j.a.r.v.i.s.

Imagine being able to have a conversation with your 3D printer much in the same way that the Tony Stark character of Iron Man did with his butler-esque virtual companion J.A.R.V.I.S., as voiced by the very talented Paul Bettany.  How cool would that be?

jarvis

So I thought I’d work on an upgrade to my Robo C2 printer to add this capability.

Amazon Echo (Alexa)

Fortunately, Amazon has a product called Echo with an underlying personality & service named Alexa. Since they’ve made the source code and service available to developers, I’ll be using this to get started. For the commercial product, you’d say “Alexa…, what’s the local weather?”, perhaps and she might “read” a brief report for you. And by “read”, I mean:  “a text version of the weather report queried response would be rendered into sound using a female’s voice and played on a speaker”. (We love to anthropomorphize these things now that computers are getting so smart.)

Raspberry Pi

The Robo C2 printer has a Raspberry Pi 3 inside and I’ll be incorporating this into the project; I’m fairly familiar with how this computer works.

Since the price of the official Amazon Echo is about $100, this strikes me as being too expensive since all I really need is a single board computer, a microphone, a storage card and a battery. The Raspberry Pi Zero W fits that description and weighs in at a mere $10.  Technically, I’ll also need a speaker but since I’ve just upgraded the Robo C2 with sound events then I intend to push my generic Echo’s sounds over to the printer to play them there. This will help in the illusion that I’m talking to someone/something “over there”.

Wake Word

The Echo technology out-of-the-box recognizes the spoken word “Alexa” so that it might then attempt to turn your subsequent spoken commands into something recognizable, a “skill”. I’ll be updating it to recognize the spoken word “Jarvis” instead.

Custom Skills

Beyond the included skills, the service allows new user-defined skills to be created and then they’re part of Alexa’s talents, if you will. I shall be creating custom skills so that I might then do a number of tasks with the printer, hopefully to include sending a new job to print. It would also be good to know the status of an existing job without necessarily reading any of the available displays/consoles for this information.

From what I understand, these new skills are a collection of intents and utterances with optional slots as variables.

OctoPrint

The underlying printing software behind-the-scenes on this printer is called OctoPrint. It’s suggested that it’s already compatible with Alexa so we’ll see if that’s accurate.

Size

It should be rather small and handheld. The board itself is about the length of three quarters. I have two different microphones for this—I’ll try to use the smaller of the two. Initially, I’ll use a barrel type of USB charger but I’ll then knock that down to a smaller style when that’s working. I’ll likely solder the accessories if they seem to be happy. And then finally when I’ve settled on the accessories and such, I’ll design and print an enclosure for it. I may or may not include a wake-up button.

PiZero

Custom Voice

I would like to replace Alexa’s voice personality with sound events from the J.A.R.V.I.S. movie character. I’ll see what it will take to make this happen. By keeping his responses to a few generic ones, I might just replace the outbound render-to-text routines so that they just pull from the stock responses as recorded and stored.

Progress

  • The sound event upgrade is now on the printer (imagine a Robo C2 printer making R2D2-like sounds to let you know when something has occurred)
  • I have all the parts I need for Jarvis
  • I’ve created a developer’s account on Amazon and have created my Alexa service for Jarvis
  • I have the Raspberry Pi Zero W computer’s operating system installed
  • The AlexaPi source code is installed and the service is running
  • The microphone appears to be working as expected
  • I need to read through the various tweaks required since I’m running on a Raspi Zero instead of a different version
  • Re-purpose the onboard LED on the Pi to work for the voice recognition notification
  • I need to install the new wake word for “Jarvis” instead of “Alexa”
  • I need to create one or more skills for things I need the printer to do like report status, turn off/on the webcam or to start/stop a job
  • Record and store patterned responses from the Iron Man series of movies to be played on the Raspi 3

 

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got chrome?

“Would you like to install Chrome?”, I’m asked a hundred times per day by my default search engine, Google.com. “No, Google. As I’ve already answered a thousands times before this, I don’t want to install another browser on my computer.”

No, Google.  As I’ve already answered a thousands times before this, I don’t want to install another browser on my computer.

In the browser wars, Google hates Microsoft and Microsoft hates Google. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then when you’re using Internet Explorer and you visit Google that they then try to get you to install their own competing browser (Google Chrome). And when I say “try” I really mean “relentlessly nag you to death on the subject“.

The Fix

I’ve posted before about using a custom stylesheet to thwart Google’s Chrome-nag. Here is a new method which seems to be working for me today. I just updated the option for IE -> settings -> Internet Options -> Home Page:

https://www.google.com/webhp??

Normally, that /webhp?hl=ca part is expected to steer Google so that it selects your home language, Catallà, for example. Interestingly enough, Google doesn’t apparently nag people (regarding Chrome) who speak languages other than English!

So we use this knowledge to break the chain of violence, so to speak. Actually, we’re breaking more than that since by putting two question marks we’re technically breaking (okay, “faking out”) the specification for query strings.

the white stuff, part 2

Looks like the Daily Stormer (neo-Nazi white supremacists and KKK website) was booted by their hosting provider GoDaddy on Sunday for violating its terms of service after an article regarding Heather Heyer was published on the site.  The former then transferred their content to Google Domains (Monday)… after which Google booted them as well for the same reason around midnight of that same day.

After a day or two of being offline, the site appears to have surfaced again in the “dark web” of the Tor anonymity network.  (In Harry Potter terms, they lost their lease on Diagon Alley and were forced to move to Nockturn Alley which seems to suit them better.)

The Dark Web

As if the Internet itself weren’t scary enough in the light of day sometimes, we now have an even darker, hidden version of it which is only accessible with specialized software.

Dark web: that portion of the web which cannot be easily reached from the public Internet, and usually requires specialized software to access. Examples of the dark web are the Tor network and hidden services, the I2P network and its eepsites, and the RetroShare network.

Almost sounds like a stroll in the woods when you say it like that.  Only this would be the Black Forest or the Forbidden Forest or the Suicide Forest maybe.

Onion Routing

But how does one attempt to navigate in such a place?  It looks like communications are wrapped in layers and layers of encryption much in the same way that onions have layers.  Each network node in this communication either adds another layer or peels one away, depending upon its direction.

Oddly enough, this method was developed by the Navy to protect U.S. intelligence communications online back in the ’90s.  I suppose it’s sad when your own tax dollars eventually provided the means by which child pornography, for example, enjoys its anonymity on the dark web at this time.

the white stuff

If you’ve been following the American Manufacturing Council kerfuffle that’s unfolded in the days after the Charlottesville violence and the media aftermath, there’s a lot of news that isn’t being focused on.  Probably everyone by now knows that Trump has been tweeting comments which to most observers would appear that he doesn’t hate white supremacists.  For a sitting President of the U.S., he’s reasonably expected to weigh in against hatred on this topic and he failed.

So now in the media aftermath we see that several key members of the American Manufacturing Council have resigned and the President has now disbanded the council completely (presumably to prevent others from following suit).  The news media has been quick to report all this.

What the news media is glossing over is the list of CEOs and corporations who did not resign from the council.  If you think about it, this reads as a “Who’s Who of American CEO Friends of White Supremacists”, if you will.  And so, without further ado, here’s that list.

Who’s Who of American CEO Friends of White Supremacists

CEO Corporation
William M. Brown Harris Corporation
Michael Dell Dell Technologies Inc
John J. Ferriola Nucor
Jeff Fettig Whirlpool Corporation
Alex Gorsky Johnson & Johnson
Gregory J. Hayes United Technologies
Marillyn Hewson Lockheed Martin
Jeff Immelt General Electric Company
Jim Kamsickas Dana Inc
Richard G. Kyle Timken Company
Andrew Liveris Dow Chemical Company
Dennis Muilenburg Boeing
Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Inc.
Michael B. Polk Newell Brands
Mark Sutton International Paper
Wendell Weeks Corning Inc.

give a man a phish…

There’s an old quote, of course…

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and you’ve fed him for life.

Today’s topic is about phishing, the activity in which a con artist sends a fake email to others and convinces them into giving up their credentials, credit card details, etc.

What They’re After

It’s almost always about money. They want the login details for your checking account or your credit card. If they can get your email account’s credentials then they’ll search your emails for links to your checking account or credit card. If they get your social media account’s credentials then they’ll know the people who trust you and they’ll send them email as if they’re you, conning your friends into clicking these sorts of links.

041017-Phishing-Activity-minTrust

If a stranger on the sidewalk asked you to put your wallet into a magic hat, you probably wouldn’t. You don’t trust him. So when a stranger on the Internet sends you an email, then you are probably smart enough not to click any links in it.

But now, what happens when an email arrives and it has the correct logo and content from Microsoft?  You trust them.  They wrote the software that’s on your computer, possibly.  They’re telling you that you are about to lose something or in other cases, that you could get something for free.

But of course, that email could seemingly arrive from UPS, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, Logitech, Intel, Apple, Google, Intuit, Adobe, Samsung, HP, Facebook, Twitter, Verizon, AT&T, Starbucks, Staples, Yahoo, Bing, MSN, Firefox, Chrome, WordPress…  Literally any name brand or product name you trust can be used to fool you.

Urgency

If someone told you that you had thirty years left in your lifetime, you’d probably be interested but it wouldn’t necessarily change what you do today as a result.  You’d have time to get a second opinion from another doctor, say.

We’re programmed, though, to panic when we have a limited amount of time to make a decision.  If the doctor told you that you needed to get your affairs in order because you have 24 hours left, then you probably wouldn’t calmly make an appointment with that second doctor.  You’d very likely go on a shopping spree or make some other not-so-mature decision in the spur of the moment.  In other words, the rational/analytical part of your brain wouldn’t be in charge.  Your would-be scammer knows this.  So all these attempts have some sort of expiration date/time attached to them.

Free… Isn’t

I’m not sure why people are such suckers for the word “free”.  It seems to be another method of short-circuiting the brain.  Combine free with an expiration date of some kind plus a spoofed pedigree and most people will stupidly click that link.

Antivirus Isn’t “Anti-Stupid Protection”

Unfortunately, your antivirus program can’t protect you from doing something, well… stupid, in this case.  It would be stupid to enter your credentials for anything prompted by any email.

But, what if this is legitimate?  Okay, so what if I have received an email from Geico and they’re trying to tell me that my policy is about to expire?  (Let’s assume for a moment that I have Geico insurance.)  Do I actually need to click their link to find out the status of my policy?  No.  It is infinitely safer for me to open my browser, type in Geico.com in the location field, verify that I haven’t mis-typed the domain name and then to enter my credentials on their website.  In doing so, I’ve completely removed all the dangers of phishing.

Digital Extortion

According to statistics, 64% of Americans are willing to pay a ransom to get their data back (or say control of their computer) and the average bounty demanded is $1,077 per victim. Only 34% of people globally are willing to pay money in these circumstances. Unfortunately, that makes the U.S. a prime focus for these people.