain and Sweden, but I’m toying with the idea of requesting a sixth, in Nottingham, to be tested in an ‘industrial’ environment. I reckon it’s just what we need in the office. I can sit here, finishing off a packet or two of sandwiches, and then call up DustBot for a spot of post-prandial waste disposal. Who knows, I might even get a bit of light dusting into the bargain.

Semantic Robots

December 2, 2008

One of the sessions at last week’s European ICT 2008 conference looked at the area of robotics research. It was pointed out that we are starting to see robotic applications move beyond their traditional use in high end automobile manufacturing (remember the Picasso car advert?). There is a push to put manufacturing robots like this into smaller companies and also a lot of work going on for applications in the health and service industries. Of most interest though, I thought, were discussions about plans to integrate robotic work with that of the semantic Web to deliver knowledge-based robotics.

You can read a bit more about these semantic robots on the JISC TechWatch blog, which I will be contributing to over the coming months.