Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Making BlackBerry Apps

People think that making BlackBerry apps is hard. It's not.

There are loads of helpful resources over at the BlackBerry Developer site. You can download the SDKs, sample code and all sorts of useful resources. But what if you're not a developer? What is you don't know your difference between Object Oriented and Spaghetti Code? Fear not. Help is at hand.

If you have an RSS feed on your website. That that can easily become an App thanks to the BlackBerry App Generator.

Register on the site and click Create App. You will be asked for various bits of information, such as the obvious ones like the RSS feed itself. You can include up to 4 feeds in your app. You can then upload a banner, an application icon and set all the necessary colours etc. You can even give it a price and then submit it straight into App World. In true Blue Peter fashion, here's one I made earlier.

(NB. This is a sample app only. The content of the site does not belong to me so I cannot submit it. However since I am an admin on the site, I can get download previews of my apps to be able to show them to people.)

This app is based off the excellent photo site JungleDragon.

Photos here are shown in blocks. However you can change the layout to include text. All you need to do is give the app generator your RSS feeds. These then become selectable options...

Simply click on a photo to open up the actual page with the title and description...

You can even share the items with social media...

I pinched some graphics off the site to use as the Banner headline, and as the icon for the app itself...

Of course this is only a sample app. It took all of about 5 mins to create - and most of that was stealing the graphics off the site. If this really were to be made public then Ferdy will have to register and do all the work himself.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A nasty infection

I have had my fair share of infections. But I have never had a computer infected.

But I went out last night to the local chippy for food and bumped into a friend who owns a local shop. He was rather frantic as he had been fighting a computer virus for most of the afternoon. But there is a problem... He's not too technical. So he asked me for help.
Now I don't have the time to hand-hold him through clearing out his system. Especially when I have a bag full of Cod & Chips. So I have to fall back and a trusted method. Cue the Kaspersky Rescue Disk.
It can't be simpler. Simply download, burn to a CD, then boot it on your infected computer and follow the instructions.

Anti-virus and malware is a huge problem. However it seems it' only a problem to the "unwashed masses". It's been my experience that people in the industry never seem to have problems with viruses and malware. It's the people who aren't as sceptical who have the issues.

I have no idea how much is lost to malware per year but it must be billions. I don't work in this industry so I don't have those facts to hand. But there are a lot of companies around who deal in this arena. There are a lot of good free products out there which do a good job. At home I use AVG on my Windows machines. But there are a few paid-for products which don't do as good a job. I've lost track of the times I've had to disable the anti-virus on my company laptop due to the issues it causes me when I am trying to work. Just don't tell the IT department. They'd try and get me arrested in Guatamala if they knew that I prefer to configure my own secure computers. Wait until they read what the audit reports is telling them. They might wonder why I have so much security software on my computer. But then again, you can never have too much protection and security... so long as it doesn't interfere with your work.

(Oh, and has anybody else noticed the typo on that download page? "Kasperksy")

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Multi-Player Games via Dropbox

A lot of us use Dropbox to synch files between computers and users. But did you know that you can also play multi-player games via Dropbox?
Back in the days of yore (meaning before the Internet made it onto the scenes, circa 1989) there used to be a prevalence of BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) around. I used to run one for WhiteGold Games. This was based on RyBBS and used to handle a lot of the necessary communications between the players of the various games that we handled. You see, WhiteGold was a Play-by-Mail company. A multi-player system where on a weekly basis people would send their games orders in by Snail Mail, we would process them through the computer, print out the results and send them back. The most common games were WhiteGold itself (a Fantasy RPG/Empire building game that was kind of free-form), StarMagic (a Space Empire game from Australia that had really huge capacity and stunning printouts), and Balance of Power (a modern warfare like, empire building game). Along with a handlful of other games this was WhiteGold primary stock in trade. I joined WhiteGold in my university Industrial Placement Year to write a new game called Robot Wars. This was a complicated games where you built up resources to build robots and program them to send them out into the world to find and destroy your neighbours.
But I digress. One of my other jobs was to use the computer to set up a bulletin board where players could dial in to upload their turns or even... play games directly. These games were known as Door games.
They mostly used ANSI graphics (they were DOS based) and had primitive functionality, but they had real game power. Players used to spend a lot of time figuring out their tactics, making (and breaking) alliances, and generally having a good time with them.
So where does Dropbox figure? Well these games didn't have network connections. They were all file based. Player lockouts were handled by separate files and data was stored in a shared system. Nothing special. Yet that methodology works very well via Dropbox. The synchronisation facility provided works very well to keep all players in the game up-to-date with what's going on.
I've tried a few games out, and though some work well, others do not. One which I have found works well is Barons.
 I now have a few trusted friends who are intent on slaughtering me. You build up your armies by taking over the surrounding towns. You tax the peasants and set you draft rate for hiring new recruits. But you can only perform a number of game commands equal to twice your level. How do you raise your level? By fighting monsters in the combat arena of course.

I am sure there are more games out there that will work successfully via Dropbox. It's just that there are so many to choose from. Let me know what games work well for you.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Notes Error

I was switching between Client, Designer and Admin (using 8.5.3 FP1) when this occurred.
"Notes IPC Asynch Message Processor (16)". It seems to stem from the fact that it couldn't open the search bar in my mail file. Actually this is not surprising as what I was also doing was using Location documents to switch between my ID, and an Admin ID whilst upgrading a database design.
IBM have a technote http://www-01.ibm.com/support/docview.wss?uid=swg1LO48522
A programming error was found but will not be corrected. It will be a permanent restriction.
All well and good, but being the Geek I am' I'd still like to know what the exact cause is. I can make a guess that it's the Inter Process Communications transfer. I wonder if one process is in one ID and another process in a different ID. Just as well they shouldn't talk to each other as it could open a whole can of worms.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The "Snooper's Charter"

Yesterday I went to the Open Rights Group meeting to Stop the Snooper's Charter. Whilst there was a lot of talk about the hows and whys of what the Communications Capabilities Development Programme involves, I can't help feeling that they have completely missed an important point.
One part of the meeting involved what we could do to fight back against the bill in the form of a grass roots opposition. One method is to issue Freedom of Information requests to your mobile phone provider to obtain as much data as you can from them about you. This is your data and you have a right to know what they are keeping. This includes things like, location data (which mobile base stations your phone talks to), call data, and of course data data (ie. what your smart phone sends/receives). Now there is a voluntary clause to the existing laws that carriers can record details "up to the first slash". Which means they can identify the websites you visit, but not the actual page on that website. There is just one, major flaw in this. This will work perfectly well on Apple devices, and Androids... but it will fail dismally when it comes to BlackBerry devices.
For one thing, the carriers have no idea what websites you visit. All of this data is carried over the BlackBerry services infrastructure. The request for that website is bundled up, compressed and if you're connected to a BES, encrypted. But it's just as simple for BIS users to also encrypt their data for web access. Requesting this from your Carrier is pointless because they will just shrug their collective shoulders and say that it's nothing to do with them.
If you're on a BES, then the data can be obtained from the company who owns that BES. But for BIS, you'd have to go to BlackBerry. I'm not sure what the legal point of view of BB would be, but in the past they have been happy to provide lawful information for police forces (see the August Riots).
Either way to perform these FOI requests, each person would have to stump up £10 and be prepared to spend at least a month sending letters back and forth whilst the Carriers play dumb about not knowing (or more likely, not caring) about the data you requested.
So lets return to my original important point. Introducing laws and the like involves a serious amount of work. It takes time. A lot of time. Heck there are still pieces of the Police and Justice Act 2006 which have not yet been ratified. But there is one thing that works faster. And that is software development.
Why not make the whole situation pointless in the first place. If everybody's data is strongly encrypted in the first place, then no government can snoop on their citizens in the first place. Why not make sure that all the data that can reveal information about a person is encrypted and protected beyond what can be decoded within a reasonable time frame. After all every piece of encryption can be broken, it's just a matter of making it economically viable. At the moment mobile information can only be securely encrypted on BlackBerry devices. Thats why they have FIPS certification. Surely it's better to put secure communications in place so everybody is secure in the first place?
Oh that's right, I forgot. People don't care about security. The sheep that are out there tweet and farcebook their currently locations and statuses all the time with no thought about how that information gets used (and abused). People just don't care.
People don't care about the laws. They don't care about the software. So long as they can go on living in their own happy world, they can go on. Until they are arrested for being falsely flagged up as a terrorist because they tweeted something obnoxious or were subject to some dodgy app opening a web connection to a dodgy website. So why don't developers protect them from behind the scenes? Because not only do people not care, but companies don't care either... unless it is about their profit margins. After all the "Banks" introduced Chip and Pin as a cheap security measure and that hasn't worked out so well either.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sky+... way behind the Open Source community

So Sky+ have announced a couple of "features" that they have added to their product. An Iphone app update adds remote control features and an Undelete feature. All I can say is whoo-bloody-hoo.
Sorry Sky, you're way behind on this one.
When the UK went totally digital back in April I had to buy a new recorder. I wanted something which would fit my needs. ie the capability to watch what I want, when I want, and more importantly wherever I want. I researched into a lot of PVR systems that were around at the time. And even now, the one I chose is still leading the way in innovation. Why? Because although it's a commercial product, it embraces open source and allows people to add their own features.
I chose the Humax HDR-Fox-T2.
Why? Well numerous reasons.
  1. It has a RJ45 port to allow it to connect to my home network.
  2. It has duel tuners to record two channels at once.
  3. It has a really active community and additional software.
  4. It's cheap and doesn't tie you to any contract.
  5. Plus the fact you can stick a 1TB hard disk in there (or any other size for that matter).
Of course, according to the DVB standard, all recorders must encrypt all broadcasts - especially HD ones - and Humax do just that. They comply with the (unjust, in my opinion) law. Well this is all fine and dandy, but it's just DRM. We know that DRM in all forms is a seriously bad thing and limits to capabilities of what you can do with things. But the whole point of being able to install your own stuff means that, as with DVDs, the encryption has been broken and once again people are free to do what they want.
Because the core of the product is a Linux system, the information as to how it works is publicly available. Roll on the hacking community.
There are now over 150 different add-ins which can be put onto the system which add a browser interface, editing capabilities, compression by stripping un-needed EPG data from the broadcast, a telnet interface, remote scheduling & control and much, much more. Yes even an Undelete feature, as touted by Sky.
Now this is what happens when you make a product that is extendible. People buy it because they can add to it and make it their own.

Now if only I can stop the wife from eating up disk space with X factor, The Voice, Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity and other such stuff. Though of course she can always move the recordings onto her own hard disk out of the way so I can record my Joy of Stats and Tales from the Wild Wood. What can I say? I'm a Geek,

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Thats a lot of Computing power

Of course by "lot" I mean large amount of space, not large amount of capability.
The WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell) gets brought back on line. I have a large amount of respect for pioneers on the computing industry. They led the way for others of us to follow. Without them, where would we be?
Well probably living under a Nazi regime for one. It was the war effort which really pushed the boundaries in trying to develop computing power. As with anything in that era, it was driven by necessity. Of course these days it seems, "necessity" has been replaced by "greed".
One of the biggest increases in computing speciality in modern times is highly motivated by greed. That is organised gangs of developers trying to actively break into software and websites. And it's not just financial/banking websites. They will go after anything.
I run my own webserver, and one of the sites I host is an ecomerce site. By that I mean that it takes financial payments on credit cards (and by paypal). It's protected behind SSL of course. But that doesn't stop automated attacks against it by the thousand. Since February this year (when I started keeping extremely detailed records of all attacks) there have been over 30,000 separate attacks against it. This is going on all the time. Some of the sites are on a different IP address - and bear no relation to the primary. Yet they receive the same notice. Why? Because knocking on doors is cheap. Automated systems can run round the net day in, day out, looking for any chink in your armour. Once they get a single positive response to any of their methods, then the attacks start in earnest.
Do you really know who is attacking your servers? Does your website respond properly? More to the point, does you're website notify you when somebody makes a positive hit? If it's a Domino server then it really should. You never know what data you're exposing inadvertently.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

BlackBerry is dead. Notes is dead.

OK admit it. You came to this article because of the headline didn't you?
Well it seems this is the way lazy journalists entice people in. Put up an attention grabbing headline, start off writing something pretty boring and soon people will drift away taking with them the subconscious idea that the headline was right.
I've been hearing the "Notes is dead" mantra for a long time now. At least 10 years, probably longer. Well I've been in the Notes arena now for nearly 20 years and Notes is about as dead as it was when it first launched.
I've been in the BlackBerry arena a lot shorter of a time span - only 4 years - but even from the inside I see no death in it's future.
Going back to the lazy journalists:
  • eWeek - IBM Drops Lotus Brand, Takes Notes and Domino Forward
  • ITBusiness - IBM quietly kills its Lotus brand
  • NetWork World - IBM kills Lotus brand, readies beta of Notes/Domino Social Edition
  • PCWorld - IBM kills Lotus brand, readies Notes/Domino Social Edition 
  • TechWeek Europe - IBM Drops Lotus Brand
  • The Register - IBM drops Lotus brand from next version of Notes
Notice the key phrases? What they are trying to imply is that they are killing Notes/Domino. What is actually happening is a name change. But changing a name doesn't make headlines and sell Ad space. The closest we get it from The Register. But then again, they specialise it fact checking.
The people I hear who are saying that Notes is dead, are the ones who don't get it. Whether they have had a bad experience with systems in the past, or whether they simply haven't made the switch from the mindset that Notes is only email.
As to BlackBerry being dead; I was on the bus home a few weeks back and there was a teenager in the seat in front of me. He was complaining that his BlackBerry (an 8520) had lousy battery life and kept locking up. I could see his screen as he waved it around in front of his friends. He had icons for WiFi and Bluetooth enabled and as he scrolled down the screen there were pages and pages of icons. Must have been about 8 pages worth. I dread to think how many of those were permanently active. It seems that the people who declare BlackBerry dead are suffering from the same problem. They don't get it.
It seems the problem with both stems from the same fact. People don't understand technology. Or don't want to. So instead they opt for the solution where everything is done for them - at a premium price. How do you deal with sheep like that? Training? Awareness? Or by getting Developers properly trained to write applications that are simple and easy for users with limited attention spans. But that takes time and effort. A lot of Devs don't have that luxury.