Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Virus in the Net

Swine flu has finally spread to cyberspace. Shocking as it may seem, visitors to INMI, the Japanese infectious disease center, have begun receiving mails titled "Information about Swine Flu," which reportedly contain computer viruses. No explanation has been given as to how the virus harms PCs.

I usually take virus news light heartedly and always with a smile. Despite the harm they cause, they are also a symbol of human ingenuity for me. But this time, I have to say it is plain wicked, unnecessary and evil. We are on the verge of a serious epidemic and people are just trying to be a little more informed. Would it not be better if we tried to help them instead?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DVR: Digital Video Recording

our every move digitally recorded

The number one reason why people use digital video recording, DVR for short, is security. From small shop owners and families to big financial institutions, digital cameras are used everywhere and recorded tapes (a misnomer here obviously) or other media are stored for inspection purposes later. Though it is difficult to claim it stops abuse or theft, security by DVR has three immediate benefits:
  1. It is considered as a deterrent
  2. It drives down insurance costs
  3. Data stored occupies less space and is extremely portable.
 Now, include other gadgets in e.g. stations, airports, city halls, traffic lights, subways, stores and whatnot into this cameraverse, it will not be wrong to say unless we decide to live in caves, our every move is under surveillance.

Still, as far as our privacy is concerned, one can safely assume that it is intact just because of the sheer amount of data collected. Unless it is narrowed down, we are just one of the millions of pixels residing in those images, despite the fact that significant improvements have been made in facial recognition software and the like.

I tend to believe that our assumed safety is an illusion because we ignore the fact that millions of gigabytes of data is collected by other means as well, though not necessarily visually. What is more, it has important political implications if we do not place safeguards to access this data, assuming of course, there really is a good reason to collect it in the first place. This will be the main issue I will be focusing although some technical information or pointers to it will be given. It is time to think about what should be done to keep a free society free.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Under Constant Surveillance

As threats to public security increases day by day, there is a growing demand for more surveillance in all aspects of our lives. E-mails, Facebook profiles, search queries, surfing habits, you name it, are all recorded and used.

Now, considerable amount of that data is for marketing purposes and it can be viewed either good or bad depending on its exact purpose. Some of it are in the hands of the law enforcement agencies for apparent public safety.

Still, I can not help but be concerned. If you told me a country like Australia would propose a country wide Internet censorship, I would not believe you, or Germany would shut down sites like Wikileaks, no, I would say it was unlikely, either. Nor would I believe copyright treaties would be negotiated behind closed doors. And, no, I would not think it was possible for a company like Airbus, or any company if that matters, to spy on staff bank accounts for due diligence. Not in those parts of the world anyway. But they all happened.

I have never been comfortable with tracking, tracing, digitally recording everything on the streets and whatnot. But I thought my paranoia was a result of my upbringing, my personal experiences and deeply, and adversely I should say, affected by the places I had to live.

Let's see: I was shot at a few times, survived a couple of explosions, and OK, enough examples, already. Suffice to say that I had to live in a military regime for four years, and...

If you ask me what I value most, I will promptly and without hesitation say: FREEDOM. And I'm concerned, very concerned. Unlike most of you, I know, I feel, what oppression is very well, first hand.

And this increasing number of cameras, dvr, security, etc have started to bother me big time. I am planning to get deeper into this surveillance thing, why it is done, how it is done, the trade off of privacy in return for safety, its political implications, so and so forth. It might at first seem this will inevitably shift the focus of this site from cyberspace. Not quite! When it comes to intelligence, information gathering and similar activities, it is the cyberspace that interconnects them. Just like sound waves need air to travel, it is cyberspace that helps all of above function properly.

Let me end with a teaser. Cory Doctorow had once written a short story, Scroogled, trying to imagine what would happen if Google gone bad. I had taken great pleasure in reading and translating it to one of the obscure languages listed in his post (Sadly, I changed the permalink structure and the software so the link pointing to it will not work). More interestingly, the original story seems to have vanished from Radar Magazine, who published the story. So I had to link through web archive. Funny, isn't it? Even permanent links, the so called permalinks are not so permanent.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

A precious item for anyone who cares. Carlo M. Cipolla's "The Basic Laws of Stupidity" is a short essay I can heartily recommend. You can read the full on-line version at Fravia's. I am inserting just the headlines here, only to remind myself of the foolish mistakes I have done in the past and will undoubtedly do in the future. "What about present?" you may ask. Everything seems sooo right now that one should later look back in time to judge.
  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
    Corollary: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.

 O wheel of time! Why don't you try turning backwards for once?

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Yahoo Closing GeoCities

geocities yahoo logo
"After careful consideration, we have decided to close GeoCities later this year. We'll share more details this summer. For now, please sign in or visit the help center for more information."

Those are the words that welcome you if you visit GeoCities main page. Established in 1994, the free hosting service helped many to take their first steps in the cyber world. Yahoo bought it for $3.6 billion in 2001.

I still have a few accounts there. Many incomplete pages, trials, experiments, some stuff I like to keep on-line but not want them easily found reside in GeoCities. I even remember using the service for image hosting.

There are legendary sites disguised as innocent personal pages there. From mirrors of once popular cracking tutorials to +ORC's secret gateway, GeoCities helped the dream, the dream of a place where people and information will flow free, regardless of which sex, race or religious affiliation they belong to.

Curtain falls, an era ends.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Searching What is Thought

Yesterday, I finally took the plunge and registered an account with Twitter. Since you had to follow at least one person, or so I assumed, I picked Onion, only to regret it approximately ten minutes later. True to its fame, Onion was at the top of its form and more than 100 tweets filled my home page in no time. You can waste/spend your entire life by following Onion only. Despite the fact that I follow the magazine for years, I will delete it.

Another side effect is my account seems to have been all screwed up, today. Apparently I am somebody else now, a Frank Grangetto to be exact, a Matt Schwartzwalder and Rachel Leggett are both me, and whatever... Leave it to another day to sort it out.  

This experiment provided me some insight, though. Search engines make a very good job of what they are supposed to make: searching what is already written. But how do you search what is thought but not written? For that I believe, Twitter can be a very good alternative.

I had this novel but possibly not new idea of setting up landing pages for your blog. Failing to come up with other than a few basic ideas, I wrote a tweet pointing to the post in the hopes that somebody can make a contribution of some sort, either by leaving a reply or adding a comment to the post.

This whole process is the area where Twitter may rise and shine, after they correct their problems with account management, of course: finding what others think, sparks to expand later, so and so forth. Now, my Twitter persona (Frank) who seems to be in the real estate business, is frantically tweeting new opportunities and Matt and Rachel (i.e. the real me) are fortunately silent. Following me(s) can be entertaining.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Towards the Invisible Internet

i2p anonymous network
As attacks on privacy exponentially increase and censorship attempts go uncensored, a few optimistically try to accomplish what the cyberspace dream once promised. The pendulum swings, each swing being a bit closer and more threatening, deafening the ears of a handful while millions cheer with joy. The digital imprimatur does not even bother to knock our door. As daring as the times may be, the faint light of hope still lingers. Version 0.7.2 of I2P Anonymous Network has just been released.

I2P is an anonymizing network, offering a simple layer that identity-sensitive applications can use to securely communicate. All data is wrapped with several layers of encryption, and the network is both distributed and dynamic, with no trusted parties.

It is an effort to build, deploy, and maintain a network to support secure and anonymous communication. People using I2P are in control of the tradeoffs between anonymity, reliability, bandwidth usage, and latency. There is no central point in the network on which pressure can be exerted to compromise the integrity, security, or anonymity of the system. The network supports dynamic reconfiguration in response to various attacks, and has been designed to make use of additional resources as they become available. Of course, all aspects of the network are open and freely available.

You never know when you will need it.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pros of Short Domain Names

Life is a good teacher. Up to now, it has never occurred to me a short domain name could be an advantage. I have always assumed, because I do it that way, people could bookmark a site when they like it regardless of the length of its name.

Though I do not use it, social networking sites like Twitter changed my mind. I suddenly realized how difficult it must be to write a tweet about an article on this site without the aid of URL shortener services. Just writing the part "experimentsincyberspace/2009/04/" with the protocol prefix consumes 52 characters. I am not saying you will not be found. I am talking about the extra step, often tedious, of the necessity of shortening the URL. A very good idea could be having a short URL handy beneath or above your articles so that people can easily use it. Rather than having your visitors do it, you can take the extra step and place a short link yourself.

In addition, keeping your URL intact can be a marketing and branding advantage. Now that a myriad of domain names will be available with ICANN's new proposal for top level domains, it can be beneficial to keep that in mind. If you are planning to buy a domain name in the near future, think about it.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Wikileaks.de Suspended by Germany

Germany's registration authority has suspended investigative journalism site Wikileak's Internet domain registration without a notice.

The action comes two weeks after the house of the German WikiLeaks domain sponsor, Theodor Reppe, was searched by German authorities. Police documentation shows that the March 24, 2009 raid was triggered by WikiLeaks' publication of Australia's proposed secret Internet censorship list. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) told Australian journalists that they did not request the intervention of the German government.

The publication of the Australian list exposed the blacklisting of many harmless or political sites and changed the nature of the censorship debate in Australia. The Australian government's mandatory internet censorship proposal is now not expected to pass the Australian senate.

It is also worth mentioning a secret draft of international copyright treaty negotiated behind closed doors by some governments representing unidentified entities has been successfully uncovered and made public by Wikileaks.

I find this trend (secret policy making, nation-wide censorship attempts - some already in action, therefore not attempts) extremely annoying. I can understand parents' concern for their children and similar arguments but I believe this issue can be tackled at a user level by commercial or free software. This is not regulation of Internet, it is regulating freedom of expression. Power corrupts, great power corrupts even more.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Goldman Sucks Dot Com Domain Available

Goldman Sachs has instructed Wall Street law firm Chadbourne & Parke to pursue blogger Mike Morgan, warning him in a recent cease-and-desist letter that he may face legal action if he does not close down his website goldmansachs666.com. According to the C&D letter, dated April 8, the bank is rattled because the site 'violates several of Goldman Sachs' intellectual property rights' and also 'implies a relationship' with the bank itself. Morgan claims he has followed all legal requirements to own and operate the website and that the header of the site clearly states that the content has not been approved by the bank.

The uninitiated can read and learn what Streisand effect is while those in the know may wish to purchase goldmansucks.com domain which is still available at the time of writing this post.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Real Value of Twitter

After reading and reading again what I wrote about Google's proposal to acquire Twitter, I started thinking, and thinking again. What makes Twitter valuable commercially?

If you had told me people would frantically post and follow short messages 5 years ago, I would have laughed at your face. Yet, here they are, swamped in a frenzy of 140-character texts. But does that make it worth spending millions?

Said post, probably under the influence of bright analysts, claimed an information value for businesses to realign and improve their products and services existed. True but an incomplete judgment, because it misses an important element: Mobile connectivity.

Teens of my generation had one electronic tool: computers or PC's. It was new, it was cool and it let us go to places not seen or heard before (I stopped short of writing where no man had gone before). The promise or prophecy, -correction- dream of Gibson's cyberspace locked us in basements and dark rooms for many an hour. Our biggest concern? Evasion of phone charges due to now-can-be-called ancient modems. But the dream was there. The dream of a cyber experience, let us say, an electronic astral projection in zeros and ones persisted. A place that is anonymous, filled with our other personas, a second life, an electric heaven free from the boundaries and annoyances of the real world, an anarchy of our own. We all know what that dream has turned out to be.

Today's generation has a different toy: mobile or cellular phones. They are not the creatures of dark-lit rooms. They have their backpacks and cell phones and are always on the move. Their dream is different. I do not know what that is but it is not the same with ours. They can type a full article while I am desperately trying to punch a simple SMS with a phone.

I am certain that you must have seen the hidden value of Twitter by now. We are all trying to assess its value using the tool we are most accustomed to: our computers. Give yourself a moment or two and think about Twitter with respect to mobile phones, and see if you can come up with a price.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Rush for Top Level Domains Begins

It will shortly, if ICANN's new proposal holds up, that is. According to Paul Levins, VP corporate affairs, any domain name will be possible, subject to your imagination,

The familiar .com, .net, .org and 18 other suffixes — officially "generic top-level domains" — could be joined by a seemingly endless stream of new ones next year under a landmark change approved last summer by the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, the entity that oversees the Web's address system.

Tourists might find information about the Liberty Bell, for example, at a site ending in .philly. A rapper might apply for a web address ending in .hiphop.
[...]
To beat a competitor to the punch, a company might decide it needs to control a new generic domain, such as .cereal or .detergent, but it would be costly. The currently proposed application fee is $185,000, plus an annual "continuance" fee of $25,000. If more than one company wants a suffix, there could be a bidding war.

I can imagine the porn industry fiercely competing for domains like ".ass", ".tits" and you name it, or spammers and scammers getting popular names with a ".corn" ending.[1]

Be prepared and grab a name before it will be too late.

[1] These spectacular examples are from Slashdot commenters.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paid For Posts (PPP) and Google PageRank

After Google's April 2009 PageRank update, there has once again been a commotion and confusion about the issue of links in paid-for-posts and how they affect PageRank. As far as Google is concerned, their stand is crystal clear. Their webmaster guidelines dictate a nofollow attribute on such links as Google's Matt Cutts and Maile Ohye explain,

Our goal is to provide users the best search experience by presenting equitable and accurate results. We enjoy working with webmasters, and an added benefit of our working together is that when you make better and more accessible content, the internet, as well as our index, improves. This in turn allows us to deliver more relevant search results to users.

If, however, a webmaster chooses to buy or sell links for the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings, we reserve the right to protect the quality of our index. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines. Such links can hurt relevance by causing:
  • Inaccuracies: False popularity and links that are not fundamentally based on merit, relevance, or authority
  • Inequities: Unfair advantage in our organic search results to websites with the biggest pocketbooks
Cutts also discussed the issue in his own blog, saying,

Many people who work on ranking at search engines think that selling links can lower the quality of links on the web. If you want to buy or sell a link purely for visitors or traffic and not for search engines, a simple method exists to do so (the nofollow attribute). Google's stance on selling links is pretty clear and we're pretty accurate at spotting them, both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.

At an earlier post, he went on,

Yet another "pay-for-blogging" (PFB) business launched, this time by Text Link Brokers. It should be clear from Google’s stance on paid text links, but if you are blogging and being paid by services like Pay Per Post, ReviewMe, or SponsoredReviews, links in those paid-for posts should be made in a way that doesn't affect search engines (emphasis mine). The rel="nofollow" attribute is one way, but there are numerous other ways to do paid links that won’t affect search engines, e.g. doing an internal redirect through a url that is forbidden from crawling by robots.txt.

Links above will help you find numerous sources discussing the issue and guide you in the right direction.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bedtime Stories by Grisham with an Enron Tea

I am not adding anything. Joice and rejoice to better understand the financial crisis we are in, as seen by Mark Mitchell in his book The Story of Deep Capture:

The Columbia School of Journalism is our nation's finest. They grant the Pulitzer Prize, and their journal, The Columbia Journalism Review, is the profession’s gold standard. CJR reporters are high priests of a decaying temple, tending a flame in a land going dark.

In 2006 a CJR editor (a seasoned journalist formerly with Time magazine in Asia, The Wall Street Journal Europe, and The Far Eastern Economic Review) called me to discuss suspicions he was forming about the US financial media. I gave him leads but warned, "Chasing this will take you down a rabbit hole with no bottom." For months he pursued his story against pressure and threats he once described as, "something out of a Hollywood B movie, but unlike the movies, the evil corporations fighting the journalist are not thugs burying toxic waste, they are Wall Street and the financial media itself."

His exposé reveals a circle of corruption enclosing venerable Wall Street banks, shady offshore financiers, and suspiciously compliant reporters at The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, CNBC, and The New York Times. If you ever wonder how reporters react when a journalist investigates them (answer: like white-collar crooks they dodge interviews, lie, and hide behind lawyers), or if financial corruption interests you, then this is for you. It makes Grisham read like a book of bedtime stories, and exposes a scandal that may make Enron look like an afternoon tea.
[...]
Some mainstream journalists will not like this story. They will perhaps disapprove of our methods or decry the advent of vigilante journalism. But most of all, they will not like this story because it is largely about them - a tale of reporters who seek to be players, but instead become pawns - a tale of prominent journalists who help cover up a massive financial crime while toadying to some of Wall Street's slimiest operators.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Will Google Acquire Twitter

Rumors have surfaced up that the number one search engine Google is in late (early according to some) stages to acquire Twitter for an undisclosed price above $250 million. Twitter has recently rejected an offer by Facebook for $500 million worth of Facebook shares.

Why would Google want Twitter? Michael Arrington argues Twitter's real value is in search. It holds the keys to the best real time database and search engine on the Internet, and Google doesn't even have a horse in the game:

More and more people are starting to use Twitter to talk about brands in real time as they interact with them. And those brands want to know all about it, whether to respond individually, or simply gather the information to see what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. And all of it is discoverable at search.twitter.com, the search engine that Twitter acquired last summer. People searching for news. Brands searching for feedback. That's valuable stuff. Twitter knows it, too. They're going to build their business model on it. Forget small time payments from users for pro accounts and other features, all they have to do is keep growing the base and gather more and more of those emotional grunts. In aggregate it's extremely valuable. And as Google has shown, search is vastly monetizable - somewhere around 40% of all on-line advertising revenue goes to ads on search listings today.

Frankly speaking, I have never used Twitter and it is extremely unlikely that I will post my feedback there about the products and services I happened to buy. Nor will I base my future buying decisions on Twitter data. The opinion of one person that I know and trust is more credible for me and is more likely to affect my decisions rather than the aggregate feelings of the masses, but that's me. For all I know, some companies like Starbucks for example, regularly scan blogs for customer feedback and critics, and they take it very seriously. Write something negative about Starbucks, someone will contact you. Hence, there is value here for companies, not for marketing but for realigning and improving their products and services.

Another reason for Google can be protective action. Just like they bought Feedburner and Blogger, we can assume that it is better in the long run if Google owns Twitter rather than a competitor; it is a popular service and has some search and market analysis value.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wolverine Leak: Hollywood Confused

x-men wolverine surfaced on bittorrent sites
A high-quality, full-length work print of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - the movie is to be released on May 1 - has hit the bit-torrent sites last night.  Not unexpectedly, the film industry's responses have demonstrated how confused they are.

One producer behind another major summer franchise insists that while piracy is a serious problem that needs a "focused and visionary response" from the movie industry, a leak like this may not actually cut that deeply into Wolverine's ticket sales.

Well, what can I say? Although English is not my mother tongue, even I know the difference between piracy and leak: Piracy is done by an outsider by any means necessary, whereas leak is by an insider with a discrete motive. It is somewhat absurd to blame people with piracy when you leak something voluntarily or discretely.

And this comment probably makes all arguments of Hollywood (RIAA) about piracy null and void:

People who are going to download and watch it on their computer were either never going to pay to see it anyway or they're the type of super-fan who was going to go 10 times in the first week. Seeing a spectacle movie like this one on your computer is not the same as seeing with a communal audience, and I don't think this is going to hurt them that much.

Did all those charged with hefty penalties deserve a refund now? You decide.

And here comes the juicy stuff:

On the other hand, a high-ranking theater exhibitor sees much more dire consequences for the franchise. "This is a disaster," he says, referring both to the free downloads resulting from the leak and to the subsequent bad reviews (emphasis mine) making their way around the Web. "It's tens of millions of dollars lost."

This is the crucial part. After all the marketing hype, a leak or piracy helps people see the packaged crap without paying; something that can not be undone.

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