Apr 30, 2009

what did you say?

Wordle - Gordon_s tweets-1.jpg

I've been poking around at the Twitter API, in part just out of curiosity about what features are exposed. I have an interest in writing some visualisation widgets based upon it. The iPhone development course is also using a Twitter client as something of a 'hello world' app, too. Today, Tim O'Reilly pointed to a wordle visualisation of all the things that he's tweeted and gave a link to some code that could be used to download everything you'd tweeted. I had a look at it and decided to write something similar, using the Twitter API directly, rather than scraping the Twitter site.

The Twitter API I've been using is the excellent, minimalist python twitter tools by Mike Verdone. The main advantage over other python Twitter APIs is that ptt doesn't redefine any of the API calls. It does exactly what it says in the published Twitter API. As a result, it is incredibly easy to use. The 100 or so lines it is implemented in are also a very instructive read, to see how it is put together. I think it is a great example of how the attributes in Python can be used.

The code I wrote is available for download. It respects the rate limiting imposed by Twitter and will output all of the tweets for a particular user, to a file called <username>.tweet in the file it is run from. You can change which users are fetched in the main() ftn. The resulting text file can be opened up and then copy/ pasted over into the wordle creator.

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Apr 26, 2009



Just installed dd-wrt on my Linksys wrt54g wireless router. I'd been meaning to do this for a while - as an easy way to get a much more functional router than the default firmware shipped by Linksys. What finally motivated me to do it was the recent storm about Time Warner Cable introducing bandwidth caps in Austin. Although TWC seem to have backed down for the moment, they have also recently started disconnecting customers for 'using too much bandwidth' on their infinite bandwidth contracts. The DD-WRT firmware gives me an independent way to monitor my usage and get an idea of how much I typically transmit & receive.  

The DD-WRT firmware install wasn't quite as smooth as the documentation might make you believe. The first time I installed and then tried to update the firmware, I got a fairly unhelpful 'Error 2: Access violation' error from the tftp prompt and not much else. I went back through the management mode initial vxkiller upload and things seemed to work better the second time around. For a while I was worried that I had a brick of router.

Once back up and running, the settings were very similar to the previous Linksys options, so it was quite quick to get the wireless settings and port forwarding, DMZ etc that I was using previously reconfigured. Now I have historical and realtime graphs of bandwidth usage available. Should be interesting to be able to monitor what's going on. If they are cutting people off for using 44GB per week and saying that is “that is more than most people use in a year” I am a little concerned at my 7.2GB in one day. That was a few iPhone development videos from Stanford and then we watched Quantum of Solace last night on the Xbox. Seems like Time Warner consider that aberrant behaviour.

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Feb 16, 2009

stop & search

a cold day in London

One of the least enjoyable experiences on a recent trip to London, last week, happened while I was taking pictures of the London eye. I was standing a few hundred meters away, shooting with a normal point and shoot camera, just like all the people around me, when a couple of police officers approached me. I'd heard about photographers being hassled in London but was surprised this managed to happen to me within 48 hours of arriving in the city. They started out by saying that 'they didn't really believe I was a terrorist, but were stopping photographers to make people aware that they were watching what was going on'. From there, they handed me a form that listed my rights under section s44 of the anti-terrorism law then proceeded to question me about what I was doing, where I was from, why I was taking pictures.

As far as I can tell, even though they themselves said they have no reasonable clause, the Terrorism act says that's fine. We spent about 5 minutes going through where I've lived and having me justify why I take pictures. Then they wanted to see all the pictures I'd been taking (again, as far as I can tell, in contradiction of their own guidelines on collection of evidence). On looking through the images, one of the officers stated that 'those look just like the sorts of pictures a terrorist would take' and then told me to move on. The picture above is what I was taking, when the stopped me. I got a 'stop and search' form listing that the stop was authorised under the anti-terrorism laws and that was part of a 'pre-planned op'. I can only assume from that they the London police have decided to institutionalise harassing photographers for the sake of   security theatre. Particularly, if when they find images that they think would be typical terrorist images, they wave the photographer on.

This is all in a city that seems to have more CCTV cameras everywhere than there are people. I'm not quite sure who if anyone is actually watching these camera feeds. The whole thing is quite worrying, for someone who has been out of the UK for a few years. We used to make jokes about books like 1984 or movies like V for Vendetta but it seems that piece by piece typical rights to privacy are being whittled away by a government that is using good intentions to grab as much additional powers as possible. Sure, it is just hassling a photographer in the street, taking pictures of a tourist attraction for no reason, but each time has an increasing chilling effect on what people feel they can do and what government authorities can get away with doing. I didn't argue with the particular officers, mainly as I didn't want to spend half my day discussing it in a police station on my holiday. Maybe that's part of the problem too.

'There's an implicit admission that Section 44 stops and searches do not detect terrorists. This is borne out by the available data. In the financial years 2003/4 to 2006/7, the Met stopped and searched 31,797 pedestrians using the powers of Section 44(2); of these only 79 were arrested in connection with terrorism - less than a quarter of a percent - and even fewer will be convicted. The purpose of deterring is feeble considering the extent to which the Home Office is ready to go to avoid revealing when and where the exceptional powers for Section 44 apply.'

At the end of this five minute waste of time, they started asking me about the number of megapixels my camera had, commented on how impressed they were by the quality of the pictures on the screen and asked where they could buy one and if I'd recommend it.

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