Self driving cars… and open source systems

So I just watched an interview with George Hotz, you can watch it here:

For those that don’t have the time, George jailbroke the iPhone when he was quite young, and jailbroke the PS3, was threatened by Sony and is a proud proponent that once you’ve bought something that you should own it and be able to do what you want with it.

He’s taking it to the next step, and allowing you to add on a self-driving car system to any car (well, he’s aiming for 50% of the cars sold in the USA next year).  They obviously should have fly by wire controls so that his system uses the built in actuators, but as a sensor and processor platform he’s using the mobile phone.

What’s even more fun is that he’s making this completely open source, he’s crowd sourcing his data (download chffr for your phone) by offering a dashcam that then uploads driving data after it gets home.  All his software is available on github under an MIT license, and he thinks that we’ll have a critical mass of self driving cars in 5 years.

Now I’m looking forward to those days, not because I don’t like driving, but because I enjoy driving, but I don’t like repetitive day-to-day commuting driving, or driving to meetings when I’m thinking about the presentation I have to give and so on.  I would love to be able to have the choice to sit down and tell the car to take me home and have a nap on the way – hey, I’m getting old(er), I deserve a nap now and again.

Take a look at Comma Ai, maybe your next car won’t have to have self driving systems built-in, you’ll be able to buy it as an addon.


Stuff from FOSDEM

What I saw of FOSDEM this year was great, I didn’t see very much because I’m now on staff so have lots of responsibility during the weekend. I did manage to see some lightning talks whilst moderating the room though.

LibrePlan is pretty amazing for a piece of free software from what I can see – it’s a project management suite for a whole company which runs on the web.

PMD5 (catchy name) is a static code analysis tool, which can help keep on top of good practice and good coding style.

Wazaabi is a nice implementation of separating the parts of a UI from the rest of the program. It has an interctive editor that produces XML descriptions of the UI that then get loaded and generated at runtime.

David Fetter made some good points in Threat Modelling Revisited, but I’m not sure how much impact it can make on society – but we can at least adopt them at grass roots level and hope that they filter up.

Mike Sheldon gave an extremely good talk on and

I was interested in the talk on Open Remote as I’m rather into home automation.

MuseScore looked very interesting from their stand, and although I didn’t see the talk, AudiVeris looks like it should work with it well.

Overall a great conference again, and I’m looking forward to the post-mortem for this one and the planning for next year already.

Don’t annoy Immigration Officers…

From Risks Digest:

UK Immigration Officer Puts Wife on the No-Fly List

Bruce Schneier
Tue, 15 Feb 2011 00:03:31 -0600

[From CRYPTO-GRAM, 15 Feb 2011. PGN]

A UK immigration officer decided to get rid of his wife by putting her on
the no-fly list, ensuring that she could not return to the UK from abroad.
This worked for three years, until he put in for a promotion and—during
the routine background check—someone investigated why his wife was on the
no-fly list.

Okay, so he’s an idiot. And a bastard. But the real piece of news here is
how easy it is for a UK immigration officer to put someone on the no-fly
list with *absolutely no evidence* that that person belongs there. And how
little auditing is done on that list. Once someone is on, they’re on for

That’s simply no way to run a free country.

A short video

For those of you wondering what FOSDEM is all about, here’s a short video that explains a little…

It’s a relaxing look back at what was a very hectic conference for me, so it is interesting to get a different view.

Oh and Aber Comp Sci students feature in it too…

FOSDEM geek-fest

Sitting here at FOSDEM, nursing a slight hangover from lots of Belgian beer last night at the Delerium Cafe in Brussels. they reputedly have over 2000 beers on the menu, but that’s still not enough for every one of the 4000+ geeks here to have a different one each!

It’s already been an interesting weekend, and it’s not lunchtime yet on Saturday.
The talk on How a Large-Scale Open Source Project Works is about to begin, so I’ll post this, and update later.

Always know where your towel is!

I’m currently writing a “must bring these things” letter for our new intake, so that they can bring along the right stuff on the Outward bound weekend, and found myself including the phrase “Always know where your towel is!” Then I started thinking that a lot of these undergrads will not even understand where the phrase comes from, so in the hope of educating the next generation I am posting this here:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value— you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence, a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.”

And I did actually use a HHGTTG quote on my data structures and algorithms exam this year too.

Laptop for Lowri – update

Well, I met Lowri over lunch at The Anchor Inn, Oldbury-on-Severn. In about a week, Lowri is off on the Four Borders Expedition, which is the British Universities Kayak Expedition 2007.
A couple of months ago, I had a desperate plea from Lowri, informing me that she’d killed her laptop, and was going to need one for the expedition… could I find a way to provide one.

So last weekend I finally was able to deliver a refurbished Panasonic Toughbook CF-28, which I bought from Icex. When I first asked my Head of Department if he could provide money for a machine – he said no, as he thought it was going to be fairly expensive, but after I did some desperate searching around, I found this one at a price which he could afford.

Hopefully, she’ll find it difficult to destroy this machine, and we’ll get some really good reports back about this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Best of luck Lowri, and come back in one piece.