Following storm Darwin earlier this year and the widespread disruption caused by storm damage and flooding I carried out an on-line survey on how information on storm and flood-damage was being disseminated to the Irish public. Having worked with Disaster Tech Lab in disaster zones all over the globe for the last 4+ years I’ve learned that the gathering but even more the curation and dissemination of relevant data is crucial during extreme weather events. It serves dual purposes; first it allows for a better tailored response effort but secondly it also increases awareness amongst the general public allowing them to avoid dangerous areas and/or to evacuate if necessary. The survey was basic and had the single purpose to ascertian if people had received information about damage caused by storm Darwin and through what medium they had received this information.

Following is a summary of the results:

  • Respondents were 61.11% male & 38.89% female
  • The majority were in the 35-44 age bracket
  • Most respondents lived in Dublin, Cork & Galway (in that order) with the rest spread over the country.
  • 77.78% had flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 11.11% experienced flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 88.89% travelled inside of Ireland shortly after storm Darwin.
  • 77.78% encountered flood and/or storm damage during their travels
  • But only 55.56 % was aware of this damage
  • The most interesting part was that 83.33% received this information through Social Media while only 5.56% received the information through the local authorities.

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The Irish local & national authorities are dropping the ball in a major way here and appear to be woefully unprepared. The only publicly available resource is the floodmaps.ie website run by the Office of Public Works. The most recent data there dates to 2011 and was gathered through a retrospective study. There is no obvious way to report damage in real-time.  With the current drive for Open Data and Big Data you would expect that this would be available. There are a number of easily implementable, Open Source platforms to create an online map with a real-time reporting mechanism without having to re-invent the wheel.

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Building such a service would allow people to report any flooding or storm damage that they encounter via a variety of means. Email, sms or via the website itself. You could even build an app. Reports can include a location (automatically mapped), description and images or video. Once curated (again in realtime) this information will than be displayed on an online map. The data can serve dual purposes. It will alert response services to issues which require intervention or remidiaton but it will also inform the general public as to where a rood is flooded, a tree is blocking the road etc. This allows them to plan travel accordingly and avoid problem areas. The end result is more fluent traffic flows and the avoidance of traffic jams at problem spots.

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While members of government discuss the issue of climate change and coastal flooding they fail to implement adequate response mechanisms. Ones which have become standard in countries like the USA which has been dealing with extreme weather events a lot longer. During a FEMA conference in Washington DC last year I commented that Ireland (and Europe) will soon see a drastic increase in extreme weather such as floods and storms. The recent flooding in Ireland and the current unprecedented flooding in the Balkans which has claimed over 40 lives are only the start of this. We need to prepare ourselves and an increased public awareness is the first step. Increased awareness will lead to increased preparedness and resilience. Recent studies in the field of disaster response has shown that the top-down approach taken in the past only solves short term problems and doesn’t improve matters in the long run. A shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness is needed and this can only be achieved by an increased public awareness and involvement. Empowering people by giving them a means to report problems and needs in real time and acting on this information is a first step in this.

 

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At the end of this coming week Irish voters will have the opportunity to cast their vote in two ballots; one for local elections and another one for European Parliament elections. In the lead-up to these elections almost every lamppost in Ireland has sprouted one or more election posters. The majority of these posters are wonders of misinformation showing only an image of the politician and the word “VOTE”. No mention of why someone would actually vote for one politician over the other. Should one vote on the number of a candidates posters or the proximity to ones house?

As I value the right to vote and want to ensure that my vote is an informed one I decided to email all candidates in both elections a short list of questions. Most of the questions were based on principle issues as this weighs much heavier for me than questions on specific issues. I could have asked the candidates for the local elections on how they would fix potholes or something parochial like that but in my these issued should be dealt with no matter where the candidates political alliance lies.

So on Monday May 12th I sent the candidates for the local elections in my constituency 5 questions. Well actually I sent it to all but one. For one candidate it proved impossible to find an email address, no matter how much searching I did.  That in itself would make me not vote for them. Anyway, here’s the list of questions I sent them. Some have limited answers, and yes the questions are opinionated but these are issues which matter to me.

  • What is your position on the subject of abortion, are you pro-life or pro-abortion?
  • Do you support the proposed constitutional amendment which would legislate for same-sex marriage?
  • Do you support or oppose the changes to the Junior Certificate curriculum?
  • What is your position on income redistribution and matters such as a “wealth tax”?
  • Should the Irish government play a leading or a supporting role in job creation?

As of today, nearly a week later and with the elections 5 days away I have not received a reply from a single candidate. Not even an acknowledgment that they have received my email and deal with it when they have the time.

I had one single canvassing team call to my door however. I pounced on them like a starving vulture would pounce on a dying wildebeest on the African savannah. “What is your candidates election manifesto?” I asked. The reply? ” Well eh, erm….erm….He’s local!”. Also “He has a lot of projects but just needs some more time to finish them”. That was the extent of their campaigning. What was even more disconcerting was their total surprise at being asked questions about their candidates political agenda. Did nobody else ask these questions?!

On to the candidates for the European Elections. Surely they would be more informed and of a higher calibre. Right?

I emailed these candidates a slightly adapted list of questions:

  • What is your position on the subject of abortion, are you pro-life or pro-abortion?
  • What is your position on the subject of same-sex marriage? Are you for, against or is this an area which should not be legislated by a government?
  • What is your position on income redistribution and matters such as a “wealth tax”?
  • Should the Irish & EU government play a leading or a supporting role in job creation?
  • In your opinion, did Ireland receive a bailout from the “Troika” or did Ireland provide a bailout for banks and bondholders?

The response was overwhelming.

Last Friday I received a reply from Jim Higgins a candidate for Fine Gael. Jim replied to 3 questions, asked for more clarification on one and failed to reply on another one. All in all I have to commend Jim as he so far has more respect for his constituents than any of the other candidates. Unfortunately his party (FG) is the one which is trying to push through liberal abortion legislation and in doing so is breaking one of their election promises.

None of the other EU election candidates has so far.

So basically things haven’t changed, in spite of the economic crisis, the multiple revelations of public sector incompetence and the growing awareness by people of public and private affairs, politicians still think they can win elections by handshaking and kissing babies.

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Time for a long overdue blogpost.

On January 3rd an email from Tom Hollingsworth landed in my inbox. Now I had never spoken or even emailed with Tom but he’s one of the people behind the “Wireless Field Day” (and a whole lot of other Field Day’s). Tom wanted to know if I was interested in talking about my work with Disaster Tech Lab at the upcoming Wireless Field Day 6 at the end of the month?

DID I HELL!

I had been following the Wireless Field Day events for some time as it was a sort of holy grail for wireless geeks like myself. To get the chance to speak at the event would be magnificent.

Roll forward 3 weeks and I’m actually in San Jose. I arrived late so missed the first evening socializing with my fellow geeks ( This might have been a good thing…). Day one started with everyone jumping into a stretch limo which brought us to Airtight Networks offices. Airtight had a number of interesting presentations lined up for us with introductions into their cloud based services, social wifi and analytics. It followed on with a WIPS demo by Rick Farina. Rick is my kinda guy with lots of experience in security, hacking and related fields. It was entertaining to watch him to bring up the WiFi Pineaple device. Anyway, it was enjoyable and gave some good insights into where Airtight Networks is going.

wifi pineapple

Next we hopped in the limo which brought us to the Aruba Networks offices. This was a bit of a big deal for me as Aruba has been a great supporter of Disaster Tech Lab from right back when we started in 2010. Yet this was my first visit to their offices. I wasn’t disappointed as the offices are pretty cool especially the showroom with all numerous devices on display. Being real geeks we even spotted some sort of prototype USB dongles connected to some of the AP’s. I suspect that these were for use with the Meridian software of which we got a nice real life demo using the Aruba Campus App. After a quick welcome by Ozer and Sean it was time for Manju Mahishi to show us about Aruba’s plans with the Meridian software. In short it offers a platform for user and asset tracking allowing such things as public venues to get greater insight into user movement patterns and such. The presentation led to a lively discussion on topics such as privacy as well as technical.

Next was my own presentation on Disaster Tech Lab’s work. Rather that tell you about it I suggest that you watch the video.

Day 2 started bright and early with a presentation by Germán Capdehourat from Plan Ceibal. Plan Ceibal is a state sponsored project in Uruguay which has as goal to bring internet access to all schools. They obviously use a lot of wifi technology but also branch out into user devices and educational content. Projects like these have great value and contribute immensely to children’s education. Germán was followed by Kevin Koster from Cloudpath. Cloudpath does some really advanced stuff with large scale device onboarding and authentication. It’s not really my area of interest but for anyone managing large networks with hundreds or thousands of users their products are well worth looking at. You can watch the full video here.

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Cloudpath was followed by Xirrus. This was going to be an interesting presentation as Xirrus’s presentation at the previous WFD had been very marketing & PR heavy and had been torn to shreds by the attendees. Dirk Gates, founder of Xirrus started of with a good presentation into the company, their history and the future. Next was the absolute highlight of #WFD6 in my opinion. Xirrus had brought in their head of antenna design Avi Hartenstein. Avi, besides really knowing his shit, looks and sounds like a cool extra from a Bond movie. His presentation with into the antenna design into minute details and for someone like me who loves RF it was simply a pleasure to watch.

To end the day we travelled to Extreme Networks office which were by far the flashiest ones with loads of artwork, purple colors and even rotating server racks with flashing lights. Their presentations there gave a lot of insight into Extreme’s large stadium deployments. It’s interesting to see how a lot of the problems encountered in such environments can be resolved through smart RF use. Real life examples illustrated how antenna placement, antenna radiation power, spatial isolation and low TX power are the main contributors to solving a lot of problems.

smartest guy

I do realise that this is a way too short blogpost to encompass all the awesomeness that was Wireless Field Day 6. I got to spend a couple of days in the company of people whose knowledge and expertise for exceeds mine but who were also hugely entertaining to hang out with. On top of that we were given an royal welcome by the various companies supporting this event and they each went all out to share their technology and visions of the wireless future with us. Lastly I want to give serious kudos to Steven, Tom and everyone else at GestaltIT for organising not only this fantastic event but all the other Field Days they organise. Seriously guys (and galls) it’s impressive.

I also suggest that you go and watch *all* the videos here.

 

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As a dedicated supporter of Android based portable devices this is a difficult post for me to type.

I made my first, reluctant foray into the world of the tablet user at the end of 2011 when HP decided to mark down their Touchpad device to a spectacularly low $99. While it ran the slightly left-of-field WebOS the device could be flashed to run a customised Android ROM. As the devices sold out quickly across the world I had to resort to locating one in the US and having it shipped over.

Anyway, I liked the tablet format very much but wanted something slightly smaller than the A4 sized Touchpad but larger than the Android phone I was using at the time, a HTC Hero. Enter the Google Nexus 7.  I bought one of these 7 inch tablets in September 2012 and loved it straight away. It ran Android 4.1, completely integrated with all the Google services I used and most importantly it fitted into the inside pocket of my jacket! No more clunky devices the size and weight of a cut down laptop to lug around. I literally brought it everywhere and used it for everything from work to reading books (yes, it completely converted me to the use of e-books). When my tablet was stolen in New York during my work as part of the hurricane Sandy response I went out straight away and bought a new one. Actually as the Staples outlet I went to had a special offer I bought two! One for me and one as a Christmas present for my wife.

The device was used daily and about 6 months after purchase it started to develop a niggling issue with charging. The micro-USB cable had to be fiddled around a good bit for the device to actually charge and the slightest movement of the cable would stop the charging process. I put it down to a faulty/worn cable-plug and bought a replacement cable. Actually I went to half a dozen cables in about as many weeks. Still the problem persisted. Not only that but my wife’s tablet was starting to have the same issues. Logic made me conclude that the connector/socket on the tablet might have become worn or damaged. We limped on applying tricks such as using a heavy book to keep the connector plugged into the tablet, using something to push the connector upwards etc. These were only temporary solutions as the problem steadily worsened. In early November last year my tablet would just not charge anymore, at all. It was by all means dead. My wife’s tablet was slowly limping in the same direction.

By this point I finally resorted to Google-ing the issue and lo and behold I was not alone! There were hundreds if not thousands of messages on forums and newsgroups of people having the same problem (Google-ing “nexus 7 charging problem” results in 1,600,000 results!) All with Nexus devices that eventually would no longer charge using a cable. Two solutions were mentioned, using wireless charging our using the Asus Nexus Dock (Asus is the manufacturer of the Nexus 7).

nexus charging problem

Armed with this knowledge I contacted Google to see what they were doing to deal with this problem. It was clearly a manufacturing or design issue to logic dictated that they should rectify it. The disappointing reply I received was that I should contact the vendor where I purchased the devices. As this was a Staples outlet in New York City and I live at the other side of the Atlantic I contacted Staples via their Twitter account. All they could tell me was to contact the store itself which could only be done via phone (why email wasn’t possible is beyond me). The store told me that I should return the tablet to them so they could establish what the issue was. However I was notified at that stage that the 1 year warranty had expired and that any repairs would be chargeable. To me. So I would have to ship the device to New York, pay for having a design fault repaired and then pay to have them shipped back to me? No thanks.

So, I went ahead and ordered the Asus dock. From the US as it wasn’t for sale in Europe yet. The dock arrived several weeks later and I could finally charge my tablet and, you know, actually use it.

However shortly afterwards I noticed that the tablet would charge really slowly (when in the dock). I would have it docked overnight and the charging level would only increase by 10% or so. But then sometimes it would charge fully. On top of that it would discharge really rapidly especially when the charge went below 35%. It would sometime go from 35% to empty in minutes.

I resorted to Google-ing the problem again (how ironic) only to discover that this again was a common problem. Apparently devices that were upgraded to the latest version of Android (KitKat 4.4). This happened early in 2014 which coincided with the time our tablets were starting to have these problems.  So not only was the charging port faulty due to a design process now the OS was causing charging problems!

By this point we had 4 Nexus 7 devices in the family as my 2 youngest kids had used their Christmas money to each buy a Nexus 7. I had let them as I had assumed that any problems would have been resolved by now and newer devices would not have ny more charging problems. That was before the upgrade to KitKat 4.4!

I again reached out to Google at this point. Again with a disappointing response. This time they didn’t refer me to the place where the devices were purchased but told me to contact Asus (the device manufacturer) instead. This in spite of the fact that these are Google branded devices. Asus of course flat-out refused to do anything as the devices were out of warranty and the issue was OS related which was not their responsibility.

At this point I have had it and in spite of championing Google Nexus devices in the past I am now at a stage where I probably will never ever purchase any of their devices again. Not because the purchased devices were faulty but because of the unacceptable way they shirk of any responsibility and just pass the buck to a third-party. In fact I am eying up the Apple iPad mini Retina at the moment. Those who know my aversion to iOS will realise what a big shift this is.

A5

Ireland has been hit by an escalating series of flood in the last few months. Initially the flooding was preserved to coastal areas and caused by a combination of storm and high tides. Especially the West Coast was very badly hit with extensive damage to flood defences, piers, coastal roads and buildings in coastal areas. Especially Galway city and surrounding areas were very badly hit.

However in the last weeks the flooding has spread to built up floodplains. We have in recent days seen severe flooding in Galway, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and other cities and towns built around river floodplains and estuaries. What is shocking is the utter lack of preparedness or coordinated response. Ireland is known for its rain and this is not the first time we’ve seen flooding. After every previous flood a debate ensued about the need for flood defences but these were eventually never built or the ones built were based on the level of the last flooding rather than on the ones that would come next.

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Lacking preparedness one would at least expect some sort of adequate and coordinated response. After all there was no need to invent methods of dealing with floods. Our neighbours to the east, the UK, have been hit by far worse floods in recent years and have at least developed a semblance of a coordinated response. Or even look west to Boulder Colorado which was hit by severe floods last September with 8 people killed and 11,000 evacuated. A simple email or call to the organisations who responded to those floods would provide a wealth of information about how to initiate a coordinated response. The writing is on the wall really as the only data on flooding in Ireland is held on the OPW (Office of Public Works) website and the most recent data there is years old. It would have been so easy for one of the government agencies to crowdsource flooding data in realtime, something that agencies in other countries have embraced wholeheartedly.

A good example of such an effort is the Irish Flood Alert Crowdmap put up by Disaster Tech Lab (disclosure: I’m the founder of DTL). Such a map allows people to report the location of floods & flood damage and even to upload images. All this data will then be made publicly available in realtime.

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Instead Ireland is seeing a stream of nodding heads meeting in board rooms or visiting flooded areas without much idea on how to respond. The response is generally limited to throwing insufficient amounts to money at the problem while no effort is made to develop a resilient flood defence program…..

UPDATE: Disaster Tech Lab has put up a survey to measure the impact and awareness of the flooding and damage caused by storm Darwin. Please assist in improving future response by completing the survey.

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The development and use of weapons and more specifically firearms runs parallel to the development of mankind and human society. In prehistoric times mankind had to forage & hunt for sustenance. When hunting small & big animals some sort of weapon greatly improved their chances of feeding themselves and their families hence improving the chance of survival. Weapons also aided in the defence of their territory and their food stores (if they had any). Weapons such as rocks, spears, axes etc. served as a force multiplier and one can argue that these weapons were one of the attributes which gave early humans an edge over other species and put them on an early path to the top of the food-chain. As mankind developed and evolved growing from hunter/gatherer groups to farming and eventually industrial society weapons developed at an ever increasing rate.  We went from rocks and spears to arrows and the first firearm, the fire-lance, making its appearance in the mid 10th century. Since development has taken us all the way to ICBM’s and beyond. However all these weapons were in essence only a tool, or a means, of delivering a projectile. Said projectile was launched either to defend ones territory or to kill prey for hunting/feeding purposes. A firearm has never been, was never designed to and has never been able to autonomously kill people. There was always human thought behind the use, aiming and firing of said weapon.

Throughout the centuries as we developed into more cohesive and civilised society certain duties were abdicated from the individual to the collective (community or state). Instead of every person or family gathering or hunting their own food we had butchers, bakers and greengrocers. To defend our communities we had volunteer watchmen, militias and eventually a state run police force and military. With this the actual “need” for every person to own a firearm decreased to the stage where, at least in Western society, the number of firearms owners on a whole is a minority. However what has evolved out of this is that governments now do not want individuals to own firearms for the simple reason that a armed citizenry potentially has more power to rise up against a corrupt government than a society which has been effectively disarmed. History is full of examples where despots made it their priority to disarm the citizens they oppressed. This disarmament has been achieved not only by very strict laws on private firearms ownership but also by using the media to portray people who do own or want to own firearms as deranged and crazy individuals. It has come to the point where in certain company you would be scorned less for defecating on the dining table than admitting that you own a firearm.

The discussion about a persons “right to bear arms” has been an extremely hot topic in the USA recently with Obama constantly throwing petrol on the flames by ignoring the US constitution and issuing unconstitutional (and undemocratic) executive orders. But let’s not just focus on the US as the 2nd amendment of their constitution (which makes the right to bear arm a constitutional one) puts them in an unique position. However over on this side of the Atlantic the debate has now flared up in Ireland where the Irish politician Michael Healy-Rea last week made a statement that people living in rural areas should be allowed to own a firearms for self defence purposes. This following the recent drastic rise in crime especially in rural areas. This rise is following severe cuts in the Irish police force’s budget. This raises the question that if the government fails in its commitment to protect its citizens should those citizens then be allowed to reclaim their natural right to self-protection? Because that is the real crux; the government does not have the right to decide whether it’s citizens have the right to own firearms. That right is naturally the citizens right and has only been temporarily been given up in exchange for protection by the state. However as with any contract if one party defaults then the whole of the agreement becomes void. The right to bear arms is one that the government has no right to bestow. As with all natural rights its something that the government might manage but the only “right” a government has is to ensure that firearms are not owned or carried by people who are not fit to do so. So rather than police who is allowed to own firearms the reverse should be true, the state only has the right to police who *is unfit* to own firearms. The practicalities of this need to be clearly defined but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect that someone who wants to own a firearm posseses a certain proficiency with said firearm especially when it comes to the safe handling and storage of firearms. I know that a lot of my US based friends will disagree with me on this as it would require the registration of firearm owners but I would consider making a bi-annual firearms proficiency test mandatory a good idea. Passing such a test would allow one to own any type of firearms under a certain caliber (I think that a separate licensing for anything over 20mm is not unreasonable).

The above all centers around the logical reasoning that a firearm is only a tool and that without human utilisation a tool is an inanimate object incapable of doing any harm. Restricting responsible adults who have proven to be compos mentis to own a firearm infringes on their natural rights and hence is an undemocratic and in-tolerable act. It’s a governments duty to protects its citizens not to restrict or nanny them.

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Image  —  Posted: March 15, 2013 in Uncategorized