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Lee JacobsonHi, my name is Lee.
I'm a developer from the UK who loves technology and business. Here you'll find articles and tutorials about things that interest me. If you want to hire me or know more about me head over to my about me page

Recent Posts

20th February 2015 at 0:06

Surveillance and Internet Privacy

A few weeks ago in the UK there was some concern over a last-minute proposed amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. This amendment, if passed, would have given the UK government back door access to encrypted messaging clients such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. As someone who lives in the UK these proposals concerned me too, not so much for the cost and security worries pointed out by others, but for the larger role increased surveillance and privacy intrusions play on the freedom of speech, and perhaps our democracy as a whole.

It's clear that freedom of speech is essential to any successful free democracy, and subsequently, it's almost always missing under any totalitarian rule. Could it be that if government surveillance continues to increase people may no longer feel free to openly discuss controversial topics or opposing political views in fear of being put on the "watch list"?

Over the last decade we have begun to understand the dangers of over sharing online - especially through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Individuals now regularly come under fire for controversial posts or activity made sometimes years previously. This mainly affects those who are in the public eye, but more and more often employers and colleges have been looking at individuals' online activities to make decisions about their potential employees or prospective students. In fact, this has become such as issue over the last few years the EU has introduced a "right to be forgotten" to protect individuals from being stigmatized by their history and past activities online.

This worry that our internet history activity could affect our job security or personal reputation has caused many people to privatise their accounts online. Some have taken it a step further and have opted not to share content that could reflect negatively on them all together.

But what if you can't privatise who sees your activity? What if you can't decide what information you share and what you keep private?

This is the difference between sharing information publicly through websites such as Facebook, and the mass surveillance done by our governments. One is avoidable, the other isn't. It's because of this my concern is less with people sharing sensitive information online and more with the private, and sometimes secret, data collection by our governments and service providers.

When the Draft Communications Data Bill was originally proposed in 2012 by the UK government it was looking to force ISPs and phone providers to store all internet and phone history of their customers for at least two years. After this bill was proposed, a survey was conducted to gather the public's' opinion. This survey found that 71% of Brits didn't trust the government with the information, stating they were worried it wouldn't be kept secure. Thankfully, the Draft Communications Data Bill never passed, but if it did, it leaves us wondering if any of those 71% of people would change their phone or internet activities to protect themselves in the event of a data leak, or unlawful access of their information. What we do know is that when surveyed 41% of respondents said they would be less like to use websites and online services if the legislation passed. With online services being so critical to modern economic growth, if true, this would be a very undesirable outcome.

Maybe you are someone who believes that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - that increase surveillance is only a problem for criminals and terrorists. But the problem is we all have something to hide. Who can honestly say there is nothing they wouldn't want their employer or colleagues knowing? Of course, that could be because it's illegal. But sometimes it might not be as clear cut, and other times it might be simply that the information is sensitive to us. Who wants the details of their messy divorce or sex life available to the public? We've all done bad things in the past, and even if what we've done isn't illegal, it's likely we still wouldn't want everyone to know.

So how likely would it be for this data to get out? Well, if you're someone in the public eye or an outspoken political opponent, would it be impossible that your data could be unlawfully accessed if you upset the wrong people? And what if the information is stolen or hacked? If it did happen it wouldn't be the first time, in 2007 the UK government lost two CDs containing 25 million child benefit records. So even if it's unlikely to happen, would you want to risk it?

Now what if we take it a step further? We know in the USA the NSA seems to have very vague requirements when it comes to adding people to their watch list. Since Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents in 2013, reports have come out suggesting that individuals may be added to the NSA's watch list for simply researching services like TOR, which ironically help keep users internet use anonymous. But perhaps more worrying still is that they may also consider activity on Facebook and Twitter when adding people to their watch list. If that's happening would it be unthinkable that in the future Google searches or visiting certain websites could get you added to their watch list also?

Although I understand we are a long way off yet, I worry if governments keep pushing for more and more surveillance people may think twice before posting, or even viewing anything critical of their government. I accept some surveillance can be critical to prevent crime and terrorism, but surely we need to find a balance we can all be comfortable with? Criminal investigations are supposed to be difficult for a reason, and privacy intrusions should never happen lightly. At the end of the day, requiring everyone to carry a personal surveillance camera with them 24 hours a day would help reduce crime, but at what cost? With surveillance cameras and the monitoring of our internet and phone activities, technology can allow governments to come very close to doing just that.

Do you worry about who's reading your Facebook posts? And do you think we should ever expect privacy online?

If you want to read more on government surveillance feel free to take a look at the links below.

http://lfb.org/why-youre-probably-on-an-nsa-watchlist/
http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240169761/Most-UK-citizens-do-not-support-draft-Data-Communications-Bill-survey-shows
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_surveillance_in_the_United_Kingdom
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_be_forgotten

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22nd January 2015 at 20:58

Twenty Four, New Starts and Updates

I suppose it's about time to dust this blog off with another annual update. So first off I'm now twenty four, which even after two months still scares the heck out of me. Where do I begin? This year has been a really strange one. I've frequently found myself questioning things that I was almost certain of a couple of years ago, and for the first time in a while I'm feeling increasing lost and confused about the direction I'm heading in. When I look back I guess I've always had quite clear goals for myself and I always thought I knew the path I needed to take to get there, but I'm not sure I really did anymore. I think another factor is simply that I'm really quite content with where I am right now, I've got a lot of the things that I wanted over the last few years and now I'm struggling with how to start a new chapter.

Another thing that's bothered me recently is how I react when I hear these 17 year old kids at tech meetups tell me how they're going to make the next big website or product. I no longer get excited, I just worry for them. It's been nearly 10 years since I started that journey and honestly, if there is one thing I've learnt, it's that 99% of the time it'll get you'll get no where. And the problem is sometimes it distracts you from the things that actually can get you somewhere, studying, work experience, etc. Perhaps more importantly though is how it can distract you from just living in general. It kills me to think about the amount of hours, days and weeks of my youth that I've pour into projects that go less than no where. Time is extremely important, maybe the most important skill we can ever learn is to manage it effectively. You don't need me to tell you that spending 5 hours a day watching reality TV isn't a good use of your time, but I promise if you're spending that 5 hours working on a project that goes nowhere and teaches you nothing it's almost just as wasteful. If you're putting a considerable amount of time into something each week, whether that be TV or reading, it's important to routinely consider how that activity is impacting your life. Does it make you happy, and would you be happier if you were spending that time in some other way? Does it help you open doors, or does it just keep you where you are? Ideally everything you do should be both enjoyable but also assist you in achieving the goals you're shooting for. To bring this concept on to startups I vow that this year I will not start a project and potentially waste my time unless it meets the following criteria:

  • It's interesting and enjoyable to work on
  • It won't take more than two months to reach MVP
  • It requires me to learn something I know absolutely nothing about that I'm interested in learning
  • There is a clear and identifiable market and revenue model
  • I, or the people I am working with have all the tools necessary to build, market and sale the product

Something else I want to talk about is new starts. I don't really care much about the "new year, new start" mantra - the only thing that's really ever new is the label we use to describe it. But, this year it seems quite fitting for me at least. My house was robbed about a week before Christmas and with it, a bag with all the memories I had kept. Postcards, zoo tickets, recipes, notes. Just little things that I could keep to remind me of happy times I've had. I have no idea why they took what was, to anyone else, just a bag of paper. But, they did, and I just need to accept some of the memories I had attached to those silly bits of paper are now gone forever. So now I'm here. I'm twenty four. Caught somewhere between a past that I have no record of and a future I have no idea how to start. And I'm excited to see how this will play out.

Finally, I have a lot of topics I want to write about this year. For the past three years I've been keeping track of everything interesting I've learnt, condensing it down into little bites of information that I want to start publishing here. So with a bit of luck there will be some more content here over the next few months.

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2nd April 2014 at 9:37

Autobots and Beyond

Record fast new technology derived from artificial intelligence has surfaced in every part of society, especially in the last year or so! Companies are no longer waiting on scientists to invent the "next best thing" but taking steps of their own, doing their own research, and providing unheard of, state-of-the-art machines who are adding a wondrous advantage to all who are interested in acquiring them. Experts have done massive research on the effect that these new contraptions will have on society's future, and they unanimously agree that a profitable benefit will come their "iron" existence. Just recently, developers announced the creation of robotic, life like fish, extrinsic Lego autobots, and even more interesting, the Intel Open Source Robot.

Until recently, soft robotics, or so its called, did not exist. However, contemporary advancements in the field have changed the face of robotics, into the future and beyond. Soft robotics is now full of new creations, like that of the robotic fish. Although small, this fantastic "pet" needs no caring for and, on top of that, moves just like a real fish with the ability to maneuver it's body in a fraction of a second. Surprisingly, the reason behind the soft feel is so that when interaction between humans and robots begin, skin on "skin" contact will feel much more comfortable. Soft robotics creates a safer possibility for synergy with our species and cuts out the high variable for possible accidents caused by collision.

An amazing addition to the creation of objects built with legos, is a fantastic new autobot named Cube Stormer. This machine can solve a Rubiks Cube faster than any Guinness world record on file (which is 7 seconds, this speedy cyborg solves the puzzle in less than 5 seconds). Built by Mike Dobson of Robotic Solutions, this toy intertwines two childhood fascinations, the Rubiks Cube and Legos. Although trivial in meaning, this robot paves the way for other artificially intelligent machines to become important parts in solving other complexities.

Last but not least, but certainly most extraordinary, is the newest creation from Intel called an Open Source Robot. This robot has the ability to complete simple, every day tasks like cleaning up your desk. Fascinating as it may sound, developers are trying to find a way to extend its battery life so that this robot would be capable of working for longer durations. Currently, operation time is only twenty minutes. Intel has previously made a commitment to A.I. development through their "Twenty First Century Robot Initiative". The announcement of the Open Source Robot was in precedent to this previous guarantee that was made to the public regarding the advancement of robotics.

No matter how far we take this artificial intelligence the fact remains that it is "artificial". Many times we forget the foundation of the society that once existed. Caught up in the technology of today's world, we only see what is directly in front of us without being aware of our surroundings. No doubt, these futuristic concepts have changed our existence with positive results but we must never forget where we came from. Relying too much on this artificial world may take us away from the natural beauty that encompasses our lives everyday. As we enter a new "robotic" era, we must always remember to respect and honor humanity for what it once was!

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Recent Tutorials

26th March 2014 at 21:16

Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks Part 2 - Learning

In this tutorial we will begin to find out how artificial neural networks can learn, why learning is so useful and what the different types of learning are. We will specifically be looking at training single-layer perceptrons with the perceptron learning rule.


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5th December 2013 at 7:42

Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks - Part 1

This is the first part of a three part introductory tutorial on artificial neural networks. In this first tutorial we will discover what neural networks are, why they're useful for solving certain types of tasks and finally how they work.


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