SciBlogs

Archive February 2012

Protecting your Web aimee whitcroft Feb 29

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What a mad day.  I’ve been happily tweeting/Facebooking/Google Plussing these links today, and figured I should just get it over and point to them in a brief blog post. This post will cover protecting your web browsing habits, tracking who’s tracking you, and how to better encrypt your traffic.

So, yes.  First things first.

Your web history and Google

On March 1st 2012, Google’s new privacy policies kick in. One of the ramifications/impacts of said policy change is that your web browsing history and demographic data will be linked, going forward, to your various google web identity, as represented by your Gmail and YouTube accounts. For some of you, this may be a non-event, in which case I’d STILL urge you to clear your history. For many others, well, I can imagine this may be a source of worry (and perfectly fairly so!).

You can opt out, but it means you have to opt out of Google services altogether.

Alternatively, you can (before March 1st!!) unlink your web history and your Google accounts.  The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) suggests you do this.  As do I. Quoting from this Digital Journal article:

1. Go to the google homepage and sign into your account.

2. Click the dropdown menu next to your name in the upper-right hand corner of your screen.

3. Click accounts settings

4. Find the “Services section”

5. Under “Services” there is a sub-section that reads “View, enable, disable web history.” Click the link next to it that reads: “Go to Web History.”

6. Click on “Remove all Web History.

When you click on “Remove all Web History,” a message appears that says ” Web History is Paused.”

What this means is that while Google will continue gathering and storing information about your web history it will make all data anonymous, that is, Google will not associate your Web History information with your online accounts and will therefore be unable to send you customized search results. Google’s ability to gather personalized information about you by assigning data to your Gmail and YouTube accounts will remain “Paused” till you click “Resume.”

And interestingly: I discovered that my primary Gmail account didn’t have web history turned on, but a number of my secondary/ancillary accounts did, although I certainly don’t remember ever being asked to turn that on!

Collusion and HTTPS Everywhere

Mozilla Firefox has just released an experimental add-on, Collusion, which visualises your web browsing, and how your movements are being tracked by third parties, in real time. Happily, the blurb for the tool states that the information gathered in order to make the visualisation is stored locally, can be deleted by resetting the graph, and is not given away to anyone else. Revolutionary stuff :)

An example – my Collusion visualisation after a very brief period browsing to only a small number of sites. Notice the amount of tracking that's already happened. Click on the image to see in full size.

Finally, HTTPS Everywhere has also just been released. A collaboration between The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it helps make your browsing more secure by encrypting you communications with many major websites. Says the release:

Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS, but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by rewriting all requests to these sites to HTTPS.

So, there you have it.  Three ways to know more about who’s looking at you, while giving away less :)

Enjoy, and safe surfing!

And if you know of any other useful tools, please do add them in the comments!

TOSP Episode 22: February 27th 2012 aimee whitcroft Feb 28

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Hello, and welcome to a very watery TOSP :)

This week, Elf and aimee talk of things watery — watery planets, flying squid and plankton blooms — as well as new FTL neutrino info (what may have gone wrong), genius computer software, bioscience’s contribution to NZ’s economy, plus a new brilliant site for science-based ebooks and apps, and the tree of diversification!

PODCAST HERE

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You can read the rest of this entry on the Sciblogs The Official Sciblogs Podcast site

Infographic: Buying an iPad 3 aimee whitcroft Feb 27

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A fascinating infographic from research firm AYTM Research (Ask Your Target Market) looks at who is likely to buy the soon-to-be-released iPad 3, and why they might do so.

Some of my favourite stats? Far more people are likely to buy this as their first iPad, than as their next one [herroooo market penetration!].

Also, people like apps and, hilariously (but it makes sense!), iPads are used most lying on the couch :) Or in bed :)

And the big thing that users feel is missing?  A Flash Player (Adobe keeps threatening to release a version of Air that can handle iOS devices, but doesn’t appear to have done so yet.  So, currently, unless one jailbreaks one’s iPad, Flash is tricky)*.

Anyway, to the methodology. Two surveys were conducted: one of 2,000 iPad-less Americans, and one of 500 iPadded ‘Mericans. Both were conducted in February 2012. And the part of the study looking at iPad owners is available from AYTM as a full interactive stats report.

UPDATE: You can fill in a 3 question survey here on whether or not you’ll get an iPad 3? Why? Because I’m interested in non-US stats, and this breaks down stats geographically :) Further UPDATE: AYTM’s got in touch with me and pointed me (and you, dear readers!) to this new version of their survey, aimed at understanding international patterns. Sadly, though, it doesn’t seem to break things down by country…

via Mashable.

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* Based on my admittedly-imperfect knowledge.

Courtesy of AYTM Research

Courtesy of AYTM Research

TOSP Episode 21: February 21st 2012 aimee whitcroft Feb 20

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We’re back!  And with a minimum of difficulties this week :)

This week, Elf and aimee talk of a new soft motor, ROBOBEES, a teeeeeensy chameleon (squee!), hacking yoghurt, some very ancient art, ROBOBEES, investing in yourself, knitting needles and water bubbles and space, quantum computing for beginners, sequencing genomes on a USB stick-sized device (!!!!) and ROBOBEES.

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You can read the rest of this entry on the Sciblogs The Official Sciblogs Podcast site

Fireflies, luuurve and NASA aimee whitcroft Feb 15

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In this newest animated video from fellow Sciblogger Siouxsie Wiles (Infectious Thoughts) explains how fireflies* use bioluminescence to find love (or the firefly equivalent), and, well, food.

And it then goes on to explain how the chemical reaction used to produce that light, can be exploited to help us test for bacterial presence.  In your kitchen.  On your mobile phone.  In your food.

And in spacecraft assembly.  Watch the video to figure out why that’s necessary :)

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

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* Also known as lampyridiae. You can meet these wonderful creatures in Siouxsie first animation. Siouxsie makes the videos with Luke Harris, of Luke Harris Graphics.

** The name for that lovely glowey thing which they do.  This is, of course, the technical definition.

The mechanics of love aimee whitcroft Feb 14

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Today is Valentines Day.

Apparently, this is the cause for a great deal of consternation.  I know that it has, over the years, occasioned horror for me, too*.

So, I thought I’d just share something a bit fun and whimsical.  Those of you who are American will no doubt know the name Rube Goldberg. I grew up with the English equivalent – Heath Robinson. Both were famous for their incredible machines*, in which a seemingly simple action was achieved by an almost inhumanly complicated contraption.

In today’s fun demonstration, we will see how swinging Spiderman figurines and various other common household objects*** can help a young male human seduce a young female human.  There’s plonk pouring, prodding and general purposefullness :)

Perfect :)

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Why does this particular holiday elicit so much more hate than other similarly crass and commercial ones, like Christmas?  Both are about being with people (or not, as the case may be).  And, I might add, being ‘alone’ is a) a state of mind much of the time, and b) can be pretty glorious too – it depends on the people with whom one is or is not!

I’d also at this point like to cite The Oatmeal’s feelings about Valentines, a wonderful xkcd cartoon on overthinking the whole thing (I agree with both), and, oh yes, the best greetings cards ever. Because _I_ love you all. Even if no one else does.

And no.  I didn’t get a damned thing for Valentines.  Sniff.

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* The episode in early primary school involving the boy on whom I had a crush, my lovingly handcrafted gift to him, his subsequent inability (and lack of wish, I suspect) to accept it, and my humiliation in front of, and by the entire, class will remain etched on my braincells for ever. For ever.

** Play the game. Immediately.  I loved it muchly as a kid, still love it as much now, and it was released again last year. woop!

*** Depending on the people with whom you live, of course :)

Introducing a new blog: The Cosmic Engine aimee whitcroft Feb 02

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It is widely agreed that quantum mechanics is pretty cool.  Even if one doesn’t quite understand it*.

cosmic engine banner v1

And so, we are presenting you, our readers, with a quantum mechanics blog/blogger!

Meet Dr Roger Hanson, who will be head blogger at The Cosmic Engine (a blog).  Originally having gained his various qualifications in the UK, he’s now based in NZ full-time, lives and works in New Plymouth and, apparently, is a fan of Van Halen**.

Oh yes, and he’s also written a book: The Cosmic Engine.

Roger – welcome! We’re so happy to have you joining our stable – we hope you’ll be happy here :)

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* The quotation “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics” is very widely attributed to physics luminary and all around Awesome Person Richard Feynman. Sadly now deceased :(

** But then, who isn’t?

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