Vuvuzela messaging systems

The much despised (by me, at least) Vuvuzela is being put to interesting use by a group of researchers at MIT.  This article discusses techniques that are being developed to hide metadata that is normally included in email and messaging systems.  As we know, metadata can give away a lot of information about the parties involved in the exchange, even if the content of the messages cannot be accessed.  This new messaging system creates a lot of noise to bury the metadata, e.g.:

  • Messages are stored on server rather than sent directly to their recipients.
  • The messages are released only in delayed rounds and not when each user requests them.
  • The system generates a large amount of dummy or fake messages (the Vuvuzela effect), which makes it difficult to distinguish the “true” metadata from the “false.”

With all these mechanisms working, the researcher behind the project say that the only variables Vuvuzela reveals are “the total number of users engaged in a conversation, and the total number of users not engaged in one.” And even then, it doesn’t reveal which group the user is part of. All of this is intended to obscure the metadata only, but the servers themselves also encrypt the message content the same as any other encrypted chat system.

This system can cause some annoyances in the form of delays, and it’s not clear how the false messages would be managed.  The software is in its infancy, but it’s an intriguing idea, and raises the question (not new, of course), about the balance between the desire for privacy, and the willingness to take the steps necessary to guard that privacy.


Canadian federal agencies report record-high number of data breaches

According to this article in today’s Globe and Mail, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien reports that: federal institutions reported 256 data breaches in 2014-2015, up from 228 the year beforeAs in previous years, the leading cause of breaches was accidental disclosure, a risk Therrien says can often be lessened by following proper procedures. The main culprit was identified as the use portable storage devices.

The audit, which examined practices at 17 institutions, identified a number of concerns:

  •  More than two-thirds of the agencies had not formally assessed the risks surrounding the use of all types of portable storage devices;
  • More than 90 per cent did not track all devices throughout their life cycle;
  •  One-quarter did not enforce the use of encrypted storage devices.

It’s interesting that there fears about the security of cloud storage is expressed so frequently, yet the dangers of losing data through portable devices is, in fact, usually a much bigger problem.

Keeping track of films

I have loved films since I was a child.  I am particularly fond of older films, especially those of the 1930s and 1940s.  My teenage fashion icon was Marlene Dietrich (she still is), and I knew more about the stars of the old silver screen than most people who had experienced those films first hand.  I have watched thousands of films and I have always tried to keep track of them, but with mixed results.  I tried keeping track of the films in a physical journal, but found it too tedious to search it, as well as to enter data.  I’ve tried a few databases designed for films, but I must admit that I didn’t keep up with them as well as I should, especially since most have been desktop-based.  I’ve found a collection of cloud-based film databases below that I would like to explore in more depth:

Movie Connect

CaptureThis is part of a suite in which you can keep track of books, music, cartoons, and games.  There is a monthly cost, so presumably you pay for only the movie portion.  The list of features is impressive, as you can access full listings from IMDb, titles of individual episodes for television series, full plot descriptions, YouTube videos, and so forth.  You can scan the ISBN code or do a title search.  In my case, I am  not interested in keeping track of only films I own, but of all films that I watch, so in most cases, a title search would suffice.  You can scan your hard drive for any films. Given the us of the QR code, this software is obviously compatible with mobile devices, and there are mobile apps. The cost is very reasonable ($29.95 CAD), and the search features look robust. UPDATE:  I am using the trial version for now (cloud based) and am impressed with the speed of upload and the quality of the records.  You have the option of adding personal data to the record (the “personal” tab), as well as to indicate whether this item is in your collection, in a wish list, or not in your collection (the latter is important, as I see many more films than I own). I like the fact that your data is stored on the cloud, so you can access it, and add to it, via mobile devices; further, you don’t need to transfer your data from one computer to the next.  The standard version does not have export features, but I don’t think I would  need them at this point.  The cost is reasonable, so this might be the database of choice.

Movie Label


This software provides all the information about the films, including plots, reviews, and so forth, as well as those that you might have on your computer.  Presumably, the information comes from IMDb, although it’s not specified.  You can export our collection to different formats, including HTML and PDF.  You can keep of films you have on loan; this would be useful for me, as I borrow a lot of films from the public library, although the library does a very good job of sending me reminders. The cost is $59.68 CAD, presumably for a yearly subscription. This software appears to be PC-based, which means it’s not as flexible, since it cannot be used easily with mobile devices. There is no mention of any mobile apps. UPDATE: The database is certainly very easy to use and allows you to add personalized information.  You can export, but the data resides on your hard drive, rather than the cloud.  I prefer cloud storage, since you don’t need to worry about transferring content from one machine to the other.  The price for the standard edition is quite high at $59.68CAD.

All My Movies

This is part of a suite of software provided by Bolide, that includes films and books.


This software looks similar to a free tracker that I have used in the past, but which I ultimately stopped using, as it didn’t allow me to sort films in any order, and because updates to the software would not load.  All My Movies does not look as slick as the other two, although it has most of the same features, including mobile apps and exporting features.  No mention is made of tying to individual episodes of television series. The cost (on sale) is $39.95 USD.  The look and feel of this website puts me off, to be honest, as it looks a little amateur.

Coollector Movie Database


This software has some impressive features.  I like the suggestions it makes based on the analysis of films you’ve watched, and the fact that it browses Netflix streaming moves.  It’s not clear whether the software would default to US Netflix, which does not have the same catalogue as the Canadian Netflix.  This software is endorsed by a lot of organizations, as listed on the website.  It has the usual content for films, including television series, is mobile friendly, and can be adapted to suit individual aesthetic tastes.  It has a very good faceted search feature. The cost is $8.99 USD, which is very good.  I think this is the one. Keep tuned (or “is watching” more appropriate?).  UPDATE:  I tried the trial basis and have decided it’s not for me.  The upload speed for titles is simply too slow; I had read this criticism in reviews of the site, and I certainly agree with the analysis.



Estimating poverty and wealth from cell phone metadata

Members of the University of Washington’s Information School and Computer Science and Engineering Department have co-authored a study that uses cell tower data to estimate distribution levels of poverty and wealth. The case study involved Rwanda.  The authors provide a fascinating alternative to the standard government census survey:  Not all are able to conduct population censuses and household surveys, and some go decades in between. In Rwanda, household surveys occur every three to five years. Blumenstock said based on the government’s 2010 survey, the 2009 mobile phone metadata proved more effective at indicating wealth and poverty than the previous Rwandan government survey in 2007.

7 PC Alternatives For Work: Tablets, 2-in-1s, Ultraportables

This article in Information Week is particularly timely, since I will be expecting a new laptop to be delivered to me this week. Apple’s Tim Cook has suggested that tablets do away with the need to own a computer.  The reality, however, is quite different.  I am a card-carrying technophile.  I have a tablet, an ebook reader, a laptop, and have just upgraded to a 64GB Android smartphone.  Yes, my tablet has my ebook app (Kobo), but I still prefer my ebook because of its very long battery life; for example, I didn’t need to charge my ebook reader over a nine-day trip in Europe, including transatlantic flight. Also, I find the ebook reader cuts down on interruptions, as I don’t feel compelled to look at email, FB, Twitter, etc. notifications while I’m reading, as I do when I use the Kobo app on my tablet.

The laptop I’ve ordered is for the office, as the previous laptop died very quickly from a mysteriously fried motherboard. Much as I love my tablet, it simply doesn’t work well for a number of my work needs. I can’t  use it quickly or efficiently to do my research, read and annotate articles, create presentations, create and maintain databases, do Excel calculations, and so forth. Storage isn’t a problem, since I’m 100% cloud based, but the functionality of tablets simply isn’t there yet. Investing in a keyboard, which is a must for any of the applications above, creates a smaller laptop-type device (so why not use an actual laptop?).  Working with complicated files such as databases, PowerPoint, and Excel is frustrating on a tablet, as is working with multiple windows on a tablet is an exercise in frustration.  Tablets simply can’t meet my professional needs at the moment, so a new work laptop it is. The seven products highlighted in this article are certainly a big improvement on tablets, but I don’t think they will work well in my work environment, where we are still behind in technology and tools (tight budgets).  I would certainly consider these seven tools for personal use, knowing that I have an office laptop to fall back on, but how much money can one invest in more devices?  or, rather, should?

14 creepy ways to use Big Data

This article from Information Week discusses 14 ways in which Big Data gathered about you can be used  in ways you might not like or anticipate. I think it’s important to keep all this in perspective; to quote one of the commentators: I often think the fear of the creepy uses that could leave a customer open to a security issue stand in the way of organizations pushing forward with big data initiatives. In reality, it just shines a light on the need for governance.  A question organizations should ask themselves is not, “can we,” but “should we,” when it comes to deciding how to gather and use personal information.  My previous post and the embedded SlideShare presentation addresses this matter in more detail.

Tumblr, I tried

I have decided to resurrect this WordPress blog, which I originally created three years ago.  Because I like to keep my fingers in various pies, I decided to create a Tumblr blog to focus on my professional interests, since I maintained a separate personal WordPress site.  I wanted to be familiar with Tumblr, as I think it’s important to keep up with different applications.  I was not impressed with Tumblr when I created the site there, but I thought I would stick it out and hope for the best.  My patience has run out,  however, and I am back to WordPress.  Tumblr simply isn’t robust or sophisticated enough for my needs:  Its editing features are horrible and it’s based almost exclusively on images and simple text.  So, back to WordPress it is.