May 29th, 2014
Having finally got round to reading the transcript of Maciej Cegłowski's Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference Talk , I can but report that – as usual – he talked a lot of sense:
One reason there's a backlash against Google glasses is that they try to bring the online rules into the offline world. Suddenly, anything can be recorded, and there's the expectation (if the product succeeds) that everything will be recorded. The product is called 'glass' instead of 'glasses' because Google imagines a world where every flat surface behaves by the online rules. [The day after this talk, it was revealed Google is seeking patents on showing ads on your thermostat, refrigerator, etc.]
Well, people hate the online rules!
Google's answer is, wake up, grandpa, this is the new normal. But all they're doing is trying to port a bug in the Internet over to the real world, and calling it progress.
You can dress up a bug and call it a feature. You can also put dog crap in the freezer and call it ice cream. But people can taste the difference.
April 28th, 2014
How One Woman Hid Her Pregnancy From Big Data:
"My story is about big data, but from the bottom up," she said. "From a very personal perspective of what it takes to avoid being collected, being tracked and being placed into databases."
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
February 27th, 2014
My first instinct upon reading about BERG's Cloudwash prototype was to scoff at the idea of an internet-connected washing machine.
Cloudwash is a prototype washing machine. We created Cloudwash to explore how connectivity will change the appliances in our homes… and to figure out what new features will be possible.
I'm still not persuaded that the ability to schedule and reschedule washing jobs remotely is going to be on the feature list when next I'm looking to buy a washing machine. However, I'll concede that more localised uses of connectivity – like the ability to receive an alert via the net when a cycle is about to end and I'm going to need to go and unload the machine – would be worth having.
I did like BERG's approach of putting as much of the intelligence as possible in the app you run on your connected device, where it's easy to update and enhance the functionality on offer without finding that your washing machine only has ROM version 1.3.234 and you need version 1.4.112 or better to allow you to store more than 3 favourite job configurations. It's perfectly logical, but you can bet that as manufacturers start doing internet-enabled production models we'll see all sorts of flashy touchscreen interfaces using a custom OS (which will probably be a heavily-customised Android or Linux variant under the skin) that will be scrapped or revised within six months.
February 26th, 2014
Turns out that the latest change to Dropbox's Terms of Service merits a second look:
If you're a Dropbox user, you probably got an email in the last few days about an update to their TOS that basically puts all disputes into arbitration rather than litigation.
If you're like me, you probably glossed over this update because gah, legalese.
Allow me to summarize what it means when a company wants to handle all disputes in arbitration [...]
Basically, if you'd prefer not to have Dropbox choose who gets to decide whether they did something wrong, you have a limited amount of time to opt out of their new TOS. You may think this is no big deal but it's still good to be aware of your options, especially when they're time-limited.
Kudos to Tiffany Bridge and Khoi Vinh for bringing this to their readers' attention.
January 5th, 2014
I can't remember where I found a link to this, but the Columbia Journalism Review's profile of my favourite internet sceptic, Evgeny vs. the internet Is well worth a read:
Evgeny Morozov wants to convince us that digital technology can't save the world, and he's willing to burn every bridge from Cambridge to Silicon Valley to do it.
September 26th, 2013
Nicholas Carr's latest entry in his Realtime Chronicles predicts where technology will lead us once we're enmeshed in the Internet of Things:
People are forever buttonholing me on the street and saying, "Nick, what comes after realtime?" It's a good question, and I happen to know the answer: Ambient Reality. Ambient Reality is the ultimate disruption, as it alters the actual fabric of the universe. We begin living in the prenow. Things happen before they happen. "Between the desire / And the spasm," wrote T. S. Eliot, "Falls the Shadow." In Ambient Reality, the Shadow goes away. Spasm precedes desire. In fact, it's all spasm. We enter what I call Uninterrupted Spasm State, or USS.
In Ambient Reality, there is no such thing as "a shopper." Indeed, the concept of "shopping" becomes anachronistic. Goods are delivered before the urge to buy them manifests itself in the conscious mind. Demand is ambient, as are pricing comparisons. They become streams in the cloud. [...]
Of course, this assumes that you have enough income to be worth providing goods and services to even before you even realise you might want them or even need them. Those with less impressive credit scores will find themselves on call 24/7, bidding every day in the hopes of landing an opportunity to spend a morning delivering the sandwiches and umbrellas to their betters.
[Zero Hours link via MetaFilter]
September 20th, 2013
Dammit, another book to add to the reading list. On the face of it, Clive Thompson's Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better seems to capture somethng about the way I use tools like Evernote and Pinboard as an outboard brain. Here's an excerpt:
Is the Internet ruining our ability to remember facts? If you've ever lunged for your smartphone during a bar argument ("one-hit father of twerking pop star" – Billy Ray Cyrus!), then you've no doubt felt the nagging fear that your in-brain memory is slowly draining away. As even more fiendishly powerful search tools emerge – from IBM's Jeopardy!-playing Watson to the "predictive search" of Google Now – these worries are, let's face it, only going to grow.
So what's going on? Each time we reach for the mouse pad when we space out on the ingredients for a Tom Collins or the capital of Arkansas, are we losing the power to retain knowledge?
The short answer is: No. Machines aren't ruining our memory.
The longer answer: It's much, much weirder than that! [...]
July 29th, 2013
One for readers in the UK: the Open Rights Group invites you to sign their petition telling David Cameron to Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.
Dear David Cameron,
Everyone agrees that we should try to protect children from harmful content. But asking everyone to sleepwalk into censorship does more harm than good.
Filters won't stop children seeing adult content and risks giving parents a false sense of security. It will stop people finding advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships. This isn't just about pornography. Filters will block any site deemed unsuitable for under 18s.
Please drop these plans immediately.
March 6th, 2013
December 3rd, 2012
A lovely tale from tech support:
When I was nearing the end of my tenure, I had a particularly awkward customer. He wasn't being particularly rude, just extremely untrusting and uncooperative. His issue was maddeningly simple – his modem was in standby.
I should probably explain, his modem was an old Motorola model (An SB5100 if I recall correctly). The interesting quirk of this modem is that it has a standby button on it that, as you might guess, puts the modem in standby. What's even MORE interesting is if you put the modem in standby, it'll STAY in standby no matter how often you unplug the thing and plug it back in again. The REALLY REALLY interesting thing is that the modem was completely black and the standby button was also black. Most people didn't know it even existed and it was common for someone to accidentally hit it and suddenly have their connection stop working. Switching it off and on didn't fix it, those lights just wouldn't stay on. Anyway, we see this quite a lot and pushing the button fixes it within seconds – easy. However, this guy wasn't having it.
Despite actually having fixed the problem, he was adamant that his modem was broken. No matter how much I tried to explain that it's REALLY easy to accidentally hit that button ("I've done it myself a few times!"), he was determined. "Oh no, the modem isn't in a position where it could be knocked like that, it's BROKEN!". Bull. Shit. So after batting around for a bit, I had an idea. [...]
A fiendishly clever, utterly hilarious, moderately evil idea.
September 5th, 2012
(I meant to post about this days ago, but because I'm an idiot I've kept putting off writing about it.)
The UK government is running a consultation on the introduction of a system of requiring Internet Service Providers to block 'Adult' content by default. This is a horrible idea for all sorts of reasons:
- As anyone who was ever used a network with a content filtering system in place knows, they're hopelessly unreliable. They either block far too much, or they block so selectively that they're ineffective. So, in short, they don't achieve their stated aim, and they cause all sorts of collateral damage along the way.
- If parents want to block their kids' internet access, there's been software available for years to let them do this. It tends not to work very well (see 1 above), or to be hard to install without the help of their tech-savvy kids – hence the request that governments force ISPs to do the job for them. None of which implies that the standards of the most censorious of parents should be applied to everyone: any such system should be offered on an opt-in basis, not as the default.
- Even if you completely trust the intentions of the current government and of the people who like this idea, putting a system like this in place gives a future government the tools to block whatever content they like. This is a (small) step towards our one day having the Great Firewall of the United Kingdom.
The consultation can be found here. There's a response form you can download and complete, or you could use the online response system produced by the Open Rights Group which copies your response to your MP.
The consultation closes on 6 September 2012 (yes, tomorrow), so if you're in the UK and you care about this get thee to one of the links above and let the Department for Education know what you think.
August 28th, 2012
Usenet at 32:
Usenet is 32 years old. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's a near-dead, cobweb-covered discussion forum platform, but actually it's more popular today than ever before, and it's thriving as an alternative to Bittorrent. [...]
It's interesting to read about some of the clever ways people are using Usenet to distribute other people's content nowadays, but it's a damned shame that Usenet as a discussion forum stagnated.
Web-based discussions are all very well, but as far as I can see even now there's nothing out there that comes close to the flexibility of a good Usenet client that allowed you to follow a series of discussion groups and use scoring and filtering to show you the threads you'd most likely be interested in and block content from known trolls and idiots.
August 6th, 2012
Radio Killed The Podcasting Star, according to Richard McManus:
Podcasters are to radio what bloggers are to newspapers: independent voices taking attention away from mainstream media. At least that was the theory, when professional podcasts and blogs were getting started in the 2000s. But unlike blogs, podcasts by indie voices have not gone on to seriously challenge the mainstream media incumbents. Where is the Ariana Huffington of podcasting? Can you name a political podcaster who's had the same impact as Josh Marshall and his Talking Points Memo blog? Sadly, there are no podcasting stars – and it's all radio's fault. [...]
His thesis is that because so many of the most popular podcasts are derived from public radio shows or semi-celebrities who brought an audience with them to podcasting, this demonstrates that podcasting has somehow failed to break through the way blogging has. I think there's a parallel with blogging, but it's not the one McManus is thinking of.
To my mind, the point of blogging (or of podcasting) was never to displace established media, but to provide a publishing platform that meant that you didn't have to have a wide audience to survive. It's true that a fair chunk of my podcast listening is of BBC radio shows that produce a podcast version, but there are also plenty of shows produced by enthusiastic amateurs that I'd never find on my radio dial. The point, as Dave Winder notes in the post that led me to the ReadWriteWeb post, "was to get access to the distribution channel for anyone who wanted it, and that certainly has been accomplished." If you want to use podcasts as a way to listen to your favourite BBC radio programs on your schedule then go for it. If you want to hear from people who'll never have a BBC radio show in a million years, that's out there too. The success of the one doesn't deprive me of access to the other, any more that the existence of the Huffington Post prevents me from reading Feeling Listless. They share a distribution medium, but not much else.
[Via Scripting News]
June 10th, 2012
From McSweeney's: Prospectus for Silicon Valley's Next Hot Tech IPO, Where Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong.
An investment in Ponzify involves significant risks.
A significant portion of our income is derived from advertisers who still buy this whole "clicks" and "page count" business. Thus, we plan a vigorous defense of our current metrics while making up new ones with impressive-sounding names. For instance, KonBuy (short for "Konfirmation Bias") scores the popularity of apps and websites based on whether their titles are intentionally misspelled portmanteaus.
Our CEO, CFO, COO and a bunch of other acronyms were all born after Nirvana released "Nevermind".
Did you watch that two-part Frontline special on PBS about the inside story of the global financial crisis? We did. We were like "Dude, that's like what we're doing!"
[Via The Browser]
June 7th, 2012
How much would you like to bet that within the next five years some junior minister – be they Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour – will be announcing that they want to explore the possibility of introducing a 'voluntary' system modelled after the one currently being adopted by China's domestic equivalent of Twitter to deal with antisocial behaviour online:
Sina Weibo users each will now receive 80 points to begin with, and this can be boosted to a full 100 points by those who provide their official government-issued identification numbers (like Social Security numbers in the U.S.) and link to a cellphone account.
Spreading falsehoods will lead to deductions in points, among other penalties. Spreading an untruth to 100 other users will result in a deduction of two points. Spreading it to 100-1,000 other users will result in a deduction of five points, as well as a week's suspension of the account. Spreading it to more than 1,000 other users will result in a deduction of 10 points, as well as a 15-day suspension of the account.
Once the point total falls below 60, the user is flagged as "low-credit." A loss of all points will result in an account's closure.
Be sure to read the full linked article, so you can understand how slippery the concept of a 'falsehood' is.
[Via The Null Device]
May 4th, 2012
The case of the 500-mile email:
From email@example.com Fri Nov 29 18:00:49 2002
Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 21:03:02 -0500 (EST)
From: Trey Harris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The case of the 500-mile email (was RE: [SAGE] Favorite impossible task?)
Here's a problem that *sounded* impossible… I almost regret posting the story to a wide audience, because it makes a great tale over drinks at a conference. :-) The story is slightly altered in order to protect the guilty, elide over irrelevant and boring details, and generally make the whole thing more entertaining.
I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.
"We're having a problem sending email out of the department."
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"We can't send mail more than 500 miles," the chairman explained. [...]
March 28th, 2012
Paul Vixie has posted details of his work in dismantling a network of DNS servers being used to redirect internet traffic from computers infected with the DNS Changer malware. The problem is, even after all that work there are still hundreds of thousands of internet users with infected computers and/or routers, just waiting for someone to pick up where DNS Changer left off:
Internet users are endlessly bombarded with warnings about their security and with offers of services and software (some of it apparently "free") offering to make their computers healthier. The victims of DNS Changer are by this time jaded or overwhelmed or both. The Internet seems to be a very dangerous place, and most Internet users probably feel that they could spend more than half their waking hours just installing patches and responding to warnings – unless they just put their heads down, ignore all that noise, and try instead to get their work (or play) done. I am sympathetic to this mindset. The problem is, the Internet really is that dangerous, and people really do need to pay more attention to the dangers of unpatched or infected computers.
Short of jumping into a TARDIS and going back to 1982 to give various heads of computer companies a stern talking-to about the need to make designing secure systems a top priority I don't see a good way out of this problem beyond passing the problem to ISPs and having them cut off internet access for customers still using infected systems until they clean up their systems. Which isn't going to happen any time soon, and is a terrible idea anyway.
March 4th, 2012
Tristan Louis has a confession to make:
I killed the internet.
It wasn't some thing I had planned but it was the net result of my actions. And I'm going to explain how it happened. [...]
[Via James Fallows]