Category: Hardware & Software

Aetherstore about to go live






Three graduates of the University of St Andrews School of Computer Science are about to launch their first product. The product provides shared storage in a network of peer-to-peer workstations, using their spare disk capacity.

Check out the video all about it:














You can read more from a Register article here:

I wish them all luck with the launch tomorrow.





Year of code – PR fiasco or vital mission?



Year of code


Year of code – PR fiasco? The BBC asked the question here. As a Computer Scientist I have to say that I have found the focus on coding a strange one. What about information and its encoding representation and organisation. Surely those skills (which are also an integral part of Computer Science)  might be more useful to the young than being able to spin a sprite on a screen on a Raspberry Pi? What about the understanding of where information lives – on local disks, the Internet etc. Are these not loire skills which would benefit young learners in today’s information rich society.

Having said that, an understanding of computation thinking will be of benefit to young learners. However, as I said above that is not the same as being able to move a sprite around a screen to eat mushrooms or avoid monsters. The examples in the linked Google page link computation and the curriculum – as championed in Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. Mind you the examples are all in Python :(




$115 Million on iPads

 The Los Angeles Board of Education has voted to continue its efforts to provide every student and teacher in the L.A. Unified school district with a computer by approving a new $115-million proposal to distribute iPads to 38 more campuses. 

Makes one think about approaches to technology to support L & T in the UK at all levels (primary, secondary, FE and HE).

Read more here –

Tim Berners Lee Speaks Out

Quote – “Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who created the world wide web, has called for a “full and frank public debate” over internetsurveillance by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart,GCHQ, warning that the system of checks and balances to oversee the agencies has failed.”

Life of Doug Englebart – inventor of the mouse and hypermedia pioneer

On December 9, 1968, Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart and the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at Stanford Research Institute staged a 90-minute public multimedia demonstration which presaged many of the technologies we use today – from personal computing to social networking. It was the world debut of personal and interactive computing: for the first time, the public saw a computer mouse, used to demonstrate a networked computer system which featured hypertext linking and composing with real-time text editing, multiple windows with flexible view control, knowledge management, shared-screen teleconferencing, and more.

 All can be found here –

Thanks to Andy (you know who you are:)


Useful apps for iPad

I owned an iPad for a while but never really used it properly. I now believe that this was due to not having the right software tools on it. By investing a small amount of funds you can turn an iPad from a toy to a productivity tool. I know there are many “Top lists of apps for the IPad” but here is mine with some reasons behind them.



 Note taking

One of the apps that I use the most is Notability. Notability is a note taking program that supports semi-structured documents to be created (with headings, sub heading etc.). It also supports drawing of pictures both with virtual pencils which are good for scribbling and as more formal MacDraw style structured documents. Your notes can be organised into categories which effectively partition notes into folder like structures. Synchronisation is somewhat limited – the app supports Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and WebDav, none of which I use due to paranoia about security. It would be nice if it had an ssh conduit for synchronising with arbitrary file systems but currently it does not. To get around this problem I use PDFExpert described below.





Reading documents and synchronisation

 PDFExpert is very badly named and is one of the best iPad apps in my opinion. It provides the ability to read a wide variety of file types including acrobat, word, excel and text files (and I am sure more). PDF files can be annotated by highlighting text and with a number of different styles of pens (different colours, thicknesses etc.). There are couple of twists that turn this to more than a pdf annotation tool. The first is that, provided you have PDF convertor (described below) you can turn any file type into a pdf and then annotate it. Secondly, the tool has a really nice network synchronisation mechanism. This permits files that reside on a server to automatically synchronised with the server. Annotations etc. can be pushed back onto a server and changes on the server can be pulled onto the iPad. The synchronisation feature supports SFTP access to server thus avoiding the need to use cloud servers which might put confidential docs into the public domain. It does of course support all the usual suspects such as WebDav, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive etc. for those who like that kind of thing. Lastly it features a HTTP server which allows the iPad to serve document on the iPad to other machines (a feature I do not use due to security concerns). 


PDF convertor

 PDF convertor permits documents on the iPad to be converted to PDF. It can be used from a variety of apps – I use it primarily with PDFExpert and Notability. In recent improvements to one of these apps (I am not sure which), documents can be converted in place. For example a document in PDFExpert can be converted in PDF convertor and then automatically imported back into  PDFExpert and then synchronised with the server. 






 Documents also from Readdle (like the two above) provides a nice remote file browser of remote file systems. It also permits files to be uploaded from the file server onto the iPad. It is not clear to me the exact differences between it and PDFExpert (it may be a true subset) but I use it occasionally for remote browsing of server files due to the simple interface it provides.






  Alfresco is an open source Enterprise Content Management System. It provides a server (or cloud) content manager which (according to Wikipedia) “may be used to track and store electronic documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions modified by different users (history tracking).” The power of such systems comes when they may be accessed from mobile devices such as the iPad. This app does exactly that providing enterprise level access and control to Alfresco servers provided by individuals, enterprises or in the cloud. If you share documents using e-mail it is time to invest in some of this!



 Getting things done (GTD)

There are a number of getting things done tools for the iPad (i.e. fancy to do list managers). The one that I used until recently is called remember the milk. It has a clean user interface and is very easy to use. It is also free! The down side is that it is really a web app and to keep coherent up-to-date copies of your task lists on multiple devices requires you to upgrade to pro which costs a few pounds – (£17.49 per year at the time of writing). Given that this is a web app you would not want to keep anything really private in it. Remember the Milk strangely has no desktop support on the Mac – there is an Adobe Air app called “App for the Milk” that works quite well (provided that you have gone pro).

An alternative to Remember the Milk is Omni Focus. However, for my money this app is too complex (although the iPad version is, in my opinion, easier to use than the Mac Desktop version. There is no windows support for this app at the time of writing.




 Trello ( has recently released an iPad App. It is the GTD application par excellence and is actually a web app. I run it on my Mac using a Web wrapper called fluid (which is worth a mention in its own right).

Trello supports the concepts of Boards and Lists. Lists contain cards which can be flagged with tags, due dates etc. and contain textual items, pictures, links, checklists etc.  How many boards, lists and cards you have is up to you. You can also share your boards with team members making it a powerful team organisational tool.






Password Management

1Password is a fantastic password management tool. It runs on the iPhone, iPad, PC and Mac with plugins for most common Web browsers and is capable of securely storing all your passwords, bank details etc. One of the really nice things about it is that it uses Dropbox as storage for your encrypted passwords and provides automatic synchronisation with your other devices. I would be totally lost without this piece of software.






NewImageReading documents off line

My choice for off line reading is an app called Pocket. Like remember the milk (RTM), it is free and synchronises with the cloud. Therefore like RTM it cannot be used for secret stuff – then again it is not designed for that – it is designed for permitting you to read web content later even when you are offline – great for plane trips etc. This app comes with a bunch of plug ins for common browsers making it easy to mark articles for later reading. These are a little clunky on the iPad but they do the job. In addition to being able to mark 







What is the cost?

At the time of writing (14-3-2013) the cost  of the above apps is as follows:

Notability £1.49

PDFExpert £6.99

PDF Convertor £4.99

Documents Free

Alfresco Free

Remember the Milk Free

Trello Free

1Pssword £12.99

Pocket Free

Total cost to get tooled up = £26.46

As usual, if you find this useful please consider giving a few quid to Oxfam. If you have any other handy apps please let me know!

Sheeva – Plug Computing

A month or so ago David Irvine of Maidsafe gave me a cool new toy – a SheevaPLUG Development Kit from GlobalScale. This is a computer that plugs into the wall (like a plug) like this –



Perhaps the best bit about this device is that is costs about $100. It runs Linux, has a 1.2 GHz single core processor and has 512 Mb of RAM and 512 Mb of Nand Flash. On the outside there are a few interfaces – a single USB port and an RJ45 ethernet port. It also has a min-USB connection for debugging it and an external flash slot for some kind of card – SD maybe? The whole box is pretty small  – 110 X 70 X 49mm. It is also remarkable due to the fact that it only draws 3 amps of current.

Anyhow, after this thing sitting in its box for a while I have decided to do something with it. Interestingly I think there are a number of cool things you could do with this – as a base station for motes, as an access point, for distributed p2p storage etc. etc. However, I have decided to use this one as a backup device.

Here is a photo of it sitting in a cupboard at home plugged into the network with the pink cable and connected to a tera byte Hitachi USB disk.


So far it is working pretty well, after a few hiccups (including deleting the whole init.d directory with a bit of gun ho rm commands). However there a a few things I would have liked to have known before I started:

1. It comes with Linux on it (not obvious – no screen:)

2. It responds to dhcp – no where in the documentation does it say this (that I could find). The documentation is on the whole close to non-existent.

3. It runs sshd out of the box.

4. I would have liked to know the default root password – it is “nosoup4u” – no soup for you.

5. It has samba on it but it is turned off by default.

6. I could go on but I won’t – it will just show how long it is since I did any proper sys admin – in fact if there is a downside to devices like this it is this – you have to run everything yourself – fine if you are a 15 year old Linux head but I am too old for that – I did that in my 20s.

Nevertheless, I am very impressed with this little toy – if it all goes wrong I will blog about it but for now it has backed up my daughter’s laptop and is currently backing up my wife’s.