Oct 072010

The first round of SSH clients for the iPhone presented some problems when connecting to Amazon Web Services EC2 Linux server instances. EC2 instances require a private certificate key file to be used to authenticate to the server during an SSH session. This lead to some workarounds where one had to export the iPhone’s key and add that key to the EC2 server instance. This wasn’t much fun to do. Thankfully, the latest versions of many SSH apps for the iPhone support private key imports. For my example bellow I’m going to be using the iSSH app:

1. Find the .pem key file saved during keypair creation in Amazon Web Services for the instance you launched.

2. Get the the content of the .pem file into the iPhone’s copy/paste memory. There are several ways to do this, here are two of them:

– 2a. Save the pem file to dropbox and open the file on the iPhone using the dropbox app (note you likely need to rename the pem to .txt in order for iOS to allow you to read the file).

– 2b. Open the .pem file with a text editor and copy the contents into a new email to an iPhone account

3. Open iSSH, go to General Settings -> Configure SSH Keys -> Import Key…

iSSH home screen

4. Paste the content of the .pem file into the lower text box; ignore the Key Password field unless you have specified one when generating the key separately (Amazon keys don’t typically have passwords).

Save the private key file

5. Go back to the iSSH home screen and select Add Configuration…

6. Select the Use Key and select the key file saved earlier.

Selecting the key

7. Save the configuration and connect to the server instance.

Connected to AWS EC2 Linux server

Oct 052010

Stuff breaks. Usually when I’m nowhere near a computer. These 4 apps help keep me sane:

1. Jaadu Remote Desktop (app store link). Pricey, but the best RDP client of the bunch. This plus the built in iPhone VPN client and I can access all of our Windows based servers.

2. Citrix Receiver (app store link). Only really applicable if you have significant Citrix investment (e.g. Citrix Access Gateway), but this app works great for a quick check on things in our hosted environment.

3. iSSH (app store link). Great SSH client for the iPhone. The private key import function (copy paste pem contents) is critical for using this app with Linux servers on Amazon Web Services.

4. iAWSManager (app store link). This is a fantastic app if you are heavy into Amazon Web Services. There is an amazing amount of functionality packed into it – CloudWatch monitoring graphs, EBS manipulation, security group access, etc. Given the choice, I won’t be launching new EC2 instances from the app because of the screen size, but it is amazing to have the option.

May 202009

Over the last few years I have been traveling with my ultralight laptop. I’ve always enjoyed having a movie available, or leeching off random wifi to stay in contact and look up information while traveling.  Even though it is lightweight and small, it was still too much for my liking.  This last trip I tried an experiment.   Could my iphone replace my laptop for travel?

Looking up travel info – Yes
Most websites work quite well on the iphone. There are even a number of travel apps popping up that make travel much easier – I had several apps for Busan and Seoul subway maps were quite useful. Google maps are pretty useful when you have a wireless connection available, but the geo-locate doesn’t work outside of the US/Canada (I don’t have 3g with built-in GPS). If Apple ever gets their act together and allows GPS apps with maps, the 3g iphone could be an amazing travel info device.

Email – Yes
The iphone works very well for quick emails. I’m looking forward to landscape keyboard layout with the next OS upgrade though.

Voice contact – Yes
I didn’t have service in Korea, so I used the iphone Skype app to make Skype out to calls to US phone numbers. I had several calls just under an hour and quality was quite good. The iphone gets pretty warm after a while, but stayed stable.

Blog – Yes
I didn’t do much of it this trip, but I was able to write up some quick posts using the wordpress app and upload them when I was near a wireless signal. I don’t think it would be much fun to write a novel, but it might be better with a landscape keyboard layout. The one downside is that any photos I wanted to include had to be on the iphone.

Storing and reviewing photos – No
With my laptop I was able to offload photos and review them each day. This isn’t possible at the moment with the iphone. Reviewing end of day photos helped a lot while I was still learning my SLR, but were also a big time-sink. I would have enjoyed looking the photos over on the fight back, but otherwise I’m glad I didn’t bother.  As for photo storage, I had 14 GB of extreme III SDHC memory cards with me, and that was more than enough.  Had I been needing more photo storage, an image tank would have been up to the job.

Work emergencies – Yes
Occasionally I need to connect to servers at work to bail someone out or fix something. With a laptop I typically establish a VPN connection and then use Remote Desktop to access the server or workstation. In this case, the Jaadu RDP iphone app was up to the job. I wouldn’t want to work on systems for a long time, but it is more than enough for quick fixes or file retrieval. I was able to login to our email server and check the event logs and services while at a cafe in Korea. Very cool.

The verdict – Yes
The iphone worked great for my style of travel.  Other than reviewing photos on the plane I didn’t miss my laptop for a second.  In fact, many times I was doing things that my laptop simply didn’t offer. I’ll be leaving the laptop behind next trip.

Aug 252008

KPBS has posted a nice audio slide show of the UVeta project in Baja Sur. Water in Baja Sur’s remote areas is frequently from open wells, where the chance of contamination is high. Florence Cassassuce with Engineers without Borders came up with a way to use existing technology to make the water much safer – Ultraviolet light and a bucket.

UV destroys DNA of microbes so they can’t reproduce. This concept has been used for municipal treatment for a while, and over the last few years in higher cost travel items like the SteriPEN. But unlike most portable UV systems the UVeta can clean a lot of water at at a time and is very cheap – They worked with Tijuana producers to reduce the cost of the UVeta to $30.

More information:
The UVeta Project’s home site
UVeta story from La Prensa San Diego
CNN Heroes video

Feb 202008

Some bright folks have dumped and upgraded the firmware for the Canon A570 IS, A610, A620, A630, A640, A700, A710 IS, S2 IS, S3 IS, SD500 and G7.  They unlocked raw mode, high speed shutter speeds, live histograms, highlight cropping indicators, and better battery indicators.  Quite amazing.  If you own one of the above and want to push its limits, check them out at http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

Nov 192007

Wired has a great story about $1000 genetic tests:

Reading your genomic profile — learning your predispositions for various diseases, odd traits, and a talent or two — is something like going to a phantasmagorical family reunion. First you’re introduced to the grandfather who died 23 years before you were born, then you move along for a chat with your parents, who are uncharacteristically willing to talk about their health — Dad’s prostate, Mom’s digestive tract. Next, you have the odd experience of getting acquainted with future versions of yourself, 10, 20, and 30 years down the road. Finally, you face the prospect of telling your children — in my case, my 8-month-old son — that he, like me, may face an increased genetic risk for glaucoma.

The experience is simultaneously unsettling, illuminating, and empowering. And now it’s something anyone can have for about $1,000. This winter marks the birth of a new industry: Companies will take a sample of your DNA, scan it, and tell you about your genetic future, as well as your ancestral past. A much-anticipated Silicon Valley startup called 23andMe offers a thorough tour of your genealogy, tracing your DNA back through the eons. Sign up members of your family and you can track generations of inheritance for traits like athletic endurance or bitter-taste blindness. The company will also tell you which diseases and conditions are associated with your genes — from colorectal cancer to lactose intolerance — giving you the ability to take preventive action.

It is a very interesting read. I’m not really concerned about learning something I didn’t want to know – given the choice, I’d always want to know ahead of time. In fact, I would even be tempted to try out the service, if there weren’t little alarm bells ringing in my head:

…external parties will not be given any of your information without your consent, except as required to comply with legal requirements under applicable laws. Even when we are required to provide information, unless prohibited by law, we will attempt to notify you before providing your information to external parties.

While they won’t be handing out my data, who is to say what legal changes will happen in the next 10-20 years? What other ways would my data be open to mining? Would I be setting myself up for some future liability by gaining information about potential health risks? These questions make me think I would only do it if someone was providing an anonymous test, with no social aspect to their site.

Sep 252007

Today I did my first all digital purchase of music. I know, I’m behind the times, and a picky old man. Though itunes is a slick store, I’ve never bought anything from them. I really didn’t see the point of buying less than CD quality, in a less than standard format, with controls on how I use the files. CD’s seem like a hell of a deal by comparison. But Amazon MP3 opened up today, and all that changed. The files they sell are MP3s encoded at 256 variable bit rate. This means that the files will play on pretty much any hardware, are very good quality (almost lossless), and contain no restrictions on usage.

I picked up The New Pornographers, some older Calexico, and Regina Spektor. The purchase was pretty easy, and delivery was pretty painless as well – the files sound great, and downloaded quickly. It could use a face lift, but I’m a fan of the service so far.

Jun 062007

I’ve linked to the Microsoft Photosynth project before, but this tech demo of Seadragon and Photosynth at TED is worth another link. As Blaise Aguera y Arcas says, they are creating a three dimensional world of hyperlinks between images using metadata and analysis of the photos themselves. The possibilities are really very cool.

Try it out yourself – they now have a Photosynth technology preview on the web.