Archive for the 'Hacks' Category

Twitter + Augmented Reality + Facial Recognition = Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Squidder's facetweet

While @briancaldwell of Squidder thinks that their latest creation reeks of “Big Brother / 1984” overtones, I beg to differ… it looks incredibly useful (and fun)!
Continue reading ‘Twitter + Augmented Reality + Facial Recognition = Nineteen Eighty-Four?’

Singapore Biometric Passport in hand (and how to anti-RFID it)

Biometric Singapore Passport in hand...

While I haven’t heard of any Singapore RFID-enabled passports being cloned yet, I did hear that all you need is a good crack of the hammer to prevent the RFID chip from ever working, thereby preventing the hack. That’s unless the RFID has already been sniffed and cloned while being mailed. In truth, its no better security than magnetic strips on credit cards (encrypted or not), except that being RFID requires no physical contact. Which makes me think that if you travel a lot, Paraben’s anti-RFID Passport StrongHold Holder could be just the security you need. Or you could make your own simple anti-RFID wallet using aluminum foil and duct tape.

ATV4mac: Running Apple TV on your Mac (almost!)

ATV4mac 1.4

Most of you know what the Apple TV is… you know that Internet appliance which lets your purchase and rent movie (and music) titles directly from the iTunes store for your television, without the need of a computer?

While Apple has started renting HD movies over iTunes as well, you can’t purchase them through iTunes on your Mac or PC. Instead these HD video rentals are only for the Apple TV!

A shame, since it would have been perfect for viewing on our computers, especially those of us with large computer monitors and no television screens at home. There seems to be some hope in the horizon though.

From the MacRumors forum, there’s word of a partial solution called ATV4mac. It’s essentially a hacked version of Front Row made to function like the Apple TV, running on your Mac. Now it only works on Tiger 10.4.8+, not Leopard (10.5) yet.

My friend Peter dug up details on this, and discovered that those who’ve tried getting HD videos via ATV4mac reached 99% download completion before it fails. ATV4mac is still work in progress, we’ll need to give it some time.

You can check out more screenshots as well as the download at

Video Demo: Chris Anderson’s “DIY Drones” @ ETech

So with the departure of my Sony UX umpc (sold via Craigslist), I’m officially moving from nu-tradition lifecasting to a more mobile solution. My previous setup was way too complex (was getting into LCD glasses and a wearable keyboard) and I believe that the more natural evolution would lie in programmable networked cameraphones (see my interview). Running parallel to this is an interest in drones, especially flying ones.

I alluded to a subtle need for lifecasting drones when two news helicopters collided mid-air while covering a police car chase, costing four lives (warning: graphic video). Aerial drones can save lives, and despite popular belief, you don’t need military budget to build one too.

Here are three reasons why I’m hoping to get into aerial surveillance drones next:
1. They fly (awesome!)
2. You can give them A.I.
3. Great perspective for surveillance
4. They can be cheap (fine, I can’t count)

blubberbot I’ve been following Chris Anderson, Wired editor in chief and author of The Long Tail, who has been blogging about do-it-yourself UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) at DIY Drones.

At the recent O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, Xeni of spoke with Anderson as well as “airplane geek” Jordi Munoz, about the quest to create the ultimate sub-$100 aerial drone. I love their perspective: “UAVs are often associated with military combat or police surveillance, but what “friendlier” uses might we put them to, in civilian hands?” Shown in the video above is their Minimum Blimp UAV, which is further showcased on DIY Drones. You can build you own easily using this kit from

Aside: So I missed ETech and SXSW. Bummer. I should take Kelly Sutton’s advice on hacking both events next year. He spills the beans at

Dirty Hack: JoikuSpot + Nokia cellphone = 3G iPhone

How to: JoikuSpot + Nokia = 3G iPhone

I first heard about JoikuSpot via Preetam’s twitter last night. This morning, lots of blogs caught on.

JoikuSpot is currently free to install on S60-based cellphones and it shares your 3G mobile Internet data connection via Wi-Fi to any wireless device. Think of it as a mobile hotspot, something almost equivalent (it’s still less potent) to the CradlePoint EVDO wifi router which I covered late last year. You obviously want to have an unlimited data plan before trying this.

When I played with JoikuSpot last night, I thought how convenient that my iPhone came with the AT&T’s unlimited data, so I slipped the SIM card into my Nokia e61, which I got for traveling. Since I use Skype and Pfingo (VoIPs) on the e61, they work under AT&T’s data connection, plus I was able to run JoikuSpot mobile hotspot on top of that!

Via the new mobile hotspot, my iPhone was able to load web sites faster and the iTunes music store worked to a certain extent. The MacBook Pro was able to connect and surf the web pretty well, except that HTTPS connections required workarounds and Youtube videos loaded slow. One other caveat is how JoikuSpot currently has no wireless security on it, so anyone can use your hotspot as well.

Aside: For Windows Mobile users, there’s an equivalent app called WMWifiRouter.

Scoble gets booted off Facebook for scraping his personal data

Photo courtesy of Laughing Squid

Just today, blogerati Robert Scoble got booted off Facebook. He was was privately testing Plaxo’s Data Importer on Facebook, as new feature of Plaxo Pulse (to sync contacts from web services). Since Facebook doesn’t provide APIs to allow developers to grab their own data off the network (e.g. your contacts), that’s where the dirtier means of scraping comes in.

If you are trying to contact me on Facebook, please don’t. My account has been “disabled” for breaking Facebook’s Terms of Use. I was running a script that got them to keep me from accessing my account. I’m appealing. I’ll tell you what I was doing as soon as I talk with the developers who built what I was using and as soon as I talk with Facebook’s support (I sent an email in reply to the one below, but haven’t heard back yet).

Web scraping generically describes any of various means to extract content from a website over HTTP for the purpose of transforming that content into another format suitable for use in another context. You could do it by hand (like copy and pasting text), but it’ll hurt if there are lots of pages. In most cases, you could use a script or a program to do it for you, but that’s quite detectable by most systems since it would result in high traffic coming from an IP address.

It’s rather coincidental since Wired’s latest issue has a great feature entitled “Should Web Giants Let Startups Use the Information They Have About You?“. Rather timely to note how this might be an issue as earlier traditional web service business models collide with Web 2.0 philosophy.

Unfortunately, Facebook isn’t exactly being open with their business. They’re pretty much an old-school business run by persistent and lucky teenagers (remember Facebook’s fumble with Beacon and NewsFeed?).

Desperately hoarding onto your own personal data and telling you how you are allowed to use it is so communist, it’s not even funny (see my “Walled Garden” story).

Perhaps this is why Scott Gilbertson of Wired spoke so eloquently on the issue:

[I]n the Facebook world, your data is welcome to come in, but there’s no going out. It turns out Facebook is a bit like the Hotel California: “we are programmed to receive / You can check-out any time you like / But you can never leave!”

Just a word of caution NOT to produce solely on Facebook, but publish widely beyond its walls.

Question: So why are we still hooked on Facebook?

My take: It focuses extremely well on friends and their activities. Unlike typical forums and social networks, Facebook does have a neat balance of personality (internal self) and shared content (external self). It’s a fully identified Internet within an Internet where the norm seems to be of sharing accurate information about oneself, thereby allowing others to find you. For instance, just look at the number of people who disclose actual birthdays… I don’t think that was ever a norm in the past! In turn, Facebook results in having precise demographic data about everyone, perfect for advertisers (try putting up a Facebook ad to see the array of targeting options!). As much as we might hate the Facebook government, the traction we’ve built for ourselves with it (i.e. no. of friends) makes it harder to leave.

Summary: For all it’s insidious worth, Facebook pretty much got this game locked down tight. Heck, the user population growth won’t likely plateau out since there’s always something new; Facebook largely depends on user-generated content (e.g. your posts, photos, videos, apps). Unless Facebook pisses more users off, I don’t think anyone would be the wiser to leave. I guess they’d only open up if it’s their last resort.

Call to Action: If you’re like me, feeling up in arms, perhaps you could consider joining the Data Portability initiative at They’re about making all forms of personal data discoverable, and shared between our chosen tools or vendors. Yes, we need a DHCP for Identity. ;)

Aside: I’m a huge fan of Plaxo’s contact syncing service, since it helps me keep contacts in my Mac’s address book (and thus iPhone), Gmail, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and many more all in sync. If it detects that any of my contacts is also a Plaxo user (matched via email address), anytime that user makes a change to his contact info, I get the data synced up automatically. It’s clever, and it’s what being Web 2.0 is so all about… transparency between web services. This is the kind of open network I wish to have.

theorycast.33 :: Hacking the Asus Eee (plus MojoPak!)

Topic: Hacking the Asus Eee • Show Guest: John Waller • Show Length: 25 mins

IT Manager, John Waller, show us how he “juiced up” his Asus Eee from a US$349 Internet appliance to a pretty full-fledged portable computer. Mods include adding 1gb memory, installing Windows XP over Xandros Linux, and adding more storage space for Windows applications (like Microsoft Office) using SD High-Capacity memory cards as well as MojoPak on his iPod.

While I’m a fan of UMPCs, they tend to be high-powered and very expensive. The Asus Eee is pretty dramatic, both in terms of physical size and price, for turning everyday consumers into hobbyists.

I was just telling John how I’ve noticed a trend where manufacturers are going into the long tail, tapping into the DIY, open-source niche crowd, by producing easily hackable consumer hardware. This courting of the hackers used to visible only for specialized devices, such as the Buffalo Kuro Box (a fully customizable NAS), or the Linksys WRT54GL (a Linux hacker’s router).

Now, besides accessible (low-powered, thus cheap) devices such as the Asus Eee, we have programmable devices getting mainstream, with prosumer choices such as the nifty Neo 1973 touchscreen cellphone running the OpenMoko Linux platform. I was just telling Dan Aiomi how I’d love to mod my cellphone to read barcodes / RFID so I can shop for deals more efficiently.

FriendFarming: Harvesting Social Networking Friends for Sale

MySpace t-shirts

GoldFarming: The act of playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) solely for the purpose of harvesting and selling loot, accumulating gold and then selling that virtual gold for real money in online marketplaces such as eBay or (See Wikipedia entry)

And Now…
Friendfarming: The act of playing a Social Networking Site (SNS) solely for the purpose of harvesting and selling relationships, accumulating friends and then selling that user account for real money in online marketplaces such as eBay or Craigslist. (See relevant eBay auctions)

On eBay, MySpace accounts with 8500+ friends are being sold for around US$75, 7000+ friends for US$65, 4000+ for US$35, and the list goes on. Given this trend, I wonder if it makes sense to sell Facebook accounts as well.

In a recent study, IT security firm Sophos created a fake Facebook user account under the name ‘Freddi Staur‘, and randomly requested 200 members to be friends with ‘Freddi.’ Out of those 200, 87 accepted the friend request and 82 of those gave ‘Freddi’ access to “personal information” such as e-mail addresses, dates of birth, addresses and phone numbers, and school or work data (Thanks Derek!).

Both cases break the magic circle. Both also involve some form of labor, although it is often partly automated through the use of bot programs.

While this might not be ethical, it remains to be seen if the harvesting of user profiles might still be cheaper than Facebook’s new targeted advertising system. After all, being “cheaper” is what drives email spam till today.

Video: Heard about Pfingo? Kevin chats with the Tech65 crew

Everybody knows Skype. Everybody loves Skype. But has Starhub gained itself a huge advantage with Pfingo here in Singapore? Daniel and Jerrick discuss the unique features of Starhub’s VoIP offering with Senior Mac Daddy-ologist Kevin Lim, over in Buffalo. Watch original episode on

When I was approached by Rebecca of Edelman (Singapore) to look at Pfingo, I agreed simply because I had a jet-setting friend in IBM who had been raving about it. Studying abroad, it made sense for me to find the best way for chatting up folks back home, so finding a decent VoIP solution has been a ongoing quest for me.

What’s Pfingo?
For starters, pfingo is short for phone-finger-internet-on the-go. It’s actually three things:
1. pfingoTALK = VoIP
2. pfingoACTIVE = IM, Push content
3. pfingoMAIL = email service

A Lesson in More = Less?
Perhaps it’s an Asian thing, but most of the web services I see coming out of Singapore like being “all-in-ones” (e.g. VelvetPuffin). Unlike our American counterparts who focus on doing one thing well (e.g. Skype, Meebo), I wouldn’t have cared for Pfingo since it was simply all over the place, offering too many services, most of which I was happily using elsewhere (e.g. Gmail, Meebo). Perhaps some might love the fact that Pfingo does so much, but for me, I fell for the VoIP service, which is actually it’s unique strength over anything I’ve used before. I felt that the VoIP feature should simply be marketed to gain top of mind share.

Why did I start using Pfingo more?
As an ex-Vonage customer and now Skype Pro user, Pfingo was the only VoIP service which could offer me a Singapore telephone number for my VoIP account. Perhaps it’s the way the Singapore phone numbers are regulated, but while I could get my own phone numbers for most other countries on Skype, Singapore seems to exclude local phone numbers from being used by foreign companies, giving Starhub (which runs Pfingo) an edge in offering local VoIP services.

How do I personally use it?
For friends in the States, I use my iPhone (under AT&T).
For friends back in Singapore, I use Pfingo.
As backup to call anywhere, I use Skype.

How much is all this?
Having tried various VoIP services, I would think that Pfingo is competitively priced. They have a Basic plan ($1/mth) and a Pro plan ($8/mth), with the main difference being whether you wish to get free outgoing local calls. All calls to PfingoTALK numbers are free as seen in the pfingoTALK Price Plans.

Pfingo gives you a Singapore telephone number
Unlike Skype, Pfingo uses standard SIP protocols, allowing you to use plenty of third party tools to integrate with the service. On my wifi-enabled Nokia e61 cellphone (I don’t even need a SIM card), I was able to get Pfingo running, but only after getting help from the awesome support staff at Starhub (setup does get a little tricky). After that, it works rather flawlessly and voice calls were much clearer than Skype. While Starhub offers a Windows VoIP client which even supports SMS (nice one), Mac users aren’t left out as we can also use a SIP-client from CounterPath that works great with pfingoTALK called X-Lite. It’s a beautiful client I should add, with plenty of slick features all for free. The Pfingo dev team runs a blog over at Livejournal and there are easy instructions there for setting up your X-Lite Mac client.

Plenty to read about Pfingo…
Watch for more hacks via their handy developer blog, unofficial blog as well as their Pfingo forum. Here’s their beginner’s guide and a how to on calling overseas. Strangely, those blogs haven’t been updated in a while.

Disclaimer: Since I was a Pfingo trial user, I’ve been given a Pro account for a year. Free or not, I wouldn’t really care to blog about something if i didn’t think it’s worth mentioning, so Starhub’s latest venture definitely rocks my boat.

Facebook Screensaver lets you virtually “people watch” friends…

I might have a problem with Facebook, but after talking to undergrads on how they used it (was a guest speaker last week), I started to have a clearer sense of our universe of social networks.

I’ve recently arrived at this…
Explicit social networks (e.g. Facebook) are like Open-ended virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life)
Niche social networks (e.g. Flickr) are like Goal-driven MMORPG (e.g. World of Warcraft)

Anyway, since we no longer have that omniscient lifestream-like Facebook news feed (actually we still do, just without timestamp), this is perhaps the next best thing.

This Facebook Screensaver essentially lets you virtually “people watch” your friends, by automatically downloading photos from your network of friends and displaying them as an animated slideshow. After logging in through the screensaver, you’ll be able to choose which friends you’d like to see, filter by gender and relationship status, and more.

You can check out Doomlaser’s Facebook Screensaver here…