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January 28th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Government, Hawaii, Technology, Video

This morning’s “Hawaii Geek Beat” segment on Hawaii News Now focused on the increasing popularity and promise of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

While drones are frequently associated with military operations, the commercial applications of the technology are even more interesting. Over the holiday season, online retailer Amazon made headlines by demonstrating a prototype drone delivery system. A couple of weeks ago, video of the Pipeline surf break on the North Shore of Oahu, captured by a UAV, went viral.

Once a specialized technology costing tens of thousands of dollars, camera-toting UAVs are now within reach of consumers. From the $300 Parrot AR Drone to the $1,200 DJI Phantom to the $12,000 eBee drone, it’s not hard to imagine a future where these small aircraft are part of the standard toolkit for many businesses.

The FAA actually banned commercial drone use in 2007, leaving them only to hobbyists (who must still keep below 400 feet and keep away from commercial air traffic). But with massive interest from both businesses as well as government agencies (check out “Civilian Drones,” a documentary about the struggle to use them in search and rescue operations), the FAA is under pressure to incorporate UAVs into the nation’s airspace by 2015. And even that may not be soon enough. Unofficially, drones are already widely used in a variety of ways, and the FAA ban is being directly challenged.

Last month, Hawaii was designated as one of a handful of official drone testing sites by the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning the Aloha State will play a small role in transitioning UAVs from an under-the-radar hobby to a full-blown industry.

Our morning show appearance barely scratched the surface of this topic. Fortunately, tomorrow’s Bytemarks Cafe broadcast on Hawaii Public Radio will tackle it in depth. We’ll be joined by Jim Crisafulli, Director of the Hawaii Office of Aerospace Development, Todd Stellanova, founder of Big Island-based Droneflow, and Ted Ralston, renown aviation expert.

Tune in to 89.3FM at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, catch the livestream on the HPR website or via the HPR app, or download the show as a podcast.

Hawaii Geek Beat

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January 11th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Technology

Bitcoin in Hawaii

Bitcoins have been around for five years. In 2010, the cryptocurrency was worth a fraction of a cent, an early fan spending 10,000 of them on a pizza. With the price of Bitcoins often hovering $1,000 each, those 10,000 Bitcoins would be worth $10 million. Bitcoins are now in the headlines on a regular basis (but not always for good news), and they can be spent in more and more places, including Overstock.com as of this week.

Bitcoins are a big deal among the tech set, but remain a mystery to the mainstream public. A local group, Bitcoin Hawaii, aims to change that.

Bitcoin HawaiiFounded by McKay Davis and Sam Durham, Bitcoin Hawaii LLC started as a Meetup group, inspired by the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose last May. Since then, Davis and Durham have been sharing the Bitcoin story around the community.

“To increase public awareness of Bitcoin, we have started giving free talks… the first was on Nov 12th at UH Manoa in coordination with The Entrepreneurs Club, and the second was on Dec 9th at The Box Jelly,” explains Davis in an email. “Both talks have been very well received and we are now coordinating with The Box Jelly to provide ‘Bitcoin 101′ classes on a recurring monthly basis.”

Bitcoin Hawaii also hosted the “Blockchain Bash” last week, celebrating Bitcoin’s fifth anniversary.

The group’s next Bitcoin workshop will be held on Thursday, Jan. 16 at 6:30pm at The Box Jelly. And on Wednesday, Jan. 22, Davis and Durham will be the featured guests on Bytemarks Cafe on Hawaii Public Radio. I look forward to our conversation (and questions and comments from listeners!), as I’ve always been curious about Bitcoins but never delved much deeper than tech news headlines.

Even before the show, Davis was eager to answer some of the specific questions I had about Bitcoin.

Q: As Bitcoins become more valuable, we’re hearing about online Bitcoin wallets being hacked. I just signed up for Coinbase. Would your recommendation be to keep bitcoins offline?

A. That depends on various factors including your investment strategy and on your perspective of perceived risks involved with the various ways to hold Bitcoins:

  1. Storing BTC on Coinbase: The two biggest risks are hacking or Coinbase failing/going bankrupt. Coinbase is at least a U.S. company with large backing. If it were hacked and your coins went missing then you would at least have legal recourse against them. My opinion of Coinbase is very high and I would be suprised to see this happen – but large corporations get hacked all the time. I do know Coinbase has been very good in the past at refunding people’s lost coins not even necessarily when Coinbase was at fault. I doubt Coinbase is going to go under anytime either. Overall pretty safe.
  2. Storing BTC on a Paper Wallet: The biggest risk here is physical loss or damage to the private key. This includes the typical things covered by a safe: theft, fire, & water damage. Here’s a Reddit post about a person who lost 7 BTC to water damage.
  3. Storing coins in a software client: This includes a client wallets such as Bitcoin-QT, one of the many Android Apps, or Blockchain.info for iOS (the only wallet on iOS). Here you control your own keys. Coins are vulnerable to theft via physical access, such as someone taking your phone or logging into your keyboard. Unlock screens and password encrypting the wallet helps a lot in this case. There is also potential of theft via viruses or malware apps. In general, Windows OS machines are also more susceptible to exploits that can allow attackers to gain access.

Q: Which strategy do you follow?

A: I do all three.

  1. I keep my long term savings on offline wallets I’ve printed on waterproof paper and placed in my safety deposit box. This also serves to prevent me from spending them unless I go to the bank. The brilliant part of this setup is I can deposit more coins without having to go to the bank by sending to the public address.
  2. I keep a pretty small amount on Coinbase, I trust them, but I like to control my own coins. This allows me to sell back to coinbase quickly if I have the need.
  3. I keep a bit on my up-to-date and firewalled Linux desktop. I also keep a small amount for spending / showing people on my phone that I carry with me. I make sure all keys on my phone are accessible elsewhere so that if I lose my phone I can still recover the coins.

Q: Does that mean a Bitcoin can be in several places at once? Could you have a Bitcoin in your safety deposit box that’s also the same Bitcoin stored on Coinbase or on your phone?

A: The short answer to your question is an emphatic ‘yes’. The ‘coin’ is really just a balance of the sum of all transactions in/out of an address stored in the public ledger called the Blockchain. When someone ‘holds a coin’ they are really just holding the ‘private key’ which enables the digital signing of transactions moving the balance out of that address (i.e. spending the coin by sending to another public address). Without that private key, it is impossible to forge a transaction moving a balance from an address. The private key is a 256-bit random value, usually encoded as a 52-character string (like ’5JGqzQLXcBw154hUatR6CX5ibbs7eyEWfCpu7otbTonHVU1GjKU’). So, that private key can be stored on my computer, my phone, and a piece of paper simultaneously. Spending it anywhere in the world will be recorded in the shared Blockchain.

“I’m sure that explanation just brings more questions, huh?” Davis adds. “You’re also welcome to come to the Bitcoin 101 talk.”

For more information, head down to The Box Jelly on Jan. 16, tune in to HPR2 on Jan. 22, or visit the Bitcoin Hawaii website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

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January 10th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Government, Video

I work at Dole Cannery in Iwilei, an industrial neighborhood just outside downtown Honolulu. The area has seen more and more development over the years, with warehouses being replaced by business offices and high-rise apartment buildings.

Along Iwilei Road, a block away from Aala Park (also known for homeless activity) on one side and the Institute for Human Services (the island’s largest homeless shelter and service provider), a homeless encampment was established and continued to grow through the latter half of 2013. At the same time, across the street, Senior Residence at Iwilei was being built, a high-rise apartment building.

My coworkers, some of whom have to walk along Iwilei Rd. from bus stops on N. King street, would regularly report on the size of the encampment, which eventually took over the pedestrian path and forced people to walk in the street. There were news stories over the holidays, and apparently growing complaints from area residents and businesses.

Iwilei Homeless EncampmentThis morning, the City & County of Honolulu (with support from the Honolulu Police Department and the state Sheriff Division) swept in to clear the encampment way. It was a large operation, requiring dozens of city employees and law enforcement officers, and involving a seemingly endless parade of refuse trucks.

What came out of these tents was impressive. Large pieces of furniture, from full-sized beds, dressers and desks to a leather sofa, an ornate, museum-style mirror, and a safe. Many, many tents, several bicycles, and countless wooden pallets. The homeless people that were living there carried away what they could. A few stuck around to watch, and one couple arrived on the scene too late to retrieve their belongings. The man eventually talked his way into a few minutes to grab some items, while the woman started capturing the scene on her phone.

It’s an increasingly familiar sight across Honolulu’s urban core, with homeless encampments gradually growing until they become too large for government officials to ignore. Once cleared from one neighborhood, the homeless relocates to another, biding their time until the next city raid.

After tweeting about the raid (describing it as a police action), the city’s communications director Jesse Broder Van Dyke emailed me the following:

The police are there to keep the peace and don’t get involved unless there is some sort of incident. All of the enforcement of the Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance and the Stored Property Ordinance is done by a crew from the Department of Facility Maintenance. They remove and store items that are obstructing sidewalks or other city lands under the two ordinances. In your video, you can see the DFM crew removing the items while police stand by. In addition, the State Sheriffs also provided support for today’s enforcement action because some of the lands in that area are under state jurisdiction.

Some other information: Mayor Caldwell has increased these enforcement actions in response to community complaints. DFM crews now enforce several days a week and various times of the day, at unannounced locations where the city receives complaints.

Since 1 July 2013 (when the Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinance went into effect) city crews responded to public complaints regarding sidewalk nuisances on over 200 occasions at the following locations (some locations were associated with multiple complaints with corresponding multiple enforcement actions):

  • Inha Park
  • Kapiolani Blvd-Atkinson Blvd
  • Thomas Square
  • Aala Park
  • Pauahi St
  • Smith St
  • Maunakea St
  • Hotel St
  • Kukui St
  • Kuwili St
  • Pine St
  • Sumner St
  • Ala Wai Promenade
  • Kalakaua Ave-King St
  • Washington Middle School
  • Kalakaua Avenue at the site of the old Hard Rock Cafe
  • Ilalo St
  • Ahui St
  • Koula St
  • Olomehani St
  • Ohe St
  • Makahiki Way
  • Kalo St
  • Coyne St
  • Coolidge St
  • King St
  • Kalakaua Ave- Kapiolani Blvd.

This list was compiled last week and may not include this week’s actions.

The mayor’s Office of Housing works with homeless service providers go to the sites in advance of the enforcement actions and offer shelter space and assistance to those who will accept it.

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January 5th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Events, Photography

DSLR Video Workshop by Hawaii Shoots

More and more, people are using the cameras on their smartphones instead of dedicated cameras. Indeed, several generations of iPhones remain the most popular camera models on Flickr, with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II squeaking into the top five.

But in the same way that cameraphones have put pretty good photography within reach of the average consumer, today’s “pro-sumer” DSLR cameras — including Canon’s latest models, the Rebel T51 and EOS 70D – are becoming increasingly powerful tools for making cinema-grade movies. DSLRs are empowering a whole new generation of independent filmmakers, and are even being embraced by established Hollywood directors and cinematographers, including the people behind box office megamovies like “The Avengers.”

If you got a new DSLR for Christmas, or if you’re looking to cross the threshold from still photography to video, the Hawaii Shoots gang have a workshop for you. “Intro to DSLR Video” is their first program of 2014.

Cinematographer, photographer, and world-traveler Jeremy Snell will join Hawaii Shoots founder Brad Watanabe of Berad Studio will be teaching the introductory workshop at The Box Jelly in Kakaako. The cost to attend is $15.

Find more details on Facebook, or register through Eventbrite. For an example of DSLR cinematography, check out the following short by Snell, titled “RICO.”

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January 4th, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Business, Events, Media, Politics

Deadline Film Series

Hawaii’s media landscape remains in constant flux. Last year brought the end of the Honolulu Weekly, and the launch of HuffPost Hawaii. Hawaii-based entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar is building First Look Media (with journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and others). And Hawaii was where NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had his crisis of conscience, his leaks of widespread government surveillance programs still making headlines.

Next week brings a film and conversation series called “Deadline,” hosted at Interisland Terminal‘s closed but not-quite-dead R/D space in Kakaako. There’s also a companion publication, a collection of essays authored by journalists and media commentators. Contributors include my Hawaii Open Data co-founders Burt Lum and Jared Kuroiwa, as well as Ikaika Hussey (The Hawaii Independent), Gene Park (Civil Beat), James Cave (The Offsetter), and Jason Ubay (Hawaii Business).

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, organizers will screen and discuss “Good Night, and Good Luck,” on Thursday, Jan. 9, “A Fragile Trust,” and on Friday, Jan. 10, “All The President’s Men.” Individual passes cost $8, and an all-access pass (that includes a printed copy of the essay collection) is $15.

Find more details on Facebook, and Register online.

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January 3rd, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Environment, Gadgets, Technology

Loko I'a AppHeʻeia fishpond, located north of Kaneohe, is the largest remaining native Hawaiian fishpond on Oahu. Fishponds were once abundant in ancient Hawaii, dating back to the 14th century, and today they are valuable cultural and natural resources.

The Heʻeia fishpond is also one of the most thoroughly studied spots on the island. To make that research more accessible, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology has launched Loko Iʻa, an iOS app designed “to engage a broader community in learning about scientific research, environmental stewardship, Hawaiian culture, and community restoration” there.

The app includes interactive tours, science, photo galleries, and audio about the area. There’s a mix of scientific and cultural information and data connected to several sites around the fishpond, much of it featuring the restoration work of Paepae o Heʻeia, a private non-profit organization dedicated to caring for the fishpond.

And thanks to geolocation, app users can visit the pond and follow a self-guided walking tour around Heʻeia fishpond.

The app, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store.

Loko I'a App Loko I'a App Loko I'a App Loko I'a App

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January 2nd, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Education, Events, Technology

LearntoCode“Learn programming” is a very likely entry in the average geek’s list of new year’s resolutions. But while resources abound to learn to code on your own, taking a class and asking questions is probably better for those in a hurry.

And if you’re in a real hurry, this weekend’s “Firehose Learn2Code” workshop is for you.

The brainchild of Marco Morawec (who founded the “Firehose Weekend” series in Boston before moving to Honolulu) and co-taught by Boston-based software engineer Ken Mazaika, the three-day intensive workshop is described as “perfect for non-technical people itching to build their own Minimum Viable Product (MVP), learn to code and finally attract a technical co-founder to their startup idea.”

From setting up your development environment on Friday evening to learning to code and creating a working app all day Saturday and Sunday, the workshop will cover popular coding tools like Ruby on Rails, HTML5, CSS3, Github and Heroku. The cost is $250, but with talented coders earning that much in an hour, it seems like a reasonable investment for someone seriously interested in getting their feet wet in software development.

(For a deeper dive, there’s the newly formed DevLeague, offering a 12-week course for $8,000 launching later this month.)

The “Firehose Learn2Code Workshop” is offered through Pacific New Media at the University of Hawaii, and you can register online.

We interviewed Morawec on Bytemarks Cafe last month, and you can learn more by listening to his segment (starting at 07:30) here.

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January 1st, 2014 by Ryan Ozawa · Video

Happy New Year! With the arrival of 2014, I’m resolving to blog more often… a resolution I’ve failed to keep for the past several years, but it’s worth another shot. The first thing I was looking forward to share in 2014 is my complete 1 Second Everyday video for last year.

The video was created with 1 Second Everyday, an app that was launched on Kickstarter. With it, I was able to piece together one-second daily clips recapping 2013, including glimpses of things as exciting as Comic-Con, and as mundane as driving home in rush-hour traffic. Some moments were obviously captured in a panic at the end of the day, lacking anything more interesting than what was around me moments before going to bed. And some were definitely planned, meaningful events that I knew I wanted to be a part of this compilation.

It’s a compelling retrospective for me, of course, and something I think I’ll enjoy even more as time passes. I’m especially intrigued by how important the natural sounds of each moment turned out to be. I can close my eyes and just listen to the seconds, and see in my minds eye much more drawn from my memory than was captured by my iPhone.

But this video, or at least videos like it, apparently resonate with others, too. It conveys many facets of someone else’s life in a way that photo albums or blog posts can’t. It’s not a pure, honest documentary, of course, but it somehow feels more real.

The geek in me can’t help but note that there are a few technical glitches in the video. Missing date stamps, missing audio for a few days, and probably other things I haven’t noticed. These are mostly my fault, as I upgraded early to iOS 7 (which was very glitchy and crashy), before the 1SE developers were ready for it. In fact, up until recently, a lot of users were unable to get usable video out of the app at all, as Apple had made a small, undocumented change to its iOS video codec. Fortunately, most (but not all) of these hiccups have been ironed out… just in time to create countless “year in review” videos.

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November 11th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Technology

Jolly Pumpkin LogoFor most people, fishing is a relaxing pastime that offers an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and a few moments of peaceful reflection. For everyone else, there’s “Grenade Fishing Jr.,” a playfully explosive new game from a Honolulu developer.

Available for iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch), “Grenade Fishing” is the creation of Jacob Pollock of Jolly Pumpkins Productions. Pollack’s day job is as a materials engineer at local research and development firm Oceanit.

“Grenade Fishing” lets anyone go “blast fishing,”  the environmentally disastrous but virtually amusing practice of replacing poles, hooks and lines with explosives. The game takes specific advantage of accelerometers, allowing players to control the action by tilting and turning their devices.

Abe the bear (replacing Aloha Cat from the first incarnation) is the star of the show. Players first aim his grenade into the water, then after the blast, rock Abe’s boat back and forth so he can catch the falling fish in his mouth. Notes the game’s initial announcement:

It is a skill-based “quick-fix” action title with 18 levels and a “hand-drawn” feel. The fun of the game comes from the thrill of blowing things up and the challenge of the engaging live-action gameplay. It features realistic physics simulation, water dynamics, and fish behavior and has a unique “tilt-to-zoom” feature. Things get pretty interesting when the waves get big and the fish get smart.

Just released last week, the $0.99 game hit the top of the charts in the iTunes App Store for in the paid sports game category, and ranked in the Top 20 of all iOS games tracked by TouchArcade.

Pollock was born in San Francisco, grew up in West Virginia, and graduated with a PhD in bioengineering from UC Berkeley. After a brief stint at a West Coast medical hardware firm, he came to Honolulu over a year ago to work at Oceanit.

While he says he enjoys mobile app development, it’s definitely not the top line on his resume.

“I consider myself an inventor, mainly in materials science, and I have multiple peer-reviewed academic publications, book chapters, and issued patents,” he notes. “I do programming in my free time.”

Even so, Pollack says he’s been making game since he was eight years old, programming adventure games in BASIC on a Commodore 64 computer.

“This was before I picked up an ATARI-2600 game console at a garage sale for $20,” he adds.

With an eye toward computer animation and physics simulations, Pollack said the he dreamed up “Grenade Fishing” a decade ago. Back then, Flash was a popular platform for game development, but it wasn’t ideal.

“I finally picked it up again last year after I got an iPad and realized that I could actually write apps for it,” he says.

With “Grenade Fishing” released to the world, Pollack says he wants to do even more in mobile app development.

“I would like to build a small team here in Hawaii to operate a game house that produces high-quality indie titles,” he says.

For more information on “Grenade Fishing,” visit the official site at GrenadeFishing.com, or visit the game’s official Facebook page. It’s available now for $0.99 in the iTunes App Store.

Grenade Fishing Screenshot

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November 5th, 2013 by Ryan Ozawa · Art, Events

Fringe Festival

Honolulu will again join a global celebration of the arts with the Oahu Fringe Festival, which has now grown to a three-day event since it first landed in Chinatown in 2011.

Fringe festivals are part of a tradition going back to 1947, where the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe was held in Scotland. There are dozens of events across the country, and our local festival aims to span the Pacific.

“We are fortunate to again have a variety of acts which is central to Fringe,” says organizer Misa Tupou, who originally hails from New Zealand. “We’ve got theatre with storytelling, puppetry, improv, dance (Tahitian, hula, ballroom), and multi-media works ‘Kardia’ and ‘Etched.’”

Nearly all of the performers are from Honolulu, save Bonnie Kim from Hilo (with a Korean folktale puppet show) and storyteller Katy Rydell from Portland, Maine. And Tupou says he is glad to see solid female representation.

“Most of the acts and shows this year have been created by women, or have strong women involved,” he says. “This is isn’t to say that [wasn't true in] other years… but certainly this year it is noticeable.”

One of the highlights of this third year’s festival will take place above the ground.

“[We will have] aerial dance inside NextDoor… the aerial artists will construct their aerial structure inside NextDoor,” Tupou says. “This is a first for Fringe, an exciting prospect.”

The aerial performance kicks off the opening celebration, followed by “fringe bites,” five minute previews of many of the acts that will be featured throughout the festival. Tickets for each performance are available online; for more information, visit the Oahu Fringe website.

Photo courtesy OahuFringe.com.

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