Suspicious Activity

October 13th, 2007

The Global Incident Map (stated purpose: "Displaying Terrorist Acts, Suspicious Activity, and General Terrorism News") sounds like a neat mash-up, taking news headlines on a topic and using Google Maps to display their location.

The thing is, if you're honestly trying to depict the state of the world you have to be really careful about how you represent your data. As I type this, there are three incidents showing on the map of Great Britain.

  1. UNITED KINGDOM – Climate change protesters hit power station and airport

    "Six activists climbed a 200-metre chimney at around 5am. Another 20 activists chained themselves to the station's conveyor belt"

    "One woman was arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass"

    "Their actions coincided with a blockade of the entrance to the domestic terminal at Manchester Airport yesterday morning"
    [Screencap]

  2. UK – Terror leader wanted to bomb Parliament

    "A man accused of recruiting and grooming the July 21 bombers encouraged his followers to die as martyrs and told them to attack the Houses of Parliament, a court heard."
    [Screencap]

  3. UNITED KINGDOM – Suspicious powder package sent to Gloucester MP

    "We have received a package containing a white powder and we are working with police and their experts to get to the bottom of it"
    [Screencap]

So, that's one group of ecological protestors (not remotely terroristic if, as the story suggests, the worst they did was chain themselves to things and get arrested for trespassing), one story quoting a prosecution argument from an ongoing court case (not a current terrorist incident), and one potentially suspicious incident involving some white powder.

Two points come to mind. First, if you're going to operate a site like this then you really must make icons that unambiguously differentiate current incidents from follow-up stories. Rather than showing a new link against London every day for the next fortnight as new stories from that trial are reported, you should have a single link about the 21 July bombers that aggregates all the related stories. By all means make the icon bigger as more follow-up stories arrive, or change the colour according to how many stories you have about the incident or whether there are fresh stories, but don't just dump the links without context.

Second, you can't just add any news story containing the right keywords without exercising some sort of editorial judgement about what distinguishes a "terrorist" incident from a "protest" from some sort of "suspicious activity" and what is a new incident versus a follow-up story; by all means include them all on the map, but don't give them equal visual weight. If that's too difficult to automate using current technology, get a human to do it.

[Via MetaFilter]

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[Baby-name].com

August 27th, 2007

As if naming a baby wasn't hard enough:

Besides leaving the hospital with a birth certificate and a clean bill of health, baby Mila Belle Howells got something she won't likely use herself for several years: her very own Internet domain name.

Likewise newborn Bennett Pankow joined his four older siblings in getting his own Internet moniker. In fact, before naming his child, Mark Pankow checked to make sure "BennettPankow.com" hadn't already been claimed.

"One of the criteria was, if we liked the name, the domain had to be available," Pankow said. [...]

A viable strategy if your surname or your preferred forename is fairly uncommon – like Pankow – but not so useful for those of us with more commonplace family names unless we're willing to saddle our offspring with distinctive forenames or extra middle names.

Just a thought: if you're so keen on preserving your family's online identity, wouldn't it have been more efficient to register the pankowfamily.com domain1 and hand out subdomains to family members as required? I suppose a problem arises when the kid rebels against their parents and wants their own home online, but that same issue could just as easily arise when the kid wants to do something online that their parents won't find out about. Would any self-respecting teenager want their parents to be able to track their online activity via a simple search for their very own domain name?

1 I note that someone has registered that very domain; I wonder if they're related to little Bennett Pankow?

[Via Techdirt]

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eBooks

July 24th, 2007

Prompted by his recent purchase of a heavily discounted Sony eReader, Adrian Hon posted some thoughts on The Death of Publishers. He reckons that publishers have a decade at best before they go the way of the music industry:

Ripped books do have one huge advantage over MP3s and videos; they are tiny. An uncompressed novel takes up about 100kb in plain text; even with formatting, you could compress it down to around 50kb. That means that a hundred novels would be 5MB – a wholly unremarkable size that could be emailed between friends easily. Ten thousand novels – say, the last 20 years of books worth reading – would take up 500MB. That’s about the same size as a ripped TV show that millions of people around the world routinely download every week.

The barrier isn't distributing the text, it's getting the text into a digital format. The music industry was screwed as soon as multimedia PCs became commonplace because the CD format they were so happy to encourage us all to move to a couple of decades ago made it trivially easy for anyone with a CD drive in their computer to rip the content they already owned to play on their computer or MP3 player.

In principle it's easy enough to take a book, scan the pages and feed the resulting images to OCR software, but very few people bother to do so. Lots of people have scanners, but not everyone has an automated sheet feeder for their scanner, and most people who've bought a book aren't willing to mutilate the book by separating the pages from the spine so they can be scanned.

If you want a usable scanned book, you'll then have to do some proof-reading and spelling checking, to pick up as many OCR errors as you can, and finally convert the text to a format that everyone can use, one that replicates the original's layout at least to the extent of accommodating paragraph indents, fonts and emphasis. I'd suggest HTML or PDF, but some people would probably like RTF or (heaven help us!) Microsoft Word, or perhaps one of the various mobile document formats supported by Palm or Windows for Pocket PC. Not impossible to do, but not a process you can automate with 100% reliability.

There are also questions of post-production quality control. You can check to make sure that you've ripped your CD properly by playing the whole thing back; any significant flaws in the recording like surface noise or stuttering will stick out like a sore thumb. How many people will bother to read an entire book to look for the occasional dropped comma or OCR-mangled word. An occasional typo would hardly be a deal-breaker if you're getting the book for free, but it could easily become intensely irritating.

Another point is that the album market is global: most international acts essentially sell the same CD (with the odd variation in track listings and packaging) worldwide: rip the latest U2 CD and you have a product the whole world will want. Books need translating into foreign languages to crack the mass market worldwide; language barriers serve as region codes.

As Adrian notes, it only takes one person to scan and upload a book, but the requirement that you mutilate your original alone will do quite a bit to reduce the pool of readers who would be willing and able to turn round and scan a book tomorrow with the technology they have to hand. The proportion of people with CD collections who could rip their music collection without further ado is, I suspect, very much higher.

The point is that text is trivially easy to send around the internet. We do it every day when we surf the web. When you couple that reality with affordable eBook readers, you have a serious problem for publishers.

Not just "affordable" eBook readers: affordable eBook readers anyone people are interested in buying and carrying round with them. (Remember the discounted Sony eReader than prompted Adrian to write his post: do you think perhaps it was discounted because the retailer wasn't exactly fighting off customers for the thing at the full retail price?)

I've been reading eBooks for years on my various Psion and Palm PDAs, but I very rarely see anyone else following suit during my daily commute. I'd need a great deal of persuading to spend money on a separate device to carry round in order to read eBooks, and I very much doubt that the average member of the public will feel any differently. The majority of the reading public will only take an interest in eBooks when they're integrated in a device they already want to carry round – i.e., their mobile phone. If trends in phone design lead us in the direction of larger devices that double as portable media players then possibly there's a window of opportunity for eBooks on mobile phones. If portability continues to be the priority, eBook readers will remain a minority interest for the foreseeable future.

The problem will unfold much as it has done with music publishers, with stagnating and then slowing sales of physical products. After a few years of unsuccessfully battling both the piraters and the manufacturers of eBook readers, the publishers will eventually start selling books online at a slightly lower price than in retail. Authors will begin to drift away from publishers – young ones to start with, then a few more famous ones who have nothing to lose and 50% to gain.

Well, possibly. In the music industry you can try to compensate for a loss of income from sales of your albums by touring a lot and releasing work more frequently than the two year release-tour-release cycle the major acts currently follow. If you're an author whose publisher cuts the price of your work, what's your replacement income stream: reading tours?

I'm not saying eBooks will never, ever take off. I just think that the book publishing business has enough advantages compared to the music industry – the extra hassle involved in digitising product, language barriers, the lack of demand for electronic books in the mass market – to give them quite some time to sit back and watch what direction to film and music businesses go in before deciding to shift decisively in the direction of the eBook market.

Finally, I've picked on one particular aspect of Adrian's argument that I had doubts about, but his post is worth reading in full for his thoughts on publishers' web sites and the ways in which they fail to even attempt to build a community around their authors' works.

2 Comments »

Global Editor

July 13th, 2007

"How hard could it be to administer a handful of internal users writing a handful of blogs?" If only he knew:

It was about frickin’ time — Rob had finally landed himself a promotion. Technically, it was more an "absorption of responsibilities" than anything else, but the important thing was that his new role as "Global Editor" offered an excellent ROR (Return On Résumé). Really, how hard could it be to administer a handful of internal users writing a handful of blogs?

The previous Global Editor had left abruptly, and no one was really sure why. Some say he was fired, others say he just stopped coming in, and still others say he was committed. Fortunately for Rob, the previous editor left behind some extensive process documentation…

Anyone who has ever complained about the vagaries of WordPress/Movable Type/Drupal/Blogger again will suddenly feel much better after reading about the hoops Rob had to jump through. Rob would have been better off using carrier pigeons or semaphore to distribute his users' content…

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HTTP vs P2P vs NNTP

June 21st, 2007

Ars Technica has some fascinating statistics about current internet traffic patterns:

Ellacoya Networks, makers of deep packet inspection gear for carriers, has pulled together some statistics on one million broadband users in North America, and its findings show that HTTP traffic accounts for 46 percent of all broadband traffic. P2P applications now account for only 37 percent.

Chalk it up to YouTube and other Internet video sharing sites. The surge in HTTP traffic is largely a surge in the use of streaming media, mostly video.

Breaking down the HTTP traffic, Ellacoya says that only 45 percent is used to pull down traditional web pages with text and images. The rest is mostly made up of streaming video (36 percent) and streaming audio (five percent). YouTube alone has grown so big that it now accounts for 20 percent of all HTTP traffic, or more than half of all HTTP streaming video.

Looking over all the numbers, one of the most surprising result is the continued success of NNTP (newsgroups) traffic, which still accounts for nine percent of the total. Clearly, newsgroup discussions (and, ahem, binaries) are still big business.

Given that the average text- and image-based web page is tiny compared with any halfway decent piece of video or audio data, I'm impressed that collectively such 'traditional' web pages still account for a whole 45% of traffic.

I wonder how much of that 45% is actually RSS and Atom feeds being polled at regular intervals. This probably doesn't account for much of the volume, since a well-behaved feed client will look to see whether it gets a 304 response code before trying to grab the whole feed, but it'd be nice to see some numbers to show how far RSS and Atom have taken over some of the load of keeping us up to date with what's happening on the web.

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Remember…

May 9th, 2007

A Harvard professor thinks computers nowadays are a bit too good at remembering things Nate Anderson at Ars Technica explains:

The rise of fast processors and cheap storage means that remembering, once incredibly difficult for humans, has become simple. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor in Harvard's JFK School of Government, argues that this shift has been bad for society, and he calls instead for a new era of "forgetfulness."

[...]

"If whatever we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved, they can easily be combined into a composite picture of ourselves," he writes in the paper. "Afraid how our words and actions may be perceived years later and taken out of context, the lack of forgetting may prompt us to speak less freely and openly."

In other words, it threatens to make us all politicians. [...]

The reason, as you might expect, is that if computers remember everything then government and businesses can, in principle, piece all those items together to form a picture of what we say and do. Professor Mayer-Schönberger thinks the solution is to make timed deletions of data the norm, so that we have to go out of our way to tell our computer to retain a file beyond some default period. Think of it as an extension of the common practice of deleting log files once they reach a certain age.

As someone who has copies of emails going back to 1992, this idea doesn't appeal overmuch. But that might just be me…

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Big in Moldova

April 15th, 2007

Talking of people with fanbases overseas, it appears that Nancy Friedman's weblog is massive in Moldova. Who knew?

I find it fascinating and mystifying that according to Alexa, which tracks such things, 25 percent of Away With Words' readers log on from a little landlocked country between Ukraine and Romania. That puts Moldova, population 3.4 million, in second place among my readers, behind the United States (40.6 percent) and well ahead of the United Kingdom (9.4 percent).

(Not that I want to rain on Nancy's parade, but I'm going to take a wild guess that Alexa is as bad at differentiating between individual sites hosted at typepad.com as it is at recognising subdomains of demon.co.uk.)

2 Comments »

iTunes Last.fm Plugin

April 7th, 2007

If you're using iTunes on OS X and you're a Last.fm user you might want to try the iTunes Last.fm Plugin:

I've just written a contextual menu plugin for iTunes that adds a 'Play Similar Artist Radio in Last.fm' item to the menu when you right click on any song – it even works when you right click on albums in cover flow.

First it pauses iTunes if you happen to already be listening to something and then it launches the Last.fm client and automatically tunes into the similar artist station for the artist of the song you right clicked on.

This is an excellent way of discovering new artists similar to ones already in your iTunes library.

I've installed it and it seems to work as advertised. It's free, it works, and it might just point you in the direction of some music you'll enjoy: what's not to like?

[Via macosxhints]

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Blackmail and ballots

March 25th, 2007

The Register has a fascinating story about a dispute between the Dutch government and Jan Groenendaal, head of the company that provides the systems used to tabulate votes in local and national elections. (For the avoidance of doubt, the company doesn't make voting machines; they provide the computers the electoral body uses to organise and administer the electoral process.)

The gist of the story is that the Dutch government is setting up an enquiry into the security of the systems Groenendaal's company provides, in the wake of a demonstration on a TV documentary that suggested that the systems could easily be compromised. Groenendaal's response to the enquiry was to essentially try to blackmail the government in an email:

[Re one of the hackers who demonstrated the problem on TV, and who has been asked to participate in the enquiry...] His activities are disrupting society and thereby comparable to acts of terrorism. Detention pending trial and a preliminary investigation hearing would have been completely justified here.

Furthermore we are considering to submit claims against the municipalities that have cooperated and which now have been identified by us, as well as against the television programme 'Een Vandaag', for precognition1 of aforementioned indictable acts.

[...]

If the department believes, as now obviously appears from the disproportional concern, that we do not come up to the mark, then the solution is clear;

  • The department takes over the shares of our company at a reasonable price,
  • Ceases operations immediately
  • Has its hands completely free for every future development that can be thought off,
  • Amortising the takeover expenses within a few elections by means of charging the municipalities, which see temporarily continuation of the service for a gentle price, unless off course the ministry comes up with something better overnight.
  • We will then still cooperate for the next elections (PS 2007).

There's a fuller account of the story, including more email correspondence, at the We Don't Trust Voting Computers Foundation. The email quoted above may not represent a perfect translation of the original, but I think we all get the idea.

1 "Precognition" probably isn't the word they were looking for: I'm guessing that "foreknowledge" or "prior knowledge" is closer to the mark, but I lack the language skills to verify that for myself.

Three interesting points arise from this story, neither of them strictly speaking a technological issue:

  1. "Terrorism" is the new "Communism."
  2. The reason we have the emails between Jan Groenendaal and the Dutch Electoral Commission is that the Dutch apparently have functioning freedom of information legislation. If the British government has its way, we won't. Consider the bureaucratic hurdles that lie in wait for those who submit perfectly reasonable requests under the current legislation, then ask yourself how much easier it would have been for the public bodies concerned to dismiss those enquiries by simply adding in the cost of a few hours spent by a committee of high-ranking officials considering the request until they reached the threshold the government is proposing.
  3. It seems that one reason the Dutch Electoral Commission is vulnerable to pressure from a private contractor is that they're utterly reliant upon the contractor's services if they're to run elections. I appreciate that the mantra of every would-be minister these days is that the private sector's dymanism and spirit of innovation is by definition superior to the attitudes of those who work in the public sector, but isn't the ability to administer elections one of those functions that really shouldn't be dependent upon the continued cooperation of a private contractor? That doesn't mean that a private company shouldn't be given the chance to design and implement the IT systems, but it does mean that the electoral commission should require that the systems should run on industry-standard hardware, and that all rights to the software and the data it produces be assigned to the electoral commission for it to dispose of as it sees fit. That might involve maintaining the code in-house or inviting tenders from private contractors for such modifications as are considered necessary: the point is that no one private company should be in a position to threaten to derail the electoral process.

[Via Bruce Schneier]

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Timesearch

March 12th, 2007

Timesearch – the brainchild of Bamber Gascoigne, no less – is a search engine that presents a timeline as a basis for your search. Pick a theme and a geographical area and enter a year and you get a timeline with links you can use to launch relevant searches of the BBC site, Wikipedia, Answers.com or Google.

I don't think a timeline-based approach would be useful for about 95% of the searches I do, but if I had a history essay to write1 I can see how it could be useful to have some sort of structure to put the item I started out searching for in context.

1 Thankfully, those days are long behind me.

[Via Guardian Technology Blog]

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First Life

March 10th, 2007

Get a First Life:

Got First Life Questions?
We've Got Answers

Are five senses enough?

What's this body thing, and what do I do with the dangly bits?

Why can't I build a dirigible with my mind?

Penguins, spoons and you — what's life like among the flightless?

Much more fun than Second Life, and absolutely no problems with server lag.

[Via Needcoffee.com]

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Boring

February 28th, 2007

Chris Anderson, having spoken at a conference of Chief Information Officers, reflects on the dim future facing the CIOs of the world:

In fairness, the CIOs have a pretty tough job. Nobody thanks them when the network works and the data is backed up, but they get fired when things go wrong. No surprise that they're so risk-adverse and conservative. The pesky users keep trying to, you know, do new things. This causes unpredictable outcomes. Which must be avoided.

The consequence of this is that many CIOs are now just one step above Building Maintenance. They have the unpleasant job of mopping up data spills when they happen, along with enforcing draconian data retention policies sent down from the legal department. They respond to trouble tickets and disable user permissions. They practice saying "No", not "What if…" And they block the ports used by the most popular services, from Skype to Second Life, which always reminds me of the old joke about the English shopkeeper who, when asked what happened to a certain product, answered "We don't stock it anymore. It kept selling out."

The most dramatic example of this is on college campuses, where a generation raised on Google and MySpace meets its first IT department. Needless to say, the kids want nothing to do with "disk storage allocations" and "acceptable use policies". The life of a university CIO is like the life of a telco CEO, fast forwarded by about five years. The users want a dumb pipe, preferably at gigabit speed. They neither need or want the university to administer their email, wikis, blogs, video storage or discussion groups. They want it to simply get out of their way.

I don't think the university model is especially representative of the problems facing IT departments in the typical workplace. If a student wants to use an online word processing tool to store their thesis then that's their problem, just as it is if they store it on their laptop. The consequences of losing that data, or having it corrupted by a virus, primarily affect the individual, and as long as their chosen tool can output a file in whatever format the university demands they use to submit essays and the like their choice to use systems beyond the university's control is neither here nor there.

In the average work environment that isn't at all the case. I spent a couple of hours this morning preparing a spreadsheet myself and my colleagues will be using to record and summarise information about a forthcoming event we're organising, and I did it using the spreadsheet my employer's IT department supports and stored the sheet on a shared drive on our network that's automatically backed up overnight. If I'd created that sheet using an online spreadsheet tool and stored it somewhere beyond the reach of our backup routines, or if I just stored the file under a user name or password on some online system that effectively kept it out of my colleagues' sight if I wasn't around, my employer would quite rightly be very unhappy when it turned out that I was holding their data to ransom. Similarly, my email and my calendar are stored on our corporate system, where they can be shared with and accessed by my colleagues by use of a system that my employer's IT department controls and supports; in what way would my employer benefit if I used a Gmail or Hotmail account to store my work emails?

Another point is that the average CIO's worries about users are inspired not so much by the notion that the users might want to "do new things" as by the proposition that the "new things" the users want to do might result in data losses or incompatibility between one user's data and his or her colleague's data. I accept that twentysomethings grew up with the internet and are typically much less scared of IT than my contemporaries, but in my experience there's still a scary gap between those who understand the pros and cons of designing a suite of linked spreadsheets and those whose Excel expertise barely extends beyond knowing which icon to click in the Excel toolbar to sum a column of numbers, or how to format that column of numbers to display figures with two decimal places and a currency sign. Mandating the use of a corporate IT system may not make your users any more IT-literate, but it does make it easier to share and recover the company's data should disaster strike and allows for the option of organising training in the proper use of whatever tools you've standardised on.

No doubt Chris Anderson would observe that my sort of employment – being an office drone, spending virtually all my working days in the office, tethered to a desk talking on the phone and toiling away at spreadsheets, word processor documents, emails and doing a bit of database work – is doomed anyway, be it by way of automation or outsourcing, and that the next generation of knowledge workers operating as semi-independent contractors will come to take responsibility for organising their own backups and will find better ways to share their data with the people they collaborate with where necessary. Perhaps, but until that happy day arrives it seems to me that companies are probably right to rely on the services of a boring Corporate Information Officer to make sure the company's information remains accessible and properly backed up.

[I do believe I've just outed myself as a CIO-wannabe. So be it...]

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The Limitations of Backups

February 26th, 2007

Over at Worse Than Failure, a reminder that even the best backup strategy sometimes isn't enough. Can you figure out the weak spot before you follow the link and read the full story?

Over the years, Chris's employer has come as close to a Perfect Technology Infrastructure as anyone. They hire the best network administrators money can buy and give them whatever resources they need to ensure that the infrastructure remains solid. And that they do.

The company's backup and retention plan is nothing short of immaculate. Every system they've ever purchased — from that old payroll program on the System/360 to that bizarre parts database for OS/2 — can be brought back to life, if not physically than through virtualization. A walk through their "software archive" was a treat for many; new technicians are often astonished to learn, not only of the existence of 8-inch floppy disks, but that the company still has the 8-inch install disks for CP/M. And a drive to run them on.

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SETI success!

February 25th, 2007

SETI@Home has finally found something: a laptop.

[Via Techdirt]

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Translated

February 18th, 2007

Translation From PR-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso's Response to Steve Jobs's 'Thoughts on Music':

I would like to start by thanking Steve Jobs for offering his provocative perspective on the role of digital rights management (DRM) in the electronic content marketplace and for bringing to the forefront an issue of great importance to both the industry and consumers.

Fuck you, Jobs.

Macrovision has been in the content protection industry for more than 20 years, working closely with content owners of many types, including the major Hollywood studios, to help navigate the transition from physical to digital distribution.

We’ve been helping and encouraging the entertainment industry to annoy its paying customers for more than 20 years. [...]

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BBC On-Demand Services Consultation

February 4th, 2007

The BBC Trust have launched a consultation on the Corporation's proposal to launch an on-demand download service.

There are all sorts of interesting questions about everything from how long license payers should be able to retain downloaded programmes before watching them to whether the BBC should allow classical music to be downloaded (given the prospect that making such content available free of charge could affect sales of classical music) to whether the player software should incorporate parental controls. Then there's this beauty:

5. How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?

I think you can probably guess what I think about that one.

You can submit a response to the consultation via the link above or in writing. Before diving in and composing a response, it would be sensible to read the consultation document, which is available here. (NB: link is to 29 page, 168KB PDF file)

[Via Cult of Mac]

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Cute

January 31st, 2007

Geekiest. Marriage. Proposal. Ever!

[Via kottke.org]

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Packet Garden

January 28th, 2007

Packet Garden looks like a fascinating application:

Packet Garden captures information about how you use the internet and uses this stored information to grow a private world you can later explore.

To do this, Packet Garden takes note of all the servers you visit, their geographical location and the kinds of data you access. Uploads make hills and downloads valleys, their location determined by numbers taken from internet address itself. The size of each hill or valley is based on how much data is sent or received. Plants are also grown for each protocol detected by the software; if you visit a website, an 'HTTP plant' is grown. If you share some files via eMule, a 'Peer to Peer plant' is grown, and so on. [...]

Once the OS X version of Packet Garden gets a few steps further on I'll certainly give it a try; the screenshots look really interesting.

[Via Yoz Grahame]

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Monoculture

January 26th, 2007

South Korea isn't the high-tech utopia it's often painted as:

What would you say if I told you that there was a nation that was at the forefront of technology, an early adopter of ecommerce, leading the world in 3G mobile adoption, in wireless broadband, in wired broadband adoption, as well as in citizen-driven media. Sounds like an amazing place, right? Technology utopia?

Wrong.

This nation is also a unique monoculture where 99.9% of all the computer users are on Microsoft Windows. This nation is a place where Apple Macintosh users cannot bank online, make any purchases online, or interact with any of the nation's e-government sites online. In fact, Linux users, Mozilla Firefox users and Opera users are also banned from any of these types of transactions because all encrypted communications online in this nation must be done with Active X controls. [...]

Fascinating. The article goes on to explain how the country ended up so dependent upon one, highly insecure and exploitable, feature of the dominant PC operating system, and why this is a problem.

And yet … 90% of home banking users over here – even the ones who are sick and tired of updating their anti-virus software and dealing with spyware outbreaks – would read that last paragraph and say "So what's the problem with using Windows?" Despite years of viruses spamming people's Outlook address books and spyware being installed just because the user made the mistake of visiting a dodgy web page the concept of the "software monoculture" just hasn't gained traction amongst the general public. Is it that the notion of a 'monoculture' is an agricultural/biological concept, and the majority of urban dwellers lack the hands-on experience of agriculture and wildlife that would help them intuitively understand how rapidly a disease can rip through a homogeneous populace? Or is it just that after years of reporting on IT security problems the mainstream press – to the delight of Microsoft's PR people, I'm sure – tends to refer to them as "internet viruses" or "security problems" without emphasising that most of these programs only infect Windows-based systems and making the point that the flaw being exploited is in Windows itself?

For the record, I'm not claiming that Windows is the only operating system with exploitable bugs. But every time Microsoft release a new version they tell us that this time they've taken bug-fixing and security seriously, and every time they're proved wrong within weeks. If Windows Vista does turn out to be reasonably secure – or at least as capable of stopping a non-admin user from breaking the system as a Unix-based system is – then that'll be really nice. It'll also be about twelve years too late.

[Via A Whole Lotta Nothing]

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Barely a ripple

January 14th, 2007

Apparently even Steve Jobs can't quite extend his reality distortion field across the Pacific Ocean:

TOKYO — Tomoaki Kurita presides over racks of cellphones lined up outside his shop on a busy sidewalk in Harajuku, Tokyo's catwalk of youth street culture where people attracted by the riot of phone options can stop to flip open and fondle the latest models of what the Japanese call keitai.

From behind his busy counter, Kurita giggles when asked about the excitement in America over the arrival of Apple's iPhone, which can also be used to download music and surf the Internet.

"Sounds like business as usual," he says. [...]

What makes the iPhone special is the degree of polish Apple have applied to the user interface rather than the feature list, so it's understandable that that's the reaction you might get on the streets of Tokyo from someone who hadn't seen the product. Still, it'll be fascinating to see how Apple's closed platform fares outside the US.

[Via Buzz Andersen]

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