Open source Gamification services

The United States’ National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has made some of its internally-developed gamification software available for free on GitHub under the MIT free software license.

Developers may find it useful as a tool for configuring a server to track “gamification” systems like points or badges against user accounts on apps or websites; at the very least, it offers interesting insight into how the NGA is using game design tenets in its training programs

“The use of badging and awards recognizes what achievements matter most based on agency priorities, and rewards the user in the context of their work.”

The NGA claims it is releasing this software on GitHub to “increase the impact of government investments by providing developers with the opportunity to take things in new directions.”


Sony release their Authoring toolkit on GitHub (


sony stool


Release of tehir authoring server (

ngage oinr

Oculus networking engine RAKNET  (

RakNet is a cross-platform suite of C++ networking technology that’s capable of supporting a variety of platforms, including PC, current- and last-gen consoles and multiple mobile operating systems.

Unreal developer network –





Uncanny Valley


Hypothesized emotional response of human subjects is plotted against anthropomorphism of a robot, following Mori’s statements. The uncanny valley is the region of negative emotional response towards robots that seem “almost human”. Movement amplifies the emotional response.[9]


The term uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as subjects move toward a healthy, natural human likeness described in a function of a subject’s aesthetic acceptability. Examples can be found in the fields of robotics  and 3D computer generated images.

Wikipedia also states that “The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch‘s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”.[4][5][6] Jentsch’s conception was elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche“).

The video below shows some great examples of the uncanny valley:


Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observer’s emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy level.  This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.


Real examples:

A number of films that use computer-generated imagery to show characters have been described by reviewers as giving a feeling of revulsion or “creepiness” as a result of the characters looking too realistic. Examples include:

  • According to roboticist Dario Floreano, the animated baby in Pixar‘s groundbreaking 1988 short film Tin Toy provoked negative audience reactions, which first led the film industry to take the concept of the uncanny valley seriously.
  • Several reviewers of the 2004 animated film The Polar Express called its animation eerie. reviewer Paul Clinton wrote, “Those human characters in the film come across as downright… well, creepy. So The Polar Express is at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying.”The term “eerie” was used by reviewers Kurt Loder and Manohla Dargis,] among others. Newsday reviewer John Anderson called the film’s characters “creepy” and “dead-eyed”, and wrote that “The Polar Express is a zombie train.” Animation director Ward Jenkins wrote an online analysis describing how changes to the Polar Express characters’ appearance, especially to their eyes and eyebrows, could have avoided what he considered a feeling of deadness in their faces.
  • In a review of the 2007 animated film Beowulf, New York Times technology writer David Gallagher wrote that the film failed the uncanny valley test, stating that the film’s villain, the monster Grendel, was “only slightly scarier” than the “closeups of our hero Beowulf’s face… allowing viewers to admire every hair in his 3-D digital stubble.”
  • In the 2010 film The Last Airbender, the character Appa, the flying bison, has been called “uncanny”. Geekosystem‘s Susana Polo found the character “really quite creepy”, noting “that prey animals (like bison) have eyes on the sides of their heads, and so moving them to the front without changing rest of the facial structure tips us right into the uncanny valley”.

By contrast, at least one film, the 2011 The Adventures of Tintin, was praised by reviewers for avoiding the uncanny valley despite its animated characters’ realism. Critic Dana Stevens wrote, “With the possible exception of the title character, the animated cast of Tintin narrowly escapes entrapment in the so-called ‘uncanny valley.'” Wired Magazine editor Kevin Kelly wrote of the film, “we have passed beyond the uncanny valley into the plains of hyperreality.”


Goal Line technology

I saw this article recently and it is a great time to show our school kids a real world use of ICT and computing relating to a serious sporting event.  The full original article is linked at the end of this blogpost.

There’s been no short supply of controversy around this year’s World Cup, and now the actual tournament has kicked off—and after that rather iffy penalty awarded to Brazil in their first match against Croatia in the first game… we can expect to see some on the pitch too.

In a recent blog post it was also shown that Anonymous are hacking websites and systems relating to the World Cup which is also another ethical, moral and legal issue to bring to the attention of students.   The post suggest that “Coming good on its promise, hacktivist collective Anonymous has knocked out a number of websites belonging to World Cup 2014 sponsors and Brazilian government over the last two days, in protest at the epic funds spent on the competition. And that could just be the start of the hacks.

According to multiple sources, a slew of sites, including Hyundai, the Emirates Group, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency and the host country’s Department of Justice, were yesterday taken out by Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, where networks are flooded with traffic by attackers.”  – source is here for the original post

Hacker News Bulletin highlighted further sites targeted today by Anonymous Brazil, which is running the campaign, called OpHacking Cup. They include the Brazilian government’s official World Cup page and the Ministry of Sport, with some apparent success in disrupting those services.

But this year, there shouldn’t be any dispute over one pretty vital point of the game: whether the ball is in the goal or not. With so few goals scored in a match, you might think it wouldn’t be too hard to notice when it actually does happen, but recent history would prove you wrong. Just go back to the 2010 World Cup and poor Frank Lampard’s woefully uncounted non-goal goal. The England player clearly kicked the ball over the goal-line—which is, after all, the one thing he and his pals are paid millions to do—but somehow the referee didn’t see it. England lost the match

The company who is at the centre of this project is Goal Control.  The promo video can be seen here

The company has also claimed that the system is totally unhackable;

  • First up, there’s no internet connection, which removes a whole host of potential vulnerabilities. “Another important fact to point out is that our transmission code of the sender is extremely secure and has got a frequently changing encrypted code,” Dittrich explained. “We are not using the wifi/LAN frequency band of 2.4 GHz.”
  • The system doesn’t actually sit on the goal-line, or the pitch at all. The 14 cameras are mounted around the stadium, seven for each goal, to give a full view of the whole penalty area. When the ball enters that space, they track it continuously from seven angles. If it crosses the goal line, an encrypted message is sent to a watch that the referee wears. Within a second of the goal, the watch vibrates and sends a visual signal, and that’s all the info they get: It’s meant to be a simple, yes/no confirmation.

But what if the ball was halfway over the goal-line. Would it be able to make the call? “Halfway is no goal—of course!” GoalControl spokesperson Rolf Dittrich said. “Only when the ball passes the goal-line completely, the system sends a vibration and optical signal to the officials’ watches. The accuracy of goal detection is about 5 mm!”…. I wonder how long until someone takes that half-centimetre to task?

The company also makes a product called GoalControl-Replay, which is an intriguing hint at where football technology could continue to head. After a goal recorded by the goal-line system, it renders a virtual image of the ball on the pitch, which could be shown to spectators to show the goal-line view. While it’s not suggested that particular function could be used by officials to question decisions, it certainly nods to the argument over whether football should also start using video replays so controversial referee judgments can be challenged. Like if a soft penalty is awarded because a player dives at the lightest touch from an opponent, for instance.

While GoalControl is only intended to be used at the goal-line, Dittrich suggested the technology could be put to other uses. “Because of the fact that the system is camera-based, additional applications are conceivable,” he said.

Article originally posted here by the fantastic Vicky Turk



The Brazil world cup will be one of the largest and connected World Cups.   So how do they connect 80,000 fans?  The BBC, Huawei and several other have been answering this question online…so how do they do it?

The BBC article sates that “Brazil last year, for one, had over 70 million 3G users – a number expected to grow to 130 million by the end of 2014.

Telecom companies came through on their pledge to have 4G cellphone signal available in all 12 cities hosting the games.  However,  only six of the 12 World Cup stadiums will offer free wi-fi so fans can connect to the Internet. Wi-fi service will not be ready in time at the stadiums in Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Recife, Fortaleza, Natal and Belo Horizonte. At Curitiba and Cuiaba stadiums, the telecom industry said there was no time to set up the best possible cell signal.

Part of the reason for such an explosion of online connectivity is the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which will take place from 12 June and be hosted in 12 of the country’s national stadiums.

However, providing supportive technology to connect tens of thousands of stadium-goers simultaneously is still a challenge. For example, there are pressures for Brazil to accommodate its international guests and ensure that they are able to share their World Cup experience with friends and family back home.

High-density wireless networks, which are mounted under the floor, to the sides and on the roof, are one solution to this challenge. This technology was introduced in 2012, when electronics company Huawei teamed up with Germany’s Signal Iduna Park Stadium (formerly the 2006 FIFA World Cup Stadium Dortmund) to provide a full range of networking products, including wireless WLAN, routers and firewalls, so that 40,000 fans could simultaneously connect to the internet.

The Signal Iduna Park was consequently one of the first sporting venues to become known as a Connected Stadium, so-called because audience spectators are encouraged to interact online, via tablet or mobile devices.

Comments on DfE A-Level Gender analysis

A-Level equality analysis by DfE (April 10th 2014)

It is very welcome that the DfE has looked at the equality of access for qualifications at A-Level.


How are we here?

In March 2012, the Secretary of State for Education set out a programme of reform for A levels. In line with the Government’s commitment in the 2010 Schools White Paper, The Importance of Teaching. He suggested that universities should be more involved in the design of A levels to ensure that the qualifications are equipped for HE.

He also confirmed the Government’s ambition for A levels to be linear, with all examinations at the end of the two year course. Subsequently, in an exchange of letters with the Ofqual Chief Regulator, he confirmed that the AS should become a separate, stand-alone qualification, also taught and assessed on a linear basis

Computer Science

Our analysis suggested that an increase in quantitative content may make it less accessible to pupils with a disability such as dyscalculia and may have an impact on female engagement. I think this is quite a generalisation and we need to be clear that quantitative content ‘may’ make is less accessible. Although CS does have close links and a basis is mathematics the course content of A-Level specifications vary in their mathematical content.

A very small number of respondents (3) thought that the increase in mathematical content would make it less accessible and a particular point was made of encouraging female engagement in computer science. One respondent offered a US as an example of encouraging female students in computer science. We would need a major on the engagement of mathematics and gender and then CS to correlate this as far as I am aware a study of this has not been done yet. It may be worth exploring in your own school. It may also be wise to discuss A-Level timetabling sympathetically with rather than against mathematics for example. Essentially do students who perfom highly in mathematics also perform in CS and how is the this reflected in the performance of gender?

In consultation with stakeholders, including subject associations, there was extensive support for the need for more quantitative skills in a computer science. This is a fair point and the close links between mathematics should be explored more in relation to computer science for example links to Algebra.

A level

The subject content introduces a new aim that A level specifications must encourage students to develop ‘mathematical skills’.

Setting these out explicitly within the A level subject content will strengthen the mathematical content of the qualifications and will address the concerns expressed by higher education representatives that the current content does not ensure that all students develop appropriate mathematical skills. No evidence was offered that an increase in quantitative content would have any major impact on take up by female students.

For those students with disabilities (such as dyscalculia) there will be some mitigation by access arrangements in some situations. It would be useful to understand the relationship between students with dycalculia and their performance with quantitative aspects of CS.

As set out above more than 70% of pupils already achieve at least a C in mathematics GCSEs with around 11,000 achieving what is currently

information technology/ A level computer studies/ICT A levels. It would have bee helpful to have student numbers rather than mixing percentages and numbers.

The arguments as set out for business A level on the teaching of mathematics prior to key stage 5 also apply here.  From what I can see this basically says “don‘t worry out new national currculum is more robust and more students are getting GCSE C grades in mathematics”.

In considering these responses the A level review panel concluded that increasing the focus on quantitative skills in response to the needs of higher education was important and out weighed potential risks.

We are satisfied that the proposed changes will have no major impact on those with the protected characteristics of disability or gender.

As set out above, one respondent offered a published study from a US university that has successfully turned this problem around so that 42% of their undergraduate computer science intake is female – it took active engagement at pre-GCSE and following that through:   – <This really is quite a useful project in my opinion

It may be that that there are positive lessons to learn from this study.  I will blog these for CAS include.  

In relation to securing greater female engagement which have the potential for a greater positive impact than can be achieved through the qualification content.

In consultation with stakeholders including subject associations there was extensive support for the need for more quantitative skills in the computer science A-level.I agree.

We believe that on balance the proposed changes are justifiable to meet the educational needs as set out above and that the majority of students are adequately prepared.

We have not identified any potential for a negative impact on students because of age, race, religion or belief pregnancy or maternity or sexual orientation or as a result of gender reassignment

For more links and inspiration on gender and inclusion in Compuer Science check out @CASInclude

The full DfE report can be found here

Hacking our senses

Some schools are pumping music, noises and fragrances into the classroom to see if it improves exam results – could it work? (REPOST from BBC Futures)

What did your school smell like? Was it noisy or peaceful?

It might not seem important, but a growing body of research suggests that smells and sounds can have an impact on learning, performance and creativity. Indeed, some head teachers have recently taken to broadcasting noises and pumping whiffs into their schools to see whether it can boost grades. Is there anything in it? And if so, what are the implications for the way we all work and study?

There is certainly some well-established research to suggest that some noises can have a detrimental effect on learning. Numerous studies over the past 15 years have found that children attending schools under the flight paths of large airports lag behind in their exam results.

But general noise seems to have an effect too. Bridget Shield, a professor of acoustics at London South Bank University, and Julie Dockrell, now at the Institute of Education, have been conducting studies and advising politicians on the effects of all sorts of noises, such as traffic and sirens, as well as noise generated by the children themselves. When they recreated those particular sounds in an experimental setting whilst children completed various cognitive tasks, they found a significant negative effect on exam scores. “Everything points to a detrimental impact of the noise on children’s performance, in numeracy, in literacy, and in spelling,” says Shield. The noise seemed to have an especially detrimental effect on children with special needs. `

Shield says the sound of “babble” – the chatter of other children, is particularly distracting in the classroom. Architects that fashion open-plan classrooms in schools would do well to take this on board. “People are very distracted by speech – particularly if it’s understandable, but you’re not involved in it.” This phenomenon is also known as the irrelevant speech effect, she says, adding that “it’s a very common finding in open-plan offices as well.”

Whether background sounds are beneficial or not seems to depend on what kind of noise it is – and the volume. In a series of studies published last year, Ravi Mehta from the College of Business at Illinois and colleagues tested people’s creativity while exposed to a soundtrack made up of background noises – such as coffee-shop chatter and construction-site drilling – at different volumes. They found that people were more creative when the background noises were played at a medium level than when volume was low. Loud background noise, however, damaged their creativity.

This makes sense for a couple of reasons, says psychologist Dr Nick Perham, at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK, who studies the effect of sounds on learning but was not involved in the study.  Firstly, he says, sounds that are most distracting tend to be very variable.  A general hum in the background suggests a steady-state sound with not much acoustical variation. “So there’s not much there to capture your attention – nothing distracting the subjects,” he says. At the same time, the background noise might cause the subjects to be in a slightly heightened state of arousal, says Perham. You don’t want too much or too little arousal. “Medium arousal is best for good performance. So it might be that a general hum in the background gives an optimum level of arousal.” With that in mind, Perham suggests there may be some benefit to playing music or other sounds in an art class or other situations where creativity is key.

Many teachers all over the world already play music to students in class. Many are inspired by the belief that hearing music can boost IQ in subsequent tasks, the so-called Mozart effect. While the evidence actually suggests it’s a stretch to say classical music boosts brainpower, researchers do think pleasant sounds before a task can sometimes lift your mood and help you perform well, says Perham, who has done his own studies on the phenomenon. The key appears to be that you enjoy what you’re hearing. “If you like the music or you like the sound – even listening to a Stephen King novel – then you did better. It didn’t matter about the music,” he says.

However, it’s worth considering that music is not always helpful while you’re trying to work. Trying to perform a task which involves serial recall – for instance, doing mental arithmetic – will be impaired by sounds with acoustic variation, which includes most types of music, says Perham. (Except a few, like extreme death metal.) Songs with lyrics, on the other hand, are more likely to interfere with tasks that involve semantics – such as reading comprehension. “The task and the sound are important, when you have both of them using the same process then you get problems,” he says.

So, it seems that schools that choose to screen out disturbing noises and create positive soundscapes could enhance the learning of their students, so long as they make careful choices.

This isn’t the only sense being tweaked to affect learning. Special educational needs students at Sydenham high school in London are being encouraged to revise different subjects in the presence of different smells – grapefruit scents for maths, lavender for French and spearmint for history.

Less research has gone into the idea of whether scents can help with cognitive performance, although there have been intriguing findings. In 2003, psychologist Mark Moss, at Northumbria University, carried out a range of cognitive tests on subjects who were exposed either to lavender or rosemary aromas. “Rosemary in particular caught my attention as it is considered to be arousing and linked to memory,” he says, whereas lavender is considered to be sedating. Moss found that those who were smelling lavender performed significantly worse in working memory tests, and had impaired reaction times for both memory and attention-based tasks, compared to controls. Those in the rosemary group, on the other hand, did much better than controls overall in the memory tasks, although their reaction times were slower.

Why might this be? It’s perhaps not surprising that smells affect memory, given that the brain’s olfactory bulb is intimately linked to the hippocampus, which deals with learning. But Moss suspected there was more to it. To explore the pharmacological effects of rosemary on the body, he drew blood samples from volunteers who had just undergone cognitive tests in a rosemary-infused room, and found that they had elevated levels of a compound called 1,8-cineole in their blood. Previous research has shown that this compound increases communication between brain cells, which might explain how it improves brain function.

So, as you finish reading this story, take a moment to tune into your senses. Close your eyes and take a few nice deep breaths. What can you hear and smell? The answer, it seems, may affect how much you learnt in the past few minutes.

Blackbox technology – How do they work and what about the cloud?

I am not a pilot, I am not an expert on aircraft systems however I do have a technical background.   As a regular air traveller and after the recent Malaysian airways crash I asked myself :

1. How can authorities lose track of a Boeing 777 plane in an age when an iPhone can be located in seconds (Thanks Susan for inspiring me to think of this….)

2. Over the last several years, airlines have been installing satellite-based Wi-Fi systems for passenger entertainment that could also be used to facilitate data-streaming,  It’s bizarre that we technology so passengers can pay to watch live TV, access emails and call BUT these are still not utilised for safety purposes.

EC_IFE2_Wide.jpgImage from :

Setting the scene

According to reports : “On January 31, 2000, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 departed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, heading for Seattle, with a short stop scheduled in San Francisco. Approximately one hour and 45 minutes into the flight, a problem was reported that the plane’s “stabiliser trim“. After a 10-minute battle to keep the plane airborne, it plunged into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. All 88 people on board were killed.”

With any plane crash, there are many unanswered questions as to what brought it down. The investigators turn to the airplane’s flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR), also known as “black boxes,” to find answers. According to records, in Flight 261, the FDR contained 48 parameters of flight data, and the CVR recorded a little more than 30 minutes of conversation and other audible cockpit noises.

In my experience as a passenger, many airlines are now regularly allowing the in seat charging of and use of mobile phones and have plane based WiFi (for example Ethiad).   I have recently flown on several long haul and short haul flights and connectivity is much improved.   The internal communications systems such as ACARS regularly  use data transmission so the technology is there and usable although would probably need to be upgraded.   The airlines may however object as although data storage is practically too cheap to measure, data bandwidth – especially on satellites, which would be required for coverage over oceans and the poles is expensive (about 60p per kilobyte).

Streaming the data?

Firstly cost.  These devices cost $10,000 and $15,000 …is  a cloud based solution viable at this cost?

Secondly, How much data does the black box (FDR/CVR) actually record?  88 operational parameters apparently.

The global Iridium network, which covers the entire globe with 66 orbiting satellites, could probably accommodate the bandwidth needed to transmit at the very least the 88 operational required parameters from the 8,000 or so commercial flights at any given moment. Krishna Kavi, a professor of computer science at the University of North Texas, estimates that the worldwide demand would be about 64 megabits per second (Mbps) and of this only a portion of which would have to be sent by satellite. Using different assumptions, Seymour Levine, an inventor who has devised his own telemetry, estimates the maximum bandwidth requirement for aeroplanes as being around 25 Mbps and the total storage requirement for a day’s worth of data at 100 gigabytes — a quarter of the speed of a fast broadband connection and less disk space than an iPod Classic.

This really is a poor use of technology….and one that I feel will need to be addressed after the current accidents ImageThe technology over time

Originally developed by David Warren from Australia (see the video  the black boxes recorded data on Magnetic Tape.  Currently they use use solid state technology.  All of the data collected by the airplane’s sensors is sent to the flight-data acquisition unit (FDAU) at the front of the aircraft. This device often is found in the electronic equipment bay under the cockpit. The flight-data acquisition unit is the middle manager of the entire data-recording process. It takes the information from the sensors and sends it on to the black boxes.

ImageSensors and the technology

The devices are powered by 28 V DC and use solid state technology.   Solid state uses stacked arrays of memory chips, so they don’t have moving parts. With no moving parts, there are fewer maintenance issues and less chance of something breaking during a crash.  Planes are equipped with sensors that gather data. There are sensors that detect things such as:

  • Time
  • Pressure altitude
  • Airspeed
  • Vertical acceleration
  • Magnetic heading
  • Control-column position
  • Rudder-pedal position
  • Control-wheel position
  • Horizontal stabilizer
  • Fuel flow

Magnetic-tape recorders can track about 100 parameters, while solid-state recorders can track more than 700 in larger aircraft.

Data from both the CVR and FDR are stored on stacked memory boards inside the crash-survivable memory unit (CSMU). In recorders made by L-3 Communications, the CSMU is a cylindrical compartment on the recorder (as shown above). The stacked memory boards are about 1.75 inches (4.45 cm) in diameter and 1 inch (2.54 cm) tall.

The memory boards have enough digital storage space to accommodate two hours of audio data for CVRs and 25 hours of flight data for FDRs.

Voice Recording in the cockpit

There are several microphones built into the cockpit to track the conversations of the flight crew. These microphones are also designed to track any ambient noise in the cockpit, such as switches being thrown or any knocks or thuds. There may be up to four microphones in the plane’s cockpit, each connected to the cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

Any sounds in the cockpit are picked up by these microphones and sent to the CVR, where the recordings are digitized and stored. There is also another device in the cockpit, called the associated control unit, that provides pre-amplification for audio going to the CVR. Here are the positions of the four microphones:

  • Pilot’s headset
  • Co-pilot’s headset
  • Headset of a third crew member (if there is a third crew member)
  • Near the center of the cockpit, where it can pick up audio alerts and other sounds

Most magnetic-tape CVRs store the last 30 minutes of sound. They use a continuous loop of tape that completes a cycle every 30 minutes. As new material is recorded, the oldest material is replaced. CVRs that used solid-state storage can record two hours of audio. Similar to the magnetic-tape recorders, solid-state recorders also record over old material.  (In the case of the Malaysian Airline  flight MH370 then I would assume this data may have been recorded over during its 7hr flight and miss vital recordings when the issues may have appeared 5hrs earlier?)

Locator Beacon

If a plane crashes into the water, the locator beacon sends out an ultrasonic pulse that cannot be heard by human ears but is readily detectable by sonar and acoustical locating equipment. There is a submergence sensor on the side of the beacon that looks like a bull’s-eye. When water touches this sensor, it activates the beacon.

The beacon sends out pulses at 37.5 kilohertz (kHz) and can transmit sound as deep as 14,000 feet (4,267 m). Once the beacon begins “pinging,” it pings once per second for 30 days. This beacon is powered by a battery that has a shelf life of six years. In rare instances, the beacon may get snapped off during a high-impact collision.

In the United States, when investigators locate a black box it is transported to the computer labs at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Special care is taken in transporting these devices in order to avoid any (further) damage to the recording medium. In cases of water accidents, recorders are placed in a cooler of water to keep them from drying out.

Getting the data off the device

The black-box manufacturers supply the NTSB with the readout systems and software needed to do a full analysis of the recorders’ stored data.  If the FDR is not damaged, investigators can simply play it back on the recorder by connecting it to a readout system. With solid-state recorders, investigators can extract stored data in a matter of minutes. Very often, recorders retrieved from wreckage are dented or burned. In these cases, the memory boards are removed, cleaned up and a new memory interface cable is installed. Then the memory board is connected to a working recorder. This recorder has special software to facilitate the retrieval of data without the possibility of overwriting any of it.

A team of experts are usually brought in to interpret the recordings stored on a CVR. This group typically includes a representative from the airline, a representative from the airplane manufacturer, an NTSB transportation-safety specialist and an NTSB air-safety investigator.

Benefits of using a more effective system would probably result in improvements in:

  • Communications – including that with Air Traffic Control
  • Surveillance improvements in case of accidents
  • Navigational improvements

Other options

Military airplanes and helicopters used in offshore exploration have flight-data recorders that can eject with a parachute in a crash. They emit a satellite signal that immediately transmit the aircraft’s identity and location. But adding an ejection system on a commercial jet would probably require an expensive redesign.


My prediction on the future for this technology

Simple enough, live data transferred from cockpit to stakeholders (Aircraft manufacturer to analyse data in real time, mechanics at airfields for maintenance, Air Traffic Control, NTSB and the airline).  A further more radical modification could be to remotely control the aircraft (using a one time key from aircraft to airline to ensure security and restrict hacking) brining it back to land on perform an emergency landing as necessary however electrical faults  may deem this impossible.

Probable issues:

  • Hacking of data  – potential terrorism?
  • Cost of bandwidth (rather than storage)
  • Infrastructure development for cloud technology or wireless data transfer
  • Backup systems and system redundancy
  • Connectivity in remote areas due to lack of network coverage (burst transmission –
  • Ethical collection of data for pilot performance management / recording of crew voice recordings
  • Pilots Association may not agree to this streaming (they also opposed the introduction of the black box!)


In a year or so I predict this data will be live streamed and stored in the cloud with redundant systems on board as needed initially this may start with triggered transmissions of data.  This would allow for more data to be stored and used for maintenance and be available immediately (unless this systems itself were to breakdown).  The better compression and encryption algorithms developed now mean there is no real reason why this would not be could not be used.   These systems are old and have not been developed taking account of newer internet enabled technologies.


Photos from : L-3 Communication Aviation Recorders

Further sources:,


Meet The Man Who Solved The Mysterious Cicada 3301 Puzzle

It’s the most baffling and enigmatic mystery on the Internet with promises of “epiphany” if you solve it. But just how hard is it to crack the Cicada 3301 puzzle and who’s behind it?


Two years ago, a cryptic message started appearing on message boards across the Internet. Claiming to seek “highly intelligent individuals,” the Cicada 3301 puzzle challenged visitors to find a secret message hidden in the image that accompanied it. Just what is Cicada 3301? And what happens to those that solve the puzzle? To find out, we talked to the man who solved it.

When it showed up on January 4, 2012 the mysterious image contained a simple message in white text on a black background:

“Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in the image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few who will make it all the way through. Good luck.”

It was signed “3301.”

And so began the hunt to solve the mysterious Cicada 3301 puzzle, one that recurs each year and has left cryptoanalysts and hackers scratching their heads.

A Multifaceted Enigma

Joel Eriksson is one of the few known people to have actually solved it since the first challenge appeared online.

“I stumbled upon it on one of the image boards the first image was posted to in 2012,” says Eriksson, a 34-year-old cryptosecurity researcher and developer from Sweden. “Unfortunately, I didn’t see it until some time after it was originally posted, and thus had some catching up to do,” Eriksson says. “Initially, I just thought it would be a nice little brainteaser. I’ve always been interested in anything that can challenge me, and I never give up. In the case of Cicada, the puzzle in question turned out to be a lot more than I thought it would be when I started it.”

Tackling the puzzle would lead Eriksson to rely on a host of skills from steganography to cryptography, to an understanding of ancient Mayan numerology and a familiarity with cyberpunk speculative fiction. As he worked his way from solving one piece of the puzzle to the next, the journey would lead him to discover that the answers lay not just in the digital domain, but in the real world: From clues left on the voicemail of a Texas telephone number to flyers taped to telephone poles in 14 cities around the world. The quest would ultimately return to the deepest layers of the digital world: the dark web.

From Reddit To Texas To The Dark Web

To understand how hard Cicada is, one only needs to look at the complexity of each clue that leads to successive parts of the puzzle–all which need to be completed in order to solve the Cicada mystery.

From the first image that was posted, Eriksson used steganography software to extract a message encoded with a shift cipher, where each letter of the text actually corresponds to another letter. Once he decoded the cypher, it revealed a URL where another image of a duck was posted. Here, he used steganography tools to reveal a hidden book code of a list of two numbers separated by a colon. The book code led to a Reddit URL with Mayan numerals on the top of the page. Eriksson noticed that several posts by a user using a pseudonym seemed to consist of encoded text. This text was the “book” the book code could be used to decode. But to find the cypher he needed to find the key first, which he gleaned from translating the Mayan numerals.

The now decoded text of the anonymous Reddit user’s postings revealed two images, both of which Eriksson used steganography tools on to find hidden messages with riddles inside them. The answer to these riddles were strings of digits that was a phone number in Texas. Calling the phone number led to a voicemail that read, “Very good. You have done well. There are three prime numbers associated with the original final.jpg image. 3301 is one of them. You will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers together and add a .com to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye.”

Looking at the metadata of the image that started it all, Eriksson thought its height and width dimensions could be the other two numbers. He did the math and landed at a URL which had another image of a cicada and a countdown that told him when to return to the site.

When the countdown was over, the cicada image was replaced with strings of digits that looked like GPS coordinates. The coordinates led to telephone poles in countries around the world, including in Spain, Russia, America, France, Japan, and Poland. Due to geographic limitations, Eriksson had to rely on other people on the Cicada 3301 trail in those parts of the world. What the locals found were physical posters with images of a cicada and a QR code.

Eriksson scanned the QR code, which lead to another two images, inside of which were more hidden text, including text from what Eriksson found was the William Gibson poem Agrippa. Noting that the text referenced prime numbers, Eriksson surmised that perhaps the book code he used on the text found on Reddit might reveal where to go next if he used it on the Gibson poem. It worked. He was directed to an address on the anonymous Tor network.

However, by the time he arrived, Cicada 3301 had put up a message stating that they were disappointed in the groups of people that had formed to share parts of the puzzles they discovered without any one member completing all the steps along the way, as Eriksson had done.

Had Eriksson seen the first image as soon as everyone else did, and having solved the Cicada 3301 puzzle on his own, he would today know what laid beyond the Tor site Cicada had set up.

“It was quite disappointing,” Eriksson says. “Especially considering that the people who registered in time were mostly ones that had not actually solved much of the puzzles themselves. People were sharing solutions and collaborating a bit too much.”

But for Eriksson the time and effort it took him to beat Cicada weren’t a total loss. He solved every step of the world’s most baffling Internet enigma in just under three weeks and in the process gleaned a lot of insight into who or what Cicada 3301 is.

Who’s Behind Cicada 3301?

Ericksson’s impression of who might be behind the puzzle changed as he went along.

“Getting a phone number to call after solving one of the pieces of the puzzle was the first hint that this might not just be the work of a random Internet troll. This was definitely an unexpected turn,” Eriksson says. “The plot thickened even more when receiving a number of GPS coordinates. I also can’t help but to notice that the locations in question–USA, Poland, France, South Korea, and Australia–are all places with some of the most talented hackers and IT security researchers in the world.”

Cicada’s identity is one of the most hotly debated topics among people who try to solve the group’s now annual puzzles. Theories range from global banks that might be trying to set up new digital currencies to political think tanks to nefarious groups of hackers with anarchy on their minds. The most popular assumption, however, is a government intelligence agency like the CIA, NSA, and MI6 that may be trying to recruit talented cryptoanalysts like Eriksson–something Eriksson doesn’t think is likely.

“It is actually quite common for intelligence agencies and similar organizations to use non-traditional forms of recruitment, but in those cases they usually announce it officially rather than hiding their identity. One such example was the GCHQ challenge “Can you crack it?” a few years ago. It required deeper technical skills than the Cicada 3301 challenge, but the scope was much smaller and it required a lot less time to solve. If intelligence agencies used something like the Cicada 3301 puzzles to find people to recruit, they would probably end up with a lot of people that are not really interested in working for an organization such as theirs.”

So if it’s not an intelligence agency, who does Eriksson believe is behind it?

“It is most likely an underground organization, not related to any government or intelligence agency,” he says. “Based on the references in their challenges–the Agrippa poem by William Gibson, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, The Book of The Law by Aleister Crowley–and their constant references to prime numbers and the like, they are likely intellectual, anti-establishment, ideologically driven and they seem to be valuing logical/analytical thinking highly. They seem to share a lot of ideology with the cryptoanarchy movement, and old-school hackers.”

As for the complexity of the puzzles, Eriksson says that Cicada wouldn’t even need to be that large of a group. “It really only takes one dedicated person to plan it all, but if I had to guess I would say it’s probably three to five with one of them being the main driving force. They probably spend about one to two months on setting everything up before each year’s puzzle. I think it’s possible to set up similar challenges in a much shorter amount of time as well, but not with as great attention to detail as Cicada 3301.”

What’s most interesting is that, though Eriksson didn’t make it in time to be allowed through the last door, presumably a few select others did. This begs the question: Why aren’t those people talking? After all, if you’re smart enough to crack the Cicada puzzle, wouldn’t you want to brag about it and become the hero of the hacker world by revealing who’s behind it?

Eriksson says there have been some leaks, with people claiming that they are or have been part of Cicada 3301–but the problem is that none of them can be confirmed. However, he doesn’t think the identity of who’s behind Cicada will ever be revealed–even by a bona fide winner.

“I don’t think that Cicada 3301 would reveal everything about themselves directly–or at all,” he says. “They would probably only reveal their purpose or their ideology, and what they expect from you as a part of the group, and then use anonymous means of communication to keep their identity hidden.”

“Regarding the desire to tell the world, I think that it depends on how you’re wired and what drives you. In my work as a security researcher for some very secretive and sensitive clients, I’m used to keeping secrets. If you are working for a cause you truly believe in, I don’t think keeping your mouth shut is that hard. The challenge for Cicada 3301 is to figure out which ones that truly believe in their cause.”

Advice For Current Cicada Hopefuls

This year’s Cicada 3301 puzzle is currently going on, having revealed its start to interested puzzle solvers with an image of a cicada that read: “Hello. Epiphany is upon you. Your pilgrimage has begun. Enlightenment awaits. Good luck. 3301.”

As no one is yet known to have solved the 2014 puzzle, the current Cicada hopefuls out there could learn a thing or two from Eriksson, who says he is not working on this year’s puzzle.

Though you don’t have to be a cryptoanalist savant, it doesn’t hurt to have years of logical and analytical training. “Logical and analytical reasoning has always come naturally for me,” Eriksson says. “I started reading when I was four years old, I started programming when I was seven. My parents knew nothing about computers, so I had to learn everything by myself.”

Eriksson says that due to his background in IT security, the cryptography and steganography related parts were actually quite easy. But when it came to the more esoteric references to poetry, literature, prime numbers, and number theory, “I believe my general interest in brain teasers and puzzles have been quite helpful,” he says. “Also, in a lot of cases, I felt that Cicada 3301 and me seem to have a very similar way of thinking. There is something much deeper going on than just the puzzles per se.”

As for his advice for this year’s a future Cicada cyber sleuths?

“Make sure that you have a good understanding of every part of the previous Cicada 3301 puzzles. If there is a subject you are not already well acquainted with, take your time to read and learn more about it. Try to solve as much as possible of the earlier puzzles by yourself rather than just reading through a write-up. For parts you do read, make sure you understand each step completely and try to think about how you would have arrived at the same conclusions by yourself.”

“Last but not least, enjoy the ride.”