A-Z of Digital – B is for Blockchain

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LearningFollowing on from my blog post outlining an A-Z of Digital, here is “B is for Blockchain”

What is a Blockchain. Well there are lots of articles on Blockchains that explain them, so rather than repeat, I will reference a some colleagues blog posts.

A blockchain– originally block chain – is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called blocks. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. Functionally, a blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. The ledger itself can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically.”

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockchain

One common train of thought that can occur when talking about Blockchains is to also think about Bitcoins. Often associated due to Bitcoins using Blockchains for their transactions, there are other uses for Blockchains.  A colleague Neil Fagan covers this point in his blog on Bitcoins and Blockchains

Blockchains are secure by design (another colleague Faisal Siddiqi discusses this in his blog post Blockchains and Birthdays). The ledger method makes their use ideal in many industry sectors including, Healthcare, Banking, Insurance and Legal where transactions can be time stamped, verified automatically, encrypted and trusted. This helps reduce the amount of fraud with transactions being proved. Some of these verticals are covered in a number of posts by colleagues listed below with some excerpts from their blogs:

Exploring Blockchain in Banking

Blockchain or, more precisely, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is currently one of the hot topics in the banking industry.

Its main focus is on clearing and settlement, where DLT can reduce reconcile efforts, address liquidity needs and accelerate processing. Several reports and studies suggest benefits and substantial savings – in particular, when DLT is applied in financial market infrastructures spanning multiple jurisdictions. But there are also a number of open points, not least in the legal and regulatory realms.

On the blockchain, nobody knows you’re a fridge

A compelling scenario could be an insurance policy blockchain smart contract with multiple transactions throughout its lifecycle. An initial purchase transaction would trigger an automatic deposit of monetary assets into the contract. A second transaction might add documentation proving ownership and value of real world property being insured. Subsequently, a loss notice event from an external claims system might trigger a Claim transaction which would execute autonomous Verification and Payout smart contracts. The policyholder would not need to file a claim, and the insurer would not have to administer it. This would reduce the potential for fraud, decrease administration costs and simplify the claims process.

Decentralization – The Napster-Metallica connection

In addition to the elegant technology behind distributed blockchain applications, there is a solid business proposition to be made. With Bitcoin having successfully demonstrated the decentralization of money, it becomes feasible to consider that all kinds of other transactions can also be decentralized on blockchains with similar benefits. Decentralized applications are being developed on blockchains for tracking the provenance of diamonds, simplifying interoperability of electronic health records, adding IoT smarts to the power grid and disrupting a range of industries with these other fascinating use cases.

Blockchain: Trusting the Genie in the Lamp

In some cultures, a handshake is as good as a contract. In some situations, emotional intelligence plays a role in shaping how a person responds to another person, and the trust level you build. In the blockchain world, this interaction will be unnecessary; a person will simply trust another through the use of a software program.

Additional Reading:

A-Z of Digital – A is for Automation

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Following on from my blog post outlining an A-Z of Digital, here is “A is for Automation”

Automation is nothing new and the instinct to automate things has been around for a long time. There are lots of automated things in our lives that we now take for granted that at one time were not. The level of automation today does however seem to have a different set of goals. By this I mean the ability to fully automate something so no manual intervention is needed and the automation can think for itself. The future of systems auto detecting and joining themselves together presenting a tick list of the things that can be automated automatically is not that far away.

A house heating system is a good example of this. Starting with a very manual based system of stoking up the boiler to gas powered central heating controlled to come on by means of a thermostat or mechanical clock interface, to now where you can simply control your heating from a mobile device. Systems can learn your habits and settings to ensure the environment you live in stays at the right temperature for your needs.

Automation is available in many forms and tools that we can either purchase a solution to add, complement or replace an existing one, or create our own. As the world moves towards the “World as Code”- the manual tasks of today should be the automated tasks of tomorrow, achieved using tools that interface with systems using API’s and commands that join them together to carry out tasks, with the ability to control everything by means of code. We have more control over what we can automate, starting with the repetitive tasks before moving onto more complex tasks.

The LEF’s Lewis Richards has discusses “How Will Automation Change Us and Businesses?” in one of his latest videos and using tools such as IFTTT or Zapier to start your journey to automation. IFTTT has over 430 service API’s that you can link into.

Using these tools you can create simple automation linking services together with API’s and a user interface to set certain conditions, such as “Automating leaving a geolocation area“. API’s are a growing area within services and applications with more being made available to allow better integration and automation. Normally 3rd party applications take advantage of these API’s to provide additional services on top and compliment existing platforms. With the growth of the “Citizen Developer”, a user who can create simple code to perform functions, these API’s are now being used in a wider context to automate things. Anyone can become a Citizen Developer and start to code and interact, join systems together.

You have probably been doing this already with tools such as Excel, Access and Word. If you want to start discovering automation start with tools such as:

 

A to Z of Digital

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ABCBeing Digital, Journey to Digital, Digital, 21st Century Humans, are phrases that are common place in many conversations around business and technology. But what does it mean to be “Digital”.  This is a wide subject to cover in a single blog post, so here is an A-Z of Digital to help.

I will break these down in further blog posts going into each subject in more detail.

A – Automation

The manual tasks of today should be the automated tasks of tomorrow, achieved using tools that interface with systems using API’s and commands that join them together to carry out tasks. From turning your heating on using an application to automatically carrying out a set of repetitive tasks to allow other more complex tasks to be undertaken.

B- Blockchain

A blockchain is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called blocks. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. (Wikipedia).

C – Cobots

Cobots are Robots that are adapted and programmed to work and interact with humans in various tasks and levels of activity. Imagine you’re working buddy is a cobot that can perform tasks hand in hand with you, take over if you need to do something else, increase its speed of completing the tasks, then sense your return and slow to the speed your working at.

D – Digital

“Digital” is an umbrella word that covers many different topics. There are many definitions available, but for me this is about how we unlock the capabilities available today and use them to better our lives and society. From a business view this is about growth and transforming through processes and technology. Being Digital is not necessarily about having the latest gadgets, but more around how you are using them and what you do.

E – Evolution

Evolution covers the advancements and new technologies that are being discovered and created every day.  There are lots of new ideas and products coming out of sites such as crowdfunding and crowdsourcing sites, some work however some do fail. These sites are worth tracking to see what developments are coming around the corner.

F – Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers are probably one of the most common wearable that is available today and have been around for a number of years.  Trackers have developed to include a wide range of functionality including heart rate, blood pressure, location, altitude making the data useful to the health and medical industries to understand how we lead our lives.

G – Geolocation

Geolocation ties into a lot of the items in this list and provides a basis for providing location and tracking capabilities for devices and applications. It is also used to locate and pinpoint where users are. Some services cannot be consumed these days without agreeing to having this information shared with a site. The most common type of application in wide use is a Sat Nav.

H – Hybrid

Hybrid is used as a term to describe a mix of public and private services, such as a Hybrid Cloud where services can be mixed between traditional on premise/data centre services and cloud services, providing some control or orchestration layer across both to allow users to consume based on policy or requirements.

I – IoT

IoT (Internet of Things) is where physical things are connected by the internet using embedded sensors, software, networks and electronics. This allows the items to be managed, controlled and reported on. There are many reports estimating the number of IoT devices likely to be connected in the future, these are between 20 and 50 Billion devices by the year 2020.

J – Jacking

Jacking is a term used when you plug into something. Body Jacking is a growing area where the body is being used from generating power through movement to implanting chips to interact with the environment such as open a door or unlock a computer. This also covers Bioables which collect data on your body such as glucose levels using sensors that penetrate into the under the skin.

K – Knowledge

Understanding what is going on in your streams, market places and industries is a big task. Lots of information coming in on a daily basis – drinking from the fire hose, not able to consume it all. Creating your Personal Knowledge Management System will help navigate the sea of information and pick out what is key to your situation and what can be dropped.

L – Legal

With the increasing about of things interacting with our daily lives, the area of Legal and Security play a big part. There are a number of important questions to ask – Where is your data being stored and who actually owns it. Is your data secure and have you implemented all the right controls? What does Legistlation such as GDPR mean to you?

M – Machine Learning

Machine Learning (ML) allows a computer to learn and act without being explicitly programmed with that knowledge. An example of Machine Learning Algorithm is a web search engine that brings up a number of results based on your search criteria and shows which could be most relevant to what you are looking for.

N –  Networks

Networks and connectivity form the backbone of the systems in use today. Using a number of different types of network from Cellular (3G, 4G) to traditional networking and futures of 5G and Neural Networks speeding up how we create, consume and process data.

O – Organisation

Infrastructure as Code looks at making hardware being able to controlled at a code level, allowing Microservices and the ability to consume capability quickly. The next stage is the Organisation as Code. A great example of an Organsation as Code is Uber, building services and the supporting organisation in the cloud that allows it to be consumed anywhere and the drivers to login and become part of that organistation for the period that they are employed.

P – Programming

Everyone should learn to code. Learning to code (Programme) in a language like Scratch, Python, Java, C, etc. The ability to code will allow someone to understand how they can automate a task using tools and API’s.

Q – Quantum Computing

A computer which makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information (Dictionary). Quantum Computers are being developed with the ability to compute data at an exponential rate allowing for quick computing of complex data.

R – Robots

The vision of Robots has been around in early Science Fiction and are very much a reality today. From an automated manufacturing plant to a robot to help you shop and carry out tasks. The field of robotics is advancing bring in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to boost their capabilities and means to learn, self-think and complete tasks.

S – Social

Being social is not just around how you use the tools and what you tweet, but also what you don’t say and being Social Media savvy on your communications. There is a large number of social tools available with some well-known such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked in to those not so. It is also about how you organise your life with these tools and use them for productivity and security.

T – Twenty First Century Digital

The term 21st Century Digital applies to the current century and how you are using Digital to better your organisation and yourself. The LEF (Leading Edge Forum) has information that covers these two topics as the 21st Century Organisation and 21st Century Human.

U – Usability

The usability and user experience of devices is key.  Understandoing and being able to interact with devices is important. If a someone can’t use the application or device they may start looking for an alternative that they can use.

V – Visionables

Visionables moves the wearables market to technologies that help enhance our experiences through what we see. This covers things like Smart Glasses, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality.

W – Wearables

The field of wearables is expanding with more ways to attach sensors and record data about our daily lives. This typically covers anything that you can wear or attach to your body and in the main interfaces with a mobile to be the central data point, although many devices operate separately and can transmit data themselves.

X – Xperience

Xperience covers how we use these technologies and advancements to shape our lives and the effects that they have on them. How we have moved from the days of the first computer to today’s wearable and interactive society.

Y – Yottabyte

Yottabyte is a term used to define an amount of storage.  The prefix yotta indicates multiplication by the eighth power of 1000 or 1024 (Wikipedia). The amount of storage used today is seeing huge daily growth with systems currently using petabytes of data. The trends will increase the amount of storage needed to hold data.

Z – Zabeta

Zabeta is a noun meaning Tarrif or Tax. As we move to a more automated society there is a view point that automation and robots should be Taxed.

This is my current A to Z and some of the entries may be different in your version. Do you agree with the list? Whats in your “A to Z of Digital”?

 

How much trust should we give apps with device permissions

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spyware-2319403_640Have you every gone to the app store and just installed something on there because it looks good and something you want to look at, or purchased a product and then installed the app without thinking or checking it out first? Lots of people do, but do they really know what is going on under the covers?

How often do you install an application onto your personal device without checking the permissions that it requires or know what the app has access to and what its doing?

These are relevant questions that we should be asking ourselves as we become more connected and joined together sharing our personal data. This is a subject that I have written about before on app permissions and is still relevant today.

I have recently been asked to look at a fitness braclet that someone had who wanted to install the app. What struck me about this app that basically allows you to control a basic fitness tracker was the permissions to allow access to the Camera and Microphone, when there is clearly no reason within the product or app to have them. Is this a lazy programmer who hasnt set the right permissions on the app or is there something else going on.

Invite

One of the great things I like about mobile devices now is the ability to actually turn these off myself.

So do I want my coffee app to know where I am all the time, maybe not, but I do know that it may need access to the storage to download the latest offers and store those discount vouchers.

Of course stopping a permission may cause application issues, however the important thing is that a user can say no.

So when was the last time you checked the apps installed on your device and their permissions?

Do It Yourself – AI Assistants

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CyborgThe options available to consume voice activated assistants are increasing with recent releases within the market.

The availability of pre-built off the shelf Assistants is growing and so is the ability to build your own using the open sourced versions.

Google recently gave away AIY (Do It Yourself Artificial Intelligence) a maker kit, with Voice Hat and components to work with a Raspberry PI on the front of the Raspberry PI Magazine issue 57 – (MagPI) inline with the release of the https://aiyprojects.withgoogle.com/

The demand for this kit was very high and as a result unfortunately there are none left and not much information at the moment of the kit becoming available for sale. There is a waiting list available and it will probably be released depending upon demand.

This aside whilst we await the release of the sale kit for AIY, you can still take advantage of the AIY capabilities and a Raspberry Pi 3 in a similar way to installing Amazon Alexa onto the PI.

  • Google AIY Build
  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Generic Aux Speaker
  • USB Microphone

You could go one better by running both Alexa and Google AIY on the same Raspberry PI, using a build from xtools called AssistantPi.

AssistantPi is basically a tweak of AlexaPi. It includes the Google Assistant SDK and uses AlexaPi’s hotword recognition to activate either Assistant or Alexa. The installer provides an easy way to get everything set up in just under an hour.

https://www.hackster.io/xtools/assistantpi-74b772

A great project to try out and learn from, giving you the power of both Alexa and Google.

Attending GitHub Satellite 2017

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Yesterday I attended GitHub Satellite 2017 in LondonGithub

https://github.com/blog/2313-join-us-for-github-satellite-2017-may-22-23-in-london-uk

The event was well attended and there was a good buzz around the conference. GitHub Marketplace was launched at the conference and some of the initial vendors in the Marketplace demonstrated how their applications can be used in the lifecycle of coding. You could watch demos and chat to the companies at their vendor stalls to gain further information.

Below are my notes from the conference and Key Note opening speeches

Opening

The opening lead by Chris Wanstrath (Co-Founder & CEO, GitHub) and Kyle Daigle (Senior Engineering Manager, GitHub)

  • GitHub has 21 Million Developers
  • 59 Million Projects using the platform.
  • Expanding into gaming with Githib for Unity
  • Extentions for Visual Studio

ATOM

  • Help guide the approach with ATOM
  • 2.1 million active users of ATOM

Electron

  • GitHub desktop GUI new version based on electron. Open Source to allow it to be developed by community.
  • Electron platform for building desktop apps. Runs cross platforms.
  • Companies using electron to build internal apps.
  • Seeing big fortune 500 companies using electron for web, mobile and desktop apps.

GitHub as a platorm

  • Now 9 years old.
  • Today more API traffic than UI traffic
  • 5+ million users use integration
  • OAuth growing doubling each year
  • API ‘s have not been developed and remained static….. 9 years old.

World moving to a new world of API’s. Moving on from SOAP to REST to what’s next.What is the future of API’s:

GraphQL

  • Build queries on data you need.
    • Powering new features of GitHub
    • Suggested reviewers
    • Projects
    • Topics
  • 125 million GraphSQL internal queries a day.
  • GraphQL is open source.

GitHub Apps

  • Fine grain permissions
  • Choose how you want to give access to repositories
  • Using bots in Integrations

GitHub Marketplace (Launching today)

  • Find tools that meet your workflows best.
  • Pricing plans in marketplace
  • Marketplace has option to join and apply to be part of Marketplace.

Build and Grow Sessions

There were a number of sessions held in either the Build or Grow track which attendees could join.

I went to sessions in both tracks including the session on Building Interconnected Workflows which featured companies in the newly launched Market Place. Heard from these companies on how their products could be used in conjunction for a full code project lifecycle, which was interesting and good to hear.

Vitor Monteiro, GitHub
Andrew Homeyer, Waffle.io
Danielle Tomlinson, CircleCI
Jaime Jorge, Codacy
Cory Virok, Rollbar

There was a good session on Women in IT from Amy Dickens from the University of Nottingham which also covered topics of diversity and how workplaces and attitudes can change to make a difference.

Closing Session

The closing session was run by Marc Scott from the Raspberry PI Foundation who gave an overview of the Foundation, what it does and how the community can help review projects and sumbit projects for others to practice, learn from and enjoy. Also helping by joining local coding groups to pass on knowledge.

Sessions were streamed and Im hoping that replays are availble to catch up with the sessions I couldnt get to.

Unfortunately I could not get to todays workshop sessions but again hoping for streams of these following the event.

Automating leaving a geolocation area

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mapFollowing on from my blog about Accepting automation and safeguards, in this post I will demonstrate how easy it is to set up a recipe from IFTTT (If This Then That) to use the location service to send a text to someone when I have left a Geolocation zone.

There are other automation tools you can use on your mobile such as Tasker, Zapier and Automate, however for this example I have chose IFTTT.

The actual configuration of this task is very easy using either the web or mobile tool.

Using the tool in this example, I chose the recipe ingredients that related to my mobile. In this case an Android phone.

The interface takes you through an the process by clicking the relevant icons and entering some simple information. I have flow charted the process below:

IFTTT

You can install the application on your mobile and sign in so that it knows about the tool. Its also important that when using location recipes that you also turn on the Location/GPS function on your device.

This set up uses Android, IFTTT, Google maps and the GPS function of the mobile. These should be kept up to date with any updates that come out on a regular basis.

The text message itself can contain a number of parameters “I exited an area {{OccurredAt}} via Android {{LocationMapUrl}}”  which did put some context into the text message.

{{OccurredAt}} provided a date and time

{{LocationMapUrl}} provided a location in google maps

You can remove these from the message if they are not needed.

There are lots of sample recipes and ones created by others that you can reuse, or the site has the ability to create your own.

(originally posted at https://maxhemingway.com/2016/02/19/ifttt-sms-when-exiting-a-location-recipe/)

 

10 Books I’d send to my younger self

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clock-407101_1920In H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”, the Time Traveler comes back from the future to take 3 books from a bookshelf in their study to return to the future. The reader (or viewer of the film) is left guessing which 3 books have been taken from the bookshelf and how they will shape the future.

Thinking about this the other way, I have been considering which books I would send back to my younger self to read to help my career earlier than when I actually read them. I have expanded my choices to 10 books rather than just 3.

As in “The Time Machine”, I’ve chosen books that are on my bookshelf that I would pick up and hand back to myself. Some of these may be considered a bit dated, however I have chosen books here that helped shape my thinking through the years, rather than the Sports Almanac (Back to the Future reference).

Time paradoxes aside – here is my list;

If you had an opportunity to send 10 books back to your younger self, what would you choose from your bookshelf?

Top 10 Books

 

Accepting automation – Do we need safeguards?

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CogsThere are many and apps available to help us automate basic tasks on our mobiles and computing devices. When choosing these tools, we often read reviews and then download the app, run and set up, then let it run its tasks accepting that it will carry out our requirements. But what happens when there is an issue.

I have a simple IFTTT (If This Then That) recipe running on my mobile phone that sends a test message when I leave an area set up in google maps using Geolocation and GPS to look at my location. A standard recipe for IFTTT.

Today whilst sitting at my desk the recipe triggered saying I had left the area, however I am sat in the middle of my geolocation fence which extends for about 1 mile around to allow some local area travel. The net result is the person who got the message thought I was on my way home, when in fact I was still at work.

Solution to my problem:

The issue with this recipe was caused by the Android operating system and the phone type causing some wonkiness with the location. I fixed this by ensuring all the packages are up to date, rebooting and using another app called GPS Status to assist with ensuring my GPS is working correctly and has the right the location. Also ensuring that the GPS is set to high dependency. The downside may be the drain on the battery with the extra services – I will monitor this going forward.

The main thing this points out is how we accept and then use an app/tool and expect it to work, but not consider the what ifs, such as what if the app triggers incorrectly. Should I have set any safeguards in the recipe or built a counter app.

No harm done in this case as it triggered a text message, but what if this had done something different such as put the heating on, turned on a kettle, opened the garage door, turned something else off? This could be reversed using another recipe to turn things off if I’m within the geolocation fence.

So, what can you do to ensure that your apps/tools and related apps/tools are reliable:

Research – review and research your app. Have there been any issues with running something similar.

Secure – Think about the security of the app and what you can do to protect yourself.

Update, Update, Update – keep the OS, Apps and related apps up to date. In this instance, Android, IFTTT, Google Maps.

Plan – for the what ifs. Allow a reverse control if needed such as turn off the kettle, close the garage, turn on the alarm.

Experiment – Dont be afraid to experiment to get the automation you require.

Safeguards – Think about any Safeguards you may need to build in such as a counter app.

Another step towards personal AI’s

MachineThere have been many different attempts to create a J.A.R.V.I.S type of AI system to act as a personal assistant, able to interact with you and automate things.  (If your not sure what J.A.R.V.I.S is then you need to look up on Marvels Iron Man and his AI Assistant).

These have been from high profile people like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) creating a version on J.A.R.V.I.S in his home, voiced by Morgan Freeman. This system has linked simple things like lights, music and toasters which all have IoT devices that you can link together, to more elaborate items such as a t-shirt dispenser, motors to open the curtains and face recognition door system. The brains behind is based on a chat bot and mobile app that the user can integrate with. Details in Mark’s blog post: Building Jarvis

Video: Mark Zuckerberg’s AI – Personal Assistant – Jarvis – Home Automation

Other J.A.R.V.I.S examples and developments  range from simple lights and desktop interactions, to Amazon Alexa being used to control interactions with apps called J.A.R.V.I.S.

If you are looking to build an open source version there is JASPER using a Raspberry PI and other components.  You could always build a version of Alexa on a Raspberry PI

The explosion of IoT and Voice controls is driving innovation and making it easier to start building your own version of J.A.R.V.I.S. There have been several recent announcements from Amazon that help with this:

Amazon have announced the Amazon Echo Look which is a device that can take a photo of you through an Amazon Alexa providing voice commands for the look and then displaying on your app. Another addition is Style Check which can compare your photos and using machine learning check against the latest fashion advise.

Another announcement from Amazon is LEX, which is the program behind aLEXa (Alexa) which has been opened up for developers to start creating conversational chat bots using voice and text.

For those thinking about an actual Iron Man Suit – Richard Browning is certainly a step closer to that vision – Richard Browning and his Real-Life Iron Man Jet Pack Suit

“Adding J.A.R.V.I.S Project to To-Do List.”