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Category Archives: Technology

If someone searched my office or my house, or even my car, it would be almost impossible not to disturb the precious layers of dust in what may look like chaotic piles of stuff lying around. The chaos is actually an illusion. If left undisturbed, I tend to know where things are. For many years, I have kept stuff around me when I work (and play). I don’t like the idea of filing cabinets, inboxes, outboxes and there are never enough bookshelves (or enough walls) available to hold all books. Anyhow, there’s all this stuff apparently lying about and it is probably possible to use some forensic archaeology technique to find out how long it’s been since I last accessed various piles of things. But if anybody else moves my stuff, I notice (and may not be able to find things).
Now, in the digital world it’s different. We’re forced by operating systems to have files and folders/directories, everything has a number of date and time stamps, permission settings, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some kind of digital dust, slowly settling on our digital file systems so that we easily can detect if someone (3 letters, probably) have snooped around. Perhaps some accumulative encryption. Perhaps it should be probabilistic. For the intruder, the probability of any particular bit being 1 or 0 will be getting fuzzier over time.
All of this is, of course, pure speculative imagination. But the idea is tempting.

digital dust

For about four weeks, sending and receiving SMS messages via O2 is limited to the plain ASCII character set. For most English-txt’rs, this not a problem as you tend to use just 25 characters. But if you, by any chance, send and receive SMS in other languages (including Irish), your intended messages will be garbled and distorted by O2 Ireland‘s network.

Here’s a test-message in Swedish:
“Där är öar i ån”

Result: “Ddr dr -ar i ln”

Here’s a test-message in Irish:
“Tá mé i mo chónaí i nÉirinn”

Result: “Ta mO i mo choani i nèirinn”

When I first noticed this problem, I checked O2 Ireland‘s web site (no luck there), then phoned their support line. After keying in Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that, I found myself in a computer-telephony queue for 35 minutes. Eventually a human being answered. He suggested that it was a handset problem, hence I found an older mobile phone in the house, slipped in the SIM and…. the problem was still there. Phoning back to the support line, it was now closed. When phoning them the next day, they agreed to provide a new SIM card, while I had discovered that the other two O2 phones I have also had the problem, which pointed – again – to their network. I picked up a new SIM card in the local O2 store in Parkway’s shopping Centre in Limerick and while in the shop, verified that the problem was still there. I then requested that the shop assistant make the call to O2’s support line, Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that, and tell me when she got through to a human being. After about 10 minutes a Manager (at least she claimed to be one) picked up the call and said they would now escalate the problem and ask their Technical Staff to have a look. I then asked her to try with her own phone, any old sentence in Irish with an accented character. She confirmed that her phone also had the problem.

A week passed by. No change, problem still there.

Another week passed, and I phoned O2 Ireland‘s support line again to get some feedback if their Technical Staff had any idea how to solve the problem. After the usual Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that, and five minutes waiting, a human answered and checked the reported issue, telling me their Techies had written back that it’s a handset issue. I tried to calmly explain to her that we had eliminated that possibility some weeks ago. She said she would raise the issue again.

Another week passed. The problem with a limited character set when sending and receiving SMS via O2 Ireland remains.

Last Saturday, in the pub, we did some extensive testing between phones, different networks, etc., and I have now verified that THIS PROBLEM IS O2 IRELAND‘s NETWORK that is a FAULT.

Here are a couple of screen shots from our testing:

mobile phones, side by side

another couple of mobile phones, side by side

I have a fairly good idea where problem might be, but I would have to charge O2 Ireland for consultancy if they want me to do the work that their Technical Staff should be able to do. Perhaps they don’t have any techies…. Or, perhaps they are just totally incompetent, or ignorant…

I will give O2 Ireland two more weeks to fix this problem. After that I’m changing operator, both for my personal mobile phones and for any business-related projects.

Some technical background reading: GSM 03.38

For Science Day 2012 at UL, we decided to build a fun controller and sound synthesis demo. Over the past few years, we’ve had a number of postgraduate students exploring for example Galvanic Skin Response for artistic expression. It was slightly surprising to see the hype when Makey Makey launched earlier in 2012. I was puzzled that they didn’t seem to be aware of the work by for example Erkki Kurenniemi and Ralph Lundsten in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kurenniemi’s DIMI-S is Lundsten’s Love Machine.
We were inspired by the original work by Kurenniemi and Lundsten and we designed and built a 16 channel analogue resistance multiplexer. The circuit uses four inexpensive CMOS chips (CD4051, 8-channel mux) and a couple of transistors (connected as a current mirror), connected to an Arduino and then to a laptop running Pure Data (PD). The Arduino controls what two pins that are active at any given time, rapidly scanning the whole matrix of possibilities (there are 240 possible connections, with 16 channels).
LoveMachine++ interface circuit
We then designed a sound synthesis system in Pure Data (PD) with both a spectral synthesizer, taking the parameters from the resistance matrix and doing a reverse Fast Fourier Transform, and a sequencer, where the mixing and filtering is controlled by the resistance matrix.
LoveMachine++ demo setup
We had to explain to the first few students that they had to touch at least two fruits or vegetables to get sound. After about an hour, word was spreading and experimentation flourished, with several students holding on to vegetables, shaking hands, touching foreheads, etc.

A short video clip from today’s demo.

Schematic diagram

LoveMachine++ interface Schematic Diagram

Bill of Materials

Name Value/Type Description Quantity
D1-3 1N4148 Diode 3
IC1-4 CD4051 8 channel analogue multiplexer 4
Q1-2 BC556 PNP transistor 2
R1 560K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R2 220K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R3 47K Resistor, 0.25W 1

Source code

Arduino code

PD patch

[note: I cobbled together a simple communication protocol in the code and patch above. Basically, an ASCII-based fixed packet length with a terminator character, which makes it easy to see and debug]


Some background on Kurenniemi’s work:

Mikko Ojanen, Jari Suominen, Titti Kallio, Kai Lassfolk (2007) Design Principles and User Interfaces of Erkki Kurenniemi’s Electronic Musical Instruments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, pp. 88–93.

When I was growing up, I really enjoyed learning by experimenting with all kinds of things. I also learnt a lot from various educational science kits that sympathetic parents bought, probably trying to facilitate my interests (or hoping to contain the interests on the safe side of science and technology). There were all kinds of exciting kits, ranging from The Little Electrician, to the Chemistry kit, to the Nuclear Energy exploration kit….

In addition to this, it was really fun to combine the kits with Lego, Meccano and bits and pieces from broken things found in the basement.
Back in the 1960s, it was also possible, as a kid, to walk in to the local pharmacy and buy all kinds of interesting stuff (e.g. HCL, HNO3, H2SO4, NH3, more or less the whole chemical alphabet….). You could also get a good variety of electronic components in all radio shops.

Later in life, I have always tried to choose stuff with open-ended educational value when buying (or making!) birthday gifts to young people. Sadly, the possibility to send anything interesting abroad by post has recently been made almost impossible.

The Irish postal service An Post now demand that you fill out an Aviation Security Declaration when sending a larger letter or small parcel. As far as I have googled this, it’s a fairly recent thing (February 2012?). Perhaps it’s the UK that have forced Ireland into this, as most of the stuff posted in Ireland with destinations in Europe pass through the UK, and with the Olympics and other silly antics around the corner, they are really paranoid about everything.

This leaves me with the only option, to post the most dangerous of all things: books. Books may contain ideas that may change the world.