.................with apologies to Alistair Cook

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A trap set by Google?

The story of Totlol - Totlol - Video for Kids: "The story of Totlol
Prelude - a trap set up by Google

Every start-up has a story. This is the story of Totlol. Because I did everything myself, it is also the story of almost two years of my life. It's the story of a flourishing service into which I put tons of work. It's the story of site for which I had high hopes. It's the story of how things unfolded when it has fallen into a trap set up by Google.


A trap? Set up by Google?

Yep. It works in the following manner:

Google releases a public API. They watch what third-party developers do with the API and modify the Terms of Service (ToS) for that API in a way that prevents breakthrough potential. Google may then move to offer a similar service based on their platform rather than the API.


I thought so too. Until I experienced it first hand.

Read on.

Act one - I build a website

My son, now four, has been a YouTube user since the time he was about 10 months old. Not his fault. He'd crawl into the office, I'd point the browser to show him something interesting. I had 'online video' and 'kids' in my head for a while and in early 2008 I decided I'll make my ideas a project.

The very first prototype of Totlol had an upload button and no YouTube integration. When it was done I contacted a content creator with a good YouTube presence and showed it to them. The response: 'Great idea for a site' but 'we have limited resources when it comes to distributing ... so our participation isn't a sure thing.' They never uploaded. I got replies along the same lines from others I contacted.

That was not good.

Then I thought about YouTube a little more. When uploading to YouTube, content creators give an implicit right to distribute. They don't want to be bothered again. I figured that if I empower a community to sort what has already been uploaded it will have a chance of succeeding. The YouTube APIs provided the right tools.

I launched the first version of Totlol publicly on May 11, 2008. It introduced the concepts of community participation and video pre-screening and was very well received. With that feedback at hand I made a bold decision. I decided to commit to the project and make it a start-up. Making an even gutsier move I submitted an application for the TechCrunch 50 start-up competition. Then I went to work on building what I just promised to deliver in three months.

On June 16, 2008 I received, via Totlol's contact form, a message from Stephanie Liu, currently a Developer Technical Programs Manager at Google and back then part of the YouTube API team.

It said:

'I saw some blogs / articles about the site, and think it's a great example of how to use the APIs :) I'd like to feature the site on code.google.com'

We had a short discussion and finished exchanging information and files on the 18th. Then there was silence and what seemed like a couple of weeks have passed. Finally an e-mail arrived:

'Sorry for the delay -- Totlol is currently on the featured project widget on code.google.com and code.google.com/apis/youtube'

Delay? That happens. I said 'Really, really, really thanks' and went back to work building stuff.

Act Two - They change the terms

The interest in Totlol was not coincidental. It was one of the first to use tools provided as part of a major YouTube API upgrade done a few months prior. That upgrade also introduced a whole new set of ToS dated March 10, 2008. It is a boring document but I actually read it very carefully several times before starting to work on YouTube integration.

Though newly published less than four months prior, Google found it necessary to make a small update to the YouTube API ToS on July 7th.

A new restriction on commercial use was introduced:

'the sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions on any page of the API Client containing YouTube audiovisual content, unless other content not obtained from YouTube appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales.'

The tangled wording is specifically restrictive for sites where the main use case is watching videos. Such sites are navigated mainly by jumping from one video to the other. The occurrences of a page views in which there is no audiovisual content are random and far-between. Getting sponsorship under these terms would be ridiculous. Advertising revenue would be practically non-existent.

There was no announcement of the ToS change. It wasn't in the blog and though I've later looked in the Developer Forum archive, I could not find one there either.

Within two months of launching publicly, the legal walls that would later trap me have been erected. But no one told me.

By September I had a Beta and though I didn't make the cut for the TechCrunch 50, I moved on with enhancements. AgeOptimizer came in October. OAuth linked YouTube accounts came in January. By April I brought Totlol to the iPhone. It became an Apple featured Web App and I got another nod of approval when the site became a Webby Awards Official Honoree. The backend was finally stable. Usage was growing nicely. People really liked it.

Then, as I was ready to make a business move, I looked at the ToS again. They changed. I read them carefully and, oops, something was wrong. There was a new commercial use restriction.

Boom. I've hit the brick wall.

Act Three - Trapped

What can one do? I didn't know when the ToS changed nor the context in which it was done, but, I'm an optimist.

The commercial use restrictions set in the ToS do say that there may be exceptions if one can 'obtain YouTube's prior written approval'. With that in mind I went to Google I/O, the annual developer conference.

At the conference I met Kuan Yong, Sr. Product Manager at Google and as far as I knew, the person responsible for the API. He was about to give a presentation titled Best Practices for Writing Great, Monetizable YouTube Apps. I said 'hi' and sat down.

I thought Totlol was great, others thought Totlol was great and I knew the API team at YouTube thought it was great. I was hoping to see how it would be presented. It wasn't. It felt awkward. Bizarre. At least Kuan was kind enough to acknowledge Totlol and me verbally.

After the presentation was done I caught up with Kuan, we had a chance to chitchat and I popped the question. Sort of.

I didn't ask Kuan to allow me something specific. He couldn't do it anyway without consulting others. Instead I asked for help in finding a brand sponsor and demonstrated how Totlol will look with sponsorship in place.

After a few days and some e-mail exchange I got a clear message:

'I recommend that you do what all other websites do'.

I was trapped.

I basically had three options: I could leave things as are and have no business, I could intentionally violate the ToS and be at Google's grace or I could modify the site to circumvent the way the ToS were worded, sacrifice the user experience and hope to satisfy a sponsor. I didn't like my odds, my business plan was in ruins and generally speaking there is no point shouting at the rain.

At 2 AM, the morning of June 5 I posted a message on the site saying that it will close by the end of the month.

This is where things should have ended. But they didn't.

Act Four - You want to do what?

Friday, June 5 was e-mail day. TechCrunch did a story and the messages started flowing in. Among them was one from Hunter Walk, Director of Product Management at Google.

It was titled:

'From YouTube: brainstorming about what features you'd need on-site to recreate TotLol experience'

He said:

'I lead the product management team for the consumer experience at YouTube.com'

He stated:

'My goal is that eventually i'd like to support lots of successful vertical experiences such as yours w/in the site in addition to outside the site.'

He asked for my 'expertise' and he followed with some fairly specific questions.

I felt uneasy.

There was e-mail exchanged and then a meeting at a Starbucks in San Bruno. Hunter arrived at that meeting with a block of paper and pen. He was ready to take notes and he again asked very specific questions, some I dodged, some I answered. As a follow up to that meeting I clarified that I was at a 'stop loss' situation, pointed that they control the terms and hence control Totlol's future and offered my time under other arrangements if they are interested.

Within two days I had a reply. The mail contained some sentiments, vague hopes for the future and a lot of words. It also included this:

'Ultimately our role in the developer community is to provide technical guidance, promotional support and to ensure developers have a voice in the direction of our API roadmap. As a platform, we need to stay agnostic from the business-side of that equation.'

I wasn't sure what 'agnostic' meant so I checked. At the time, Hunter knew when and why the ToS were changed. I didn't know, he didn't tell me, and agnostic he wasn't.

Game over. Right? Nope.

Act Five - Not to die.

In the flood of e-mail that followed the closing announcement was something interesting. One user offered to make a donation, another said she'd like to pay a monthly fee, then another and another. A content creator wrote and said he was 'proud' to be on the site. People didn't just like Totlol. They loved it.

It was time not to die.

Anyone familiar with online marketing knows that converting site visitors into paying members is a monumental task. The numbers are brutal and this was to be the easy part. Google has published an adjacent document to the ToS, called Using the YouTube APIs to Build Monetizable Applications. If the ToS are walls, this document is like the barbed wire and warning signs that prevent you from even thinking of getting close to the wall.

The odds were still against me, but I was a year in the red and something is better than nothing. I decided I'd give it a try.

For the first time in my life I built something according to lawyers' guidelines not users' wishes. This is how the current set-up of Totlol came to be. This is why users are nagged. This is where the wording at the about page came from. I notified Hunter requesting that if Google is to object they'll do it sooner rather than later. There was no reply so I enabled fee requests.

Totlol users are serious people and Totlol is a serious full-featured web application. Now, supported solely by members it is still trapped, still can't breakthrough, but it is alive. It is a shining example for the true potential of YouTube and is one of, if not the, best YouTube powered website out there.

So they lived happily ever after. Yah, right.

Act Six - WTF?

Over the past couple of months I have checked YouTube API ToS at archive.org a few times but all they had was the March 10, 2008 version of the API ToS. This version obviously differs from the current version dated April 8, 2009 but it offers no indication as to how and when things changed.

Then in November archive.org updated.

I clicked the stored versions one by one and there it was, a ToS update dated July 7, 2008 . I compared it to the original and...


On July 7?

That was way earlier than I thought! There was no major YouTube change at the time! That was at the time when I was working on the beta! That was like when...

I looked up an old e-mail thread. There it was, the old e-mail from Stephanie Liu. The one with the apology for the delay.

It said:

'Sent: Monday, July 07, 2008 4:50 PM'

I actually felt my stomach turn.

Curtain - The six inches in front of your face

I contacted Hunter. I contacted Kuan. I contacted Stephanie. I even sent an e-mail to legal@google.com

Stephanie 'can't remember exactly' what the reason for the delay was. Her 'memory is hazy'. These are direct quotes in case you wondered. Kuan won't answer a simple question regarding his own I/O presentation. I guess he doesn't want to lie. If replying, Hunter emits random legal verbiage. The person who actually made the decisions is courageously hiding behind them.

So, let's sum things up. This is what happened:

When the YouTube API team saw Totlol they liked it. At about the same time someone else at Google saw it, realized the potential it, and/or similar implementations may have, and initiated a ToS modification. An instruction was given to delay public acknowledgement of Totlol until the modified ToS where published. Later an instruction was given to avoid public acknowledgement at all.


I think the simplest explanation may be the correct one. As Hunter stated very clearly - they have a goal. They also have a method that works. With some cover-up, silence and amnesia they almost got away with it.

What should I do about what has happened?

I really don't know, but maybe you do. Here is the contact form. Use it as you like.

As for the future, following instructions from my wife, I'm looking for a job. Not a project or a start-up idea. A job, preferably with a stable, innovative and honest internet related company in the San Francisco Bay area where we currently live. I have a diverse skill set and I pay great attention to details. You may use the contact form for that too if relevant.

Thanks for making it this far.

I did my best.

That's what living is.



(Via .)

Monday, 28 December 2009

President Obama, It's Time To Fire the TSA

Today, DHS's Napolitano's response to the crotchbomber: 'We're looking to make sure that this sort of incident cannot recur.' But the TSA's response to Abdulmutalib's attempt makes one thing clear: We must stop pretending the TSA is making us safer.

Security expert Bruce Schneier nails the core incompetency: 'For years I've been saying 'Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.''

So what has the TSA done in response to the attempted attack? They've told airlines to make passengers stay in their seats during the last hour of flight. They've made it verboten for passengers to hold anything in their laps, again only during the last hour of flight. Perhaps most hilariously telling, they've forbidden pilots from announcing when a plane is flying over certain cities and landmarks.

There is no other way to interpret it: The TSA is saying clearly that they can't prevent terrorists from getting explosives on airplanes, but by god, they'll make sure those planes only explode when the TSA says it's okay.

I want our government to prevent terrorism and to make flights safer. But we are spending billions of dollars and man-hours to fight a threat that is less likely to kill a traveler than being struck by lightning. In the last decade, according to statistician Nate Silver, there has been 'one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 miles flown [the] equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.' (Sadly, this does mean that in the future we can expect one out of every two round-trip flights to Neptune to be hijacked.)

The TSA isn't saving lives. We, the passengers, are saving our own. Since its inception, the TSA has been structured in such a way as to prevent specific terror scenarios, attempting to disrupt a handful of insanely specific tactics, while continuing to disenfranchise and demoralize the citizens who are actually doing the work that a billion-dollar government agency—an agency that received an additional $128 million just this year for new checkpoint explosive screening technology—has failed to do.

We just had the first legitimate attempted attack in years, and the TSA changes the threat level from orange...to orange.

This goes far beyond simple customer satisfaction issues like 'Take Back Takeoff.' (Although they are of a kind.) It has to do with wildly irrationally response of a government agency in the face of failure. An agency whose leader, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, said at first blush that the attempted attack showed that—here comes the Katrina-class foot-in-mouth—'the system worked.' (She shoveled shit in her mouth this morning, while still talking up the asinine new measures that the TSA will be taking to respond to this isolated threat.)

I don't want to die on an airplane. I don't want to die in my home while eating an organic bagel infested with parasites that lay eggs on my liver. I don't want to die from starvation or bad water or a thousand other things that I pay our government to monitor and regulate.

But I also don't expect the government to protect from the literally endless possibilities and threats that could occur at any point to end my life or the life of the few I love. It's been nearly a decade since terrorists used airplanes to attack our country, and last week's attempt makes it clear that the lack of terrorist attacks have nothing to do with the increasing gauntlet of whirring machines, friskings, and arbitrary bureaucratic provisions, but simply that for the most part, there just aren't that many terrorists trying to blow up planes. Because god knows if there were, the TSA isn't capable of stopping them. We're just one bad burrito away from the TSA forcing passengers to choke back an Imodium and a Xanax before being hogtied to our seats.

President Obama, don't let this attack—this one attack that was thankfully stopped by smart, fearless passengers and airline staff—take us further in the wrong direction. I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way. Americans of all stripes and affiliation standing up to say, 'This isn't working. We gave you our money. You're not making us safer.' We appreciate the attempt to make us safer and acknowledge that it came from an honest attempt to protect American (and the rest of the world's) lives.

But it's a failure. It's wrongheaded. It's a farce. Tear it down. Put the money towards the sort of actions at which our government excels, like intelligence. The failure of the TSA leaves us no choice, but it's okay. The American people are ready to take back the responsibility for our own safety. Really, we already have.


(Via Gizmodo.)

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Regret the Error’s 2009 Year in Media Errors and Corrections

Regret the Error’s 2009 Year in Media Errors and Corrections: "

One of my very favorite year-end list traditions. (Via Jim Coudal, who spotted one of the best.)


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Operation Chokehold v. AT&T and The Dark Star

I’ll tell you something — I’m really SiSePuedeRosieRivetorblown away by the way people have responded to AT&T’s bastardly behavior over bandwidth usage. Our engineers are friggin livid. And, because they’re engineers, which means they’re basically evil little pricks, they’ve come up with a plan to teach AT&T a lesson. They’re calling it Operation Chokehold. Last night I got this email that they’ve been sending around inside Apple, encouraging people to join the crusade:

Subject: Operation Chokehold

On Friday, December 18, at noon Pacific time, we will attempt to overwhelm the AT&T data network and bring it to its knees. The goal is to have every iPhone user (or as many as we can) turn on a data intensive app and run that app for one solid hour. Send the message to AT&T that we are sick of their substandard network and sick of their abusive comments. THe idea is we’ll create a digital flash mob. We’re calling it in Operation Chokehold. Join us and speak truth to power!

The engineers have asked me to serve as a kind of communications director for their efforts — soliciting ideas on what apps to use (Pandora may not be the best) and how to refine the attack on the network.

If anyone has ideas, use the comment strings. Tell your friends. Get people involved. We have five days to create a movement and plan a major assault. As the Portuguese said during the Obama campaign: Si, se puede.

FWIW, many of you probably know that Woz and I got our start by selling boxes that hacked the old phone system back in the 1970s. I hate these idiots more than you can imagine. The idea of spanking them like this just gives me tingles all over.


(Via The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

RT FB Robert Neuschul: "Sometimes I really DO love new technology: #Defamation Mapping of the World" http://bit.ly/8mVCJg

Trafigura again gagging UK press. This time the BBC's Newsnight.

This is Google's cache of http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8048626.stm. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 9 Dec 2009 13:53:18 GMT. The current page could have changed in the meantime. Learn more

Text-only version
These search terms are highlighted: trafigura newsnight

Dirty tricks and toxic waste in Ivory Coast

By Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean
BBC Newsnight

It is the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century, the type of environmental vandalism that international treaties are supposed to prevent. Now Newsnight can reveal the truth about the waste that was illegally tipped on Ivory Coast's biggest city, Abidjan. A giant multinational is being sued in London's High Court by thousands of Africans who claim they were injured as a result.

The truth behind Ivory Coast toxic waste dump

Our investigation took us to Amsterdam where the waste could have been safely disposed of. Instead the company, Trafigura, went for the cheaper option and offloaded it in Abidjan.
Trafigura has always denied that the chemical waste was dangerous, but we have seen an analysis by the Dutch authorities which reveal it to be lethal.
We consulted a leading toxicologist, John Hoskins from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He said it would bring a major city to its knees.
The waste includes tons of phenols which can cause death by contact, tons of hydrogen sulphide, lethal if inhaled in high concentrations, and vast quantities of corrosive caustic soda and mercaptans which John Hoskins describes as "the most odorous compounds ever produced".
A terrible smell
It happened on 19 August 2006 in the dead of night. A convoy of trucks from a newly-formed company in Abidjan arrived to take the waste away. They illegally dumped the first loads at the huge tip in Aquedo.

Watch Newsnight's 2007 investigation into claims toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast

A powerful stench soon engulfed the area. The tip's operators were called out and the drivers sent packing. They looked elsewhere to drop the waste, tipping it in at least 18 places across the city and beyond.
The Aquedo tip stretches as far as the eye can see. As scores of waste trucks tip their loads, an army of Abidjanis cluster around, children amongst them, brandishing long metal spikes. They pick through the rubbish, looking for anything that can be sold.


We were soon surrounded by people, only too willing to talk about the night the toxic waste was dumped and the terrible smell that made them gag and sicken.

There were women who miscarried, and that was very painful. But still, the worst was that three people, two adults and a girl were killed by the toxic wastes. That was very hard
Esaie Modto, head of Djibli village

Just round the corner from the dump, we met Jean Francois Kouadio and his wife, Fidel.

She had been eight months pregnant with their first child when the fumes swamped their home. Fidel gave birth prematurely and the boy, Jean Claude, died within a day.
Their second child Ama Grace was born a year later. She too fell ill.
The doctors said that Ama Grace "was suffering from acute glycaemia caused by the toxic wastes".
They could do nothing for her and she died.
The medical reports state a "strong presumption" that the deaths of the two children were caused by exposure to the toxic waste and Jean Francois and Fidel now fear they will never become parents.
Polluted water
We also visited the village of Djibi, just outside Abidjan. The waste that was tipped here got into the water supply, killing the fish that fed the village.

Thousands of people say they were victims of the waste

The head of Djibi, Esaie Modto, told us that every last person here fell ill, two thousand people:
"There were women who miscarried, and that was very painful. But still, the worst was that three people, two adults and a girl were killed by the toxic wastes. That was very hard."
So what was it that brought such ruin on a country that in 2006 was still struggling to recover from a civil war?
The waste was generated as the result of an oil deal spanning three continents. Trafigura bought a consignment of cheap and dirty heavy oil with a high sulphur content. Instead of putting it through a refinery, Trafigura tried to clean it up, using a do-it-yourself method, so they could sell it on at a massive profit.
They used a ship called the Probo Koala which they stationed off Gibraltar as a rough and ready refinery. Caustic soda and a catalyst were added to the oil which reacted with the sulphur and settled to the bottom of the tank. Trafigura were then able to sell the oil, but left with a toxic sludge at the bottom of the tank.
"Smelly but not dangerous"
The Probo Koala went to Amsterdam where they attempted to unload this sulphurous tar as if it were normal ships' waste, which would have cost a few thousand euros.

Watch the 2007 Newsnight interview with Eric de Turckheim, co-founder of Trafigura

However the fumes were so bad, the emergency services were called and the Dutch authorities carried out tests. They discovered the waste was highly toxic and told Trafigura that it would cost half a million euros to dispose of safely.
The Probo Koala instead pumped the waste back on board and left port, ending up in West Africa.
Marietta Harjono of Greenpeace Nederland says this has led to a prosecution by the Dutch authorities for "falsification of papers - they deliberately were silent on the toxic nature of the waste", as well as for illegal import of toxic waste and "illegal export of toxic waste from Europe to Cote d'Ivoire".
When Newsnight first investigated the toxic dumping scandal in 2007 one of Trafigura's founders Eric de Turckheim told Jeremy Paxman "these materials were not dangerous for human beings. It was smelly, but not dangerous."
Newsnight's new investigation shows this was far from the case. Trafigura continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Read Trafigura's full statement
Watch Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean's investigation in full on Newsnight on Wednesday 13 May 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Bonjour, Y'all! ASN Split Personalities

One company I worked at, some years back now, whose name I've redacted, to save the blushes of the guilty, used public IP addresses on their internal network - a recipe for disaster. With assistance from a good friend, we managed to dodge that particular bullet.

This is even worse :)

Remember when the telephone company came to your house to hook up your phone and gave you a new phone number? This new number was how your friends and family were going to contact you. You counted on the telephone company to ensure that someone hadn't already been issued that number, because if they had, various problems would ensue. What would happen when your mom tried to call your number if it was also assigned to someone else? Could you directly call the other party to work out the problem? Well, in the BGP realm, something similar has been happening with autonomous system numbers (ASNs).

Organizations need an ASN to run BGP and route on the Internet. They are each assigned globally unique ASN(s) by their local Regional Internet Registry (RIR), who get them from IANA. A few weeks ago, the NANOG folks noticed that AS1712 had been registered by two different organizations (in France and Texas) that were both using the number to announce their separate network prefixes. ARIN issued a statement conveying that they were aware of the problem and were working to resolve it. We took at look at the data and found that AS1712 isn't the only dually-assigned ASN out there. In fact, even a root server didn't escape unscathed.


(Via Renesys Blog.)

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Psychology of Being Scammed

The Psychology of Being Scammed: "

This is a very interesting paper: 'Understanding scam victims: seven principles for systems security," by Frank Stajano and Paul Wilson. Paul Wilson produces and stars in the British television show The Real Hustle, which does hidden camera demonstrations of con games. (There's no DVD of the show available, but there are bits of it on YouTube.) Frank Stajano is at the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.

The paper describes a dozen different con scenarios -- entertaining in itself -- and then lists and explains six general psychological principles that con artists use:

The distraction principle. While you are distracted by what retains your interest, hustlers can do anything to you and you won't notice.

The social compliance principle. Society trains people not to question authority. Hustlers exploit this "suspension of suspiciousness" to make you do what they want.

The herd principle. Even suspicious marks will let their guard down when everyone next to them appears to share the same risks. Safety in numbers? Not if they're all conspiring against you.

The dishonesty principle. Anything illegal you do will be used against you by the fraudster, making it harder for you to seek help once you realize you've been had.

The deception principle. Thing and people are not what they seem. Hustlers know how to manipulate you to make you believe that they are.

The need and greed principle. Your needs and desires make you vulnerable. Once hustlers know what you really want, they can easily manipulate you.

It all makes for very good reading.

Two previous posts on the psychology of conning and being conned.


(Via Schneier on Security.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Ex-Blue Peter presenter launches Linux based computer for 50+ market

For those of us "of a certain age", this is a change from sticky back plastic and straws. It's probably "one she made earlier":

The computer runs the Linux Mint operating system, powered by Vegan Solutions's Eldy software

Legendary Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton has launched a new computer range specifically designed for older users and technophobes.

(Via Macworld UK.)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ACTA terms may force ISP anti-piracy, 3 strikes rules

ACTA terms may force ISP anti-piracy, 3 strikes rules: "A leaked set of proposals for the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) suggests the international deal will require harsh online anti-piracy measures. The draft will reportedly force Internet providers in all member states to actively police copyright on their networks. To qualify for safe harbor and reduce their liability, the ISPs would also have to implement 'gradual response' rules like France's three-strike law that initially warn and eventually punish those said pirating content, likely forcing them offline....

The full detail is here: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/4510/125/

(Via MacNN | The Macintosh News Network.)

One problem with the internet...

...is that it can be the equivalent of handing a sharp instrument to a 4-year old and then hoping against hope, that they don't run around, fall over and cut themselves or damage something or somebody as they flail wildly about.

I remember the annual influx of new members to AOL back in the dial-up days and the collective resigned sighs on Usenet from the older veterans as the same old questions were re-cycled, the same mistakes made, the same flame wars started, until eventually, the newcomers "got it" and stopped being a PITA.

And now every man and his dog, irrespective of sanity levels or lack of access to their medication can blog, Tweet, IM and generally annoy reasonable people.

And do these people have any clue about how the Internet works? From the look of a great number of pointers "out there"; apparently not.

I was amused, for at least a second, to see a poorly edited and frankly illiterate attack [an "attack" in that "being savaged by a dead sheep" sense] from a very small blog recently (the normal "I have an axe to grind and just watch me, boy am I going to grind it and because I'm anonymous, I can say what I like" type - unlike say, those people putting their heads above the parapet in Iran, Tweating, blogging and using FB, at great personal risk to life and liberty in an attempt to secure same), where the anonymous owner "confused" my personal blog on which are personal writings with something that was being said by me as part of my day job elsewhere on the web.

An easy mistake to make I suppose. If that is, you're an idiot. Or have forgotten to take your tablets.

[As a side-bar, it's funny to read here that "anonymous" shows one definition given as "lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability"]

But there you go; there's just no class "out there" anymore, so we have the modern day equivalent of those new AOL-ers I described earlier, coming on-line now, trying to play in the big league and cutting themselves in the process. Democracy (or evolution?) in action I suppose and that's always a good thing, no? One just has to accept with a resigned sigh, that people are people and that they'll say and do the most stupid things.

Feel free to email me at chris[dot]bulow[at]gmail.com, as my blog makes clear, if you disagree.

And I will add finally, that my many American friends find the slang terms to which this person objected (and when "helpfully" defining them, he/she/it almost managed to raise their writings to a believable level of righteous indignation) hilarious when used by a Brit to describe them - they have far worse to say about me. It's Cockney "rhyming slang" and they're fascinated by that stuff.

But that's another story. And another day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

अलन Turing

From the pen of the always readable Rupert Goodwins, comes his take on the great news that finally, after all these years, the UK government has pardoned Alan Turing. If you don't know who he is, you should, go investigate:

"I've just written one of my most satisfying stories for years. It wasn't much cop in journalistic terms: rattled off in a few minutes, it was based on a story in another publication and bolstered with a quote from yet another. No phone calls, no fact checking, no independent views. Yet I don't remember being quite so moved by the ordinary process of assembling the sentences for a very long time.

The story, of course, is that Alan Turing has received an official posthumous apology from Gordon Brown. The crime of what happened to Turing cannot be righted by this or any other act, but the symbolism goes a long way to turning a single — if very deep — tragedy into something that can do a great deal of good for a long time.

It is tremendous that as a result of this, more people will know of and perhaps come to understand the importance of intellect in the service of a greater good. The story of Bletchley Park is still new and somewhat raw, but it shows the resilience and capabilities of a free society dedicated to its cause, in the face of a ferocious enemy utterly devoted to injustice and the ascendency of self-serving power.

That this story should be so intimately coupled to the subsequent injustice and abuse of power perpetrated on Turing is both ironic and important. In 2010, it can be hard to imagine a society where homosexuality is criminalised and, by common consent, rightly so — but it takes very little effort to see that such ideas are still widely held, even celebrated, and by groups who claim to support the very principles of freedom, tolerance and liberty that Turing helped to defend.

By officially recognising the injustice, the UK government has said what cannot be said enough: that homophobia is a destructive force that hurts those who hold it — and destroys those against whom it is aimed. We will never be free of prejudice, but we can choose not to follow it, to recognise it for what it is and to fight it. We may not have the genius of Turing to help us or the dangers of wartime to sharpen our resolve, yet we have his example and his fate to remind us why such things are utterly necessary.

With luck, the story of Turing will become part of the body of national myth which celebrates the best of our culture, warns against the worst, and so helps us decide how to behave towards ourselves and others. It's hard to think what could have more potential or lasting importance.

You don't often get to report on that.

A good day."

[ZDNet UK Blogs - Rupert's Diary]

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Stephen Hawking both British and not dead

The right in the USA plus the insurance companies are trying anything to attack healthcare reform. In perhaps the most amusing effort to discredit US President Barack Obama's plan for nationalized health care - if not the most ridiculous - US financial newspaper Investor's Business Daily has said that if Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead.…

(Via The Register.)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

51 Conspiracy Theories That Don’t Exist But Should

From the beginning of time there have been conspiracy theories. Back then, they were pretty basic such as Og and his secret fire. As we advanced as a society, so did our conspiracy theories and the paranoia grew right along with it. From the mysterious Illuminati to the Da Vinci Code to the mystery man on the grassy knoll to the moon landing, almost every major event in history automatically gets a conspiracy theory attached to it. Well what about the minor events? What about the things in life that we may take for granted? That is, by focusing on the large & grand conspiracy theories, are we missing some of the smaller ones that might exist?

In the spirit of keeping hope alive for all conspiracy theorists out there who are slowly having the rug pulled out from under their theories by things like facts and proof, here is a list of 51 conspiracy theories that don’t exist, but probably should. So slap on your foil hat and enjoy!

1. The Military has Alien technology that allows intergalactic Unreal Tournaments.
2. Astronauts on the space station only age one day for every three on board.
3. The moon landing was not a hoax. However, every NASA mission after that is because - let’s face it - how can you top landing on the moon!
4. Publicly released Hubble images are actually the results of Photoshop
tutorials by Industrial Light and Magic interns.
5. The Matrix is a documentary. It’s release was a “glitch.” Think about it, man.
6. Cable companies are working with grocery delivery services to market targeted food advertising to the giant Agra-conglomerates in the United States. You are only safe by “borrowing” your neighbor’s cable or stopping grocery delivery service. Otherwise, they know where you live.
7. The government has secretly taken over all aluminum foil manufacturers to embed transmitters in every roll because for a while there, they weren’t able to read our minds.
8. Tunnels and Bridges give us all Total Recall.
9. Dick Clark is a robot and used his own parts to create his robot son Ryan Seacrest.
10. Jim Morrison faked his death so he could start a successful niche bakery that only sells muffin tops.
11. Star Trek: Enterprise was just a mass hallucination, once we realized that - it was gone.
12. So-called “genetically modified foods” are merely hardier breeds of terrestrial crops harvested from the bowels of our hollow Earth! (bum-bum-buuuuuuuuuuuum!!!)
13. Alex Trebek is omnipotent.
14. NASA has actually landed on the moon on numerous occasions and has built an enormous colony on the dark side of the moon. Remember SC Governor Mark Sandford? He’d actually been at the moon colony and they made up that story about his extra-marital affair to cover it up.
15. In 1919 Babe Ruth wasn’t traded to the Yankees, the Yankees and Boston switched teams. After the 2004 season they switched back.
16. Al Gore invented Global Warming, then invented the Internet to spread the word.
17. Those Hulu commercials? They’re the truth.
18. In 1992 Patrick Stewart and William Shatner had a bare-knuckles boxing match in the basement of a sound stage in Hollywood, the result of which Shatner had to die at the end of Star Trek: Generations.
19. Peter Mayhew is actually a Wookiee, he just shaves for appearances. He lives in the forest and is routinely mistaken for Bigfoot.
20. Space Invaders was created by the Military to train children to defend the Earth against alien ships that attack in rows moving side to side and increasing in speed as they get closer to Earth.
21. By law, there has to be a Gene Hackman movie on any channel at any given time of the day. (See also, the Caine-Hackman Theory)
22. The responsibility for the recovery of the United States banking and financial systems has been secretly been placed in the hands of the Banker from Deal or No Deal.
23. The internet is currently run by a 13-year-old Princeton graduate from inside the hollowed out head of Teddy Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore.
24. The city of Las Vegas gets only half of its electricity from Hoover Dam. It gets the other half from the turbines inside Billy Mays that will continue to run for the next 15 years.
25. Hobbits actually existed. Peter Jackson and Danny DeVito are the last known living members of that race.
26. Steve Jobs is a cyborg built by Bill Gates. He wasn’t sick recently, he just had to get his continuum transfunctioner repaired.
27. The United States Originally had 14 Colonies. One of them was eaten by a giant alien snake which is where the “Don’t Tread on me Flag” came from.
28. Kevin Bacon is CGI created by ILM. Lucas made a deal with Hollywood to include Kevin in all those movies. If you look carefully during the warehouse dance scene in Footloose you can see some pixilation.
29. There are several documents recently discovered by the J.R.R Tolkien estate written in English, Elvish and Dwarfish that speak of a dream he had where Bard the Bowman died and left him 2000 lbs of grain. A willed wheat ton … gives me the creeps just thinking about it.
30. Lake Pontchartrain eats people alive.
31. Keanu Reeves is a Time Lord.
32. The Dinosaurs were wiped out by a doomsday device of their own making. The evidence is the abundance of iridium at the 63 million layer.
33. Every DVR has a chip in it that relays information back to the NSA. Anyone watching FOX News is automatically placed on a watch list.
34. Larry King died in 1991. What you see on Television now is a Henson produced Muppet voiced by Frank Oz.
35. Soylent Green isn’t made from people. It’s made from wheat grass, flour and imitation crab meat.
36. Carl Sagan found a way to travel between dimensions, unfortunately for us the other dimension was more exciting.
37. Our assumptions about Area 51 have all been wrong, it’s actually a giant underground petting zoo.
38. The Twilight Saga is a real story, written to introduce Vamps to tween girls who will be in the majority in the world when they are older and more accepting of their new blood-sucking overlords’ public introduction to humankind.
39. Levar Burton really wanted to play Lando and Billy Dee Williams really wanted to play Geordi. They discuss it frequently on a secret Twitter network run on an HP Superdome that sits in the basement of Barack Obama’s old house in Illinois. Bonus, the real birth certificate is hidden in the Superdome’s 3.5″ diskette slot.
40. There really are desperate, cash-laden Nigerian princes, lawyers for long-dead super-rich British relatives and representatives of unclaimed Canadian and Dutch Lotto funds searching the internet for their money’s rightful home. The banks holding the cash just want you to think they’re all scams so they can stay loaded.
41. Everything you’ve heard about Chuck Norris actually applies to Mr. T.
42. The Earth is a giant computer created by another giant computer to calculate the question to the ultimate answer.
43. MSG, as it turns out, is actually very important to brain development. The Chinese put out misinformation to the rest of the world so that they’ll have a leg up in the New World Order.
44. Speaking of Chinese food, the reason it tastes the same no matter where you go is because it’s actually supplied to each restaurant through giant underground pipes from a central factory in Quebec.
45. Snopes.com is actually run by government spooks so they can cover things up by calling them “urban legends.”
46. We actually hit “peak oil” back in the 1970s, but the oil companies and auto manufacturers conspired together to continue making money. Our vehicles now are actually all fusion-powered, and what you buy at the pump is just water with some smelly additives.
47. San Diego Comic Con is only the cover for an annual Illuminati meeting, where the world’s real money is divided up. The Illuminati are disguised as the booth babes.
48. LOL Cats pictures aren’t doctored. Those are actual cats asking if they can haz cheezburgers.
49. All babies born are being chipped by the government in secret for population control. When they turn 30, they’ll be summoned to Carousel.
50. The most effective torture method used by the military isn’t water boarding, it’s Bedazzling.
51. There are only 50 items on this list.

Do you have any you’d like to add? Leave them in the comments.

Special thanks to the following for their contributions: @hipsterplease, @lmorganjr, @corrinalawson, @jonathanliu, @antonolsen, @jrbooth, @nerdfoo, @dgiancaspro, @cebsilver, KingKen, @tombatron & Pushcart.

Bonus conspiracy tip: In order to counteract the embedded transmitters in the aluminum foil - pour water that has been heated in a microwave over the foil. The radioactive water molecules will disable the device and render your thoughts unreadable and uncontrollable. Remember you can only stop the Conspiracy with uncontrolled thoughts.

"She would say that, wouldn't she?"

Hackers hit MI5 website 2:36PM, Thursday 30th July 2009

Hackers have attacked the MI5 website in an attempt to gather information on people using the site.
The attack was confirmed by the Home Office which called it a "small issue".

A spokesperson says the hackers targeted a vulnerability in the site's embedded Google search engine with a cross-site scripting attack. They were looking to inject code onto the site and redirect users to malicious pages, though the spokesperson denies they got this far.

She was also keen to point out that the website is not hosted on MI5's own servers, and thus sensitive data was never under threat. The issue has now been resolved.

"MI5 takes security very seriously. Its website is secure and hosted in a high security environment," says the spokesperson.

She wasn't willing to offer any further information on the attack, beyond the fact that a group calling itself "Team Elite" is claiming responsibility.

Stuart Turton

Mandy Rice-Davies Applies of course...

"They would say that, wouldn't they?"

Microsoft-Yahoo deal may hurt competition, Google exec says
(by Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service)

The head of Google’s search organization said the search deal announced Wednesday between Microsoft and Yahoo looked likely to be negative for competition and for consumers.

If Yahoo adopts Microsoft’s Bing search engine in place of its own, that will reduce the search market from three major players to two, said Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search and user experience. She said several groups at Google were still studying the proposed partnership, which is expected to close next year, but that it might reduce innovation.

“Everyone runs faster in a race where there are more people,” Mayer said in a brief interview at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit in Palo Alto, California.

The likely effects of the deal are being debated in various corners of the industry. Some observers have suggested it may increase competition in the online advertising market, by creating a more viable competitor to Google.

When it comes to search, however, an industry analyst shared Mayer’s concern.

It’s “unfortunate” that there will now be one fewer major search player because it will weaken the competitive landscape, IDC analyst Al Hilwa said.

In their quest to catch up with Google, both Yahoo and Microsoft were doing interesting and innovative things in search, he said. “That has been good for the industry,” Hilwa said. With this deal, Microsoft is likely to feel less urgency to innovate and “move the needle,” he said.

Mayer was at the AlwaysOn conference for a panel discussion about innovation, where she talked about how Google develops and cultivates ideas. The core of its approach is forming small groups that cover all key areas of expertise, she said.

When Mayer joined Google, the company only had nine engineers. When it grew to 18 engineers, it had to decide whether to put more people on the three projects it was already working on or create more three-person groups. It stuck with small groups and formed more of them, she said.

Google’s groups typically include a technical leader, a product manager, designers and a technical team to carry out the project, Mayer said. But they are largely self-selecting, often forming around ideas that have come out of the 20 percent of a Google employee’s time that’s devoted to personal side projects. Those are the kinds of projects that can inspire a team to work on weekends, she said.

Development teams typically work in the same office so they can just turn around to bounce ideas off each other, Mayer said. With user interface designers included, a team can come up with a new feature, immediately work out how it might look to consumers and test the design from the beginning, she added.

Brainstorming goes hand in hand with prototyping at Google, according to Mayer. For example, when the company’s Gmail development team comes up with a new component or design tweak, the members typically try it out themselves for a day before deciding whether to pursue it.

Mayer defended Google’s focus on statistics about how consumers use its products, an approach that has been criticized as “data-driven” and stifling creativity.

“To be data-driven means to be user-focused,” Mayer said. All design starts with intuition, but the constraints imposed by real-world use statistics can give rise to greater creativity, she said.

“Sometimes that data proves you wrong, and when it does, it can cause you to question yourself and what you thought was the right thing to do. How do you respond to that?” Mayer said.

Google doesn’t initially worry about whether a technology can be monetized through direct payments or advertising, but looks at whether it’s popular.

“Anything that attracts a lot of users, that’s fundamental to their everyday life routine, is monetizable,” Mayer said.

Juan Carlos Perez in Miami contributed to this report.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The iPhone a weapon of mass destruction? I really don't think so...

iPhone Jailbreaking Could Crash Cellphone Towers, Apple Claims

By David Kravets July 28, 2009 | 4:18 pm | Categories: Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The nation’s cellphone networks could suffer “potentially catastrophic” cyberattacks by iPhone-wielding hackers at home and abroad if iPhone owners are permitted to legally jailbreak their shiny wireless devices — that’s what Apple claims.

A jailbroken iPhone is a weapon of mass disruption, Apple claims.
The Copyright Office is considering a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to legalize the widespread practice of jailbreaking, in which iPhone owners hack their devices to accept software that hasn’t been approved for distribution through the iPhone App Store. Apple made the claim in comments filed last week (.pdf) with the agency.

The company’s filing explained that jailbreaking could allow hackers to altering the iPhone’s BBP — the “baseband processor” software, which enables a connection to cell phone towers.

By tinkering with this code, “a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data,” Apple wrote the government. “Taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer — to potentially catastrophic result.

“The technological protection measures were designed into the iPhone precisely to prevent these kinds of pernicious activities, and if granted, the jailbreaking exemption would open the door to them,” Apple added.

Threat Level had no idea the iPhone was so dangerous. We’re gratified that Apple locked down this potential weapon of mass disruption before hackers could unleash cybarmageddon. This also explains why Apple rejected the official Google Voice App for the iPhone this week. We thought it was because Google Voice posed a threat to AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. Now we know it threatened national security.

At stake for Apple is the closed business model it has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. More than 30 million phones have been sold. Apple has told the Copyright Office that its locked-down platform is what made the iPhone’s success possible.

The EFF has asked the regulators for the DMCA exemption, (.pdf) which would allow consumers to run any app on the phone, including those not authorized by Apple.


Fred von Lohmann, the EFF attorney who made the request, said Apple’s latest claims are preposterous. During a May public hearing on the issue in Palo Alto, California, he told regulators there were as many as a million unauthorized, jailbroken phones.

In an interview Tuesday, he said he suspected those phones have not been used to destroy mobile phone towers. “As far as I know, nothing like that has ever happened,” he said.

He added that, if Apple’s argument was correct, the open-source Android phone from Google on T-Mobile networks would also be a menace to society. ”This kind of theoretical threat,” von Lohmann said, “is more FUD than truth.”

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 says “no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” But under the law, every three years the Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office must consider the public’s requests for exemptions to that anti-circumvention language.

Apple also claimed that jailbreaking would pave the way for hackers to alter the Exclusive Chip Identification number that identified the phone to the cell tower, which could enable calls to be made anonymously. Apple said “this would be desirable to drug dealers.”

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Palin - Does she have any shame?

Or will she just use the "I'm just a small town girl, I don't understand all these liberal laws" as her excuse for this one? Either way, she should just really, really disappear and stop trying to be a driving force in US politics. She's a joke...

From CNN:

Sarah Palin's attorney says the report is not final, and he is preparing more information for the investigator.

An investigator hired by the state personnel board recommended Palin -- who gives up her office on Sunday -- refuse money from the defense fund and ask the state to pay legal fees for ethics complaints that have been dismissed.

Palin attorney Thomas Van Flein said the report is not final, however, and he is preparing "supplemental information" for the investigator.

"There has been no Board finding of an ethics violation, and there is a detailed legal process to follow before there is a final resolution," Van Flein said in a statement released to reporters. He added, "Whatever you have seen was released in violation of law."

In a posting on her Twitter page, Palin said, "new info was just requested even; no final report."

Palin was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008. In announcing her resignation earlier this month, she cited the cost of battling ethics complaints filed by critics as one of the reasons she is quitting about two-thirds of the way through her four-year term.

Most complaints have been dismissed, though one led to her paying back taxes on state per diem funds, and she agreed to repay about $8,100 in travel expenses for her children in another case.

Palin supporter Kristan Cole formed the Alaska Fund Trust in April to pay legal bills Van Flein said topped $500,000. Its Web site features a photograph of Palin and her husband, Todd, and calls itself "the official legal fund created to defend the integrity of the Alaska governor's office from an onslaught of political attacks."

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Cole said the fund "was thoroughly vetted by numerous attorneys from Alaska to the East Coast." According to a copy of the preliminary report obtained by CNN, Personnel Board investigator Thomas Daniel wrote that Cole told him Palin approved the use of her photo and the "official" designation.

"In light of the evidence that the governor expressly authorized the creation of the trust and the fact the trust Web site quite openly uses the governor's position to solicit donations, there is probably cause to believe that Gov. Palin used, or attempted to use, her official position for personal gain," Daniel wrote.

Daniel wrote that it would be "particularly appropriate" for the state to pay legal fees for a public official when an ethics complaint is dismissed -- but he said the state Ethics Act would have to be changed to do so.

"I can only apply the Ethics Act as currently written," he wrote. "And as currently written, it does not allow a state official to use her position to solicit funds to pay for a private attorney or any other personal expense."

The Alaska Fund Trust limits donations to $150 and bars state contractors or lobbyists from contributing. It has not yet reported contributions.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Is Google now evil?

Google’s Microsoft Moment
JUL 2009

I'm not sure Google's new Chrome OS announcement is that big a deal, or that the eventual product that gets released will actually have that much impact, but it's a useful milestone in marking Google's evolution towards becoming an older company with a distinctly different culture than they used to have.

This is, for lack of a better term, Google's 'Microsoft Moment'. This is the point when the difference between their internal conception of the company starts to diverge just a bit too far from the public perception of the company, and even starts to diverge from reality. At this inflection point, the reasons for doing new things at Google start to change.


Let me be clear: I don't think Google is 'turning evil'. Hell, I've caught a lot of flack for the fact that basically I don't think Microsoft was evil. But there are some notable trends going on across Google today that could cause the company to compromise its stated values and that will certainly cause people to think Google is being evil, if not corrected. I'll try to outline a few key cultural indicators from around Google.

Designing for corporate synergy, not for users
Google's recent development work on applications for mobile devices has often been delivered exclusively as applications for their own Android platform instead of as iPhone applications, despite the fact that iPhones are roughly forty times more popular in the marketplace. iPhones are also much more popular outside of the United States than Android, further limiting the actual audience served by these applications. Now, it's obviously good company policy to make sure to support Google's own platforms, and Google does an admirable job of using generic open web technologies where possible to avoid having to choose between platforms at all. But choosing to leave the majority of users in a given market unaddressed because they are on a platform that is not part of your corporate goals is short-sighted and leaves a lingering sense of mistrust.

If you look at Microsoft ten years ago, or even as recently as five years ago, they had a tendency to say 'Well, we've got a version that works on Windows Mobile.' or 'This works on Internet Explorer' and feel that they'd done their job for addressing mobile or the web. Or Windows Media Player would connect to XBox but not to any other systems for sharing media. They were putting their corporate agenda ahead of what the marketplace had chosen as its preferred platforms. But after all these years, Microsoft's internal teams have finally started to develop their web or mobile versions of products to work on competitor's browsers and competitor's mobile platforms, recognizing that they have to go where the users are, instead of favoring only the platforms created by their corporate siblings. Google appears to be headed the other way.

Forgetting what the real world uses, and favoring what's convenient for your own business goals is a quick way to have customers think you don't care, and to indicate to partners or developers that pleasing Google is more important than pleasing customers.

Multiple competing product lines: Chrome OS and Android
This is one of the simplest and most obvious examples, after this week's announcements: Google is now offering not one, but two mobile operating systems. While they undoubtedly share code, I can't help but think back to ten years ago, when Microsoft was vehemently protesting about how much code was shared between the Windows NT/Windows 2000 operating systems and the Windows 95/98/ME operating systems. If I make a screen two inches smaller, should I use Android instead of Chrome OS? If the keyboard works with my fingers instead of my thumbs, I should use Chrome OS and not Android? I know Google is convinced its employees are smarter than everyone else in the world, but this is a product management problem, not a computer science problem.

Changing methods of communication
Within Google, I'm sure the perception is that their public-facing communications are still very 'Googley'. Now, Google does an excellent job of maintaining and using an enormous number of official corporate blogs in dozens of languages for a rapidly-blossoming number of products and initiatives. But despite my admiration for that effort, and their commendable willingness to forgo the usual boring press releases, the way that the company communicates with the public has fundamentally changed, and not necessarily in a more human direction.

In lieu of blog posts or simple word-of-mouth, as helped popularize the Google search engine itself ten years ago, efforts like Chrome are being accompanied by television ads, complete with all of the production values of primetime TV. Instead of launching a new developer initiative by promoting an SDK on their blog, Google is filling convention centers, Apple-style, with day-long developer presentations and an Oprahesque giveaway of free phones under every seat. Instead of white papers, there are highly-produced comic books being distributed to the press to explain the value of Chrome.

Now, I actually support these types of outreach. Getting outside of the insular tech bubble requires higher production values and clearer messaging. But when Google evokes Apple or Microsoft or Oracle in its style of communicating ideas, and when cell phone ads on TV say 'Powered by Google', an average consumer's conception of Google essentially shifts to seeing this company not as 'those guys who do the search engine' but instead as another consumer electronics company, like Samsung or Sony, but a little more hip.

This would be okay, except that I doubt Google's internal self-image as an organization has changed to reflect this new reality. 'We're not like some giant company with flashy TV ads — we're just a bunch of geeks in Mountain View!' And while that might be true for the vast number of engineers who define the company's internal culture, the external impression of Google being just another tech titan like Microsoft will gain footing, making the audience for Google's messages less tolerant of ambiguity and less forgiving of mistakes.

Only the last generation of companies can be evil, not us!
Though it's almost impossible to picture now, in the era when Microsoft was formed, IBM was synonymous with an almost Orwellian dominance of information technology. It's been a full 40 years since the antitrust actions against IBM, and IBM is seen as a bastion of open-sourceness now, but Microsoft's founding mindset clearly was shaped with the idea that 'those old guys from the last generation are evil, and we're the nimble, smart upstarts who are going to humanize this industry'. Sound familiar?

Though it's hard to believe, the FTC's first investigations against Microsoft began eighteen years ago. When Microsoft reached its apex in terms of public perception and industry respect, with the launch of Windows 95, the culture inside the company still largely saw themselves as upstarts against old, proprietary behemoths. Though Microsoft's headcount has increase fivefold since then, at the time of Windows 95's launch, they had about 17,000 employees.

Google's headcount just passed roughly 20,000 employees. And most of those staff members are firmly convinced that evil, or at least incompetence, is firmly the trait of the last generation's dominant tech player: Microsoft. The idea that developers or customers might start to bristle at their dominance is met with the (true, yet irrelevant) argument about how open their data and platforms are. Eric Schmidt said yesterday that Chrome OS is so open that Microsoft could make Internet Explorer for it, though of course the effort of porting the browser would be prohibitively complex. By neatly inverting the framing of the conversation ('We didn't bundle a browser with our OS, we bundled an OS with our browser!'), Google's avoided having to confront the parallels between this moment in their corporate culture and Microsoft's similar moment of ascendancy 15 years ago.

Still haven't developed Theory of Mind
And finally, as I outlined two years ago, Google still hasn't developed theory of mind. From my piece then:

This shortcoming exists at a deep cultural level within the organization, and it keeps manifesting itself in the decisions that the company makes about its products and services. The flaw is one that is perpetuated by insularity, and will only be remedied by becoming more open to outside ideas and more aware of how people outside the company think, work and live.
Worse, because most of the dedicated detractors of Google have been either competing companies or nutjobs, it's been hard for Googlers to take criticisms seriously. That makes it easy to have defensiveness or dismissal of criticisms become a default response.

Google has made commendable steps towards communicating with those outside of its sphere of influence in the tech world. But the messages will be incomplete or insufficient as long as Google doesn't truly internalize and accept that its public perception is about to change radically. The era of Google as a trusted, 'non-evil' startup whose actions are automatically assumed to be benevolent is over.

Years ago, GMail introduced context-sensitive ads and was unfairly pilloried for being anti-privacy or intrusive. And while there have been a few similar hand-slappings along the way, Google's never faced a widespread backlash against their influence or dominance from average consumers yet. Today, protestations of 'but it's open source!' are being used to paper over real concerns about data ownership, and the truth is that open code doesn't necessarily imply that average users are in control.

And ultimately, once a tech company becomes dominant in its space, it's susceptible to a kind of reverse Hanlon's razor: Anything caused by stupidity or carelessness will instead be attributed to malice. Similar to the Law of Fail ('Once a web community has decided to dislike an idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.'), Google is entering the moment where it has to be over-careful not to offend, and extremely attentive to whether they are treading lightly.

Is Google evil? It doesn't matter. They've reached the point of corporate ambition and changing corporate culture that means they're going to be perceived as if they are. Whether they're able to truly internalize that lesson, accept it, and act accordingly will determine if they're able to extend their dominance in the years to come.

(Illustration courtesy of Federico Fieni.)


(Via Daring Fireball.)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Do residents get free access to Nerdapalooza 2009?

In case you’ve managed to avoid its constant mentions in our HipTrax podcasts over the previous months, Nerdapalooza is set to go down this very weekend. Yes, Nerdapalooza, the annual music and culture festival that attracts geeks of all stripes from the world over is scant days away. Of course, for every one of you who is, even now, pocketing his ticket and nodding slyly, there are surely countless others scratching their heads in dismay.

To those of you not in the know, I present the following rundown of the festival’s finer points. Consider it your cheat sheet for all things Nerdapalooza. There may well be a test later.

The Festival is in Its Third Year: Nerdapalooza was conceived in Arcata, CA by John ‘Hex Warrior’ Carter in early 2007, but the first official festival, Nerdapalooza SE 2007, took place in Gainesville, FL in August of that year.

But in Its Fifth Iteration: Between Nerdapalooza SE 2007 (Gainesville), Nerdapalooza Beta (Arcata), Nerdapalooza UK (Bradford) and Nerdapalooza SE 2008 (Orlando), this year marks the festival’s fifth outing.

It’s in Orlando Again: Nerdapalooza is once again occurring in Orlando, FL. This year’s venue, the Holiday Inn Express Convention Center on International Drive, affords easy access to dining, shopping and the Mouse.

It’s For a Good Cause: Nerdapalooza is, at its core, a charity event benefiting Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play. Sure, it looks like nothing more than a gaggle of geeks reveling in their own esoteric passions, but the proceeds of every purchase, from tickets to event-themed merch, goes to put toys, games and books in the hands of hospitalized children worldwide.

It’s the Largest Event of its Kind: Lots of festivals and conventions feature nerdy music, but Nerdapalooza is the only event firmly centered on the concert-going experience. You can hear Wizard Rock, chiptunes, nerdcore hip-hop and filk-rock all on one stage.

The Crowd is Kid-friendly, the Music Not so Much: Nerdapalooza is a safe and controlled environment in which nerds of all ages game, reminisce and (most importantly) listen to music. Many of the acts on the roster, however, feature adult themes and language in their music. Of course, it’s also important to note that just as many of the yearly participants offer a more family-friendly brand of musical entertainment. To put it another way, for every Grammar Club there is a Dual Core. If you’re planning on bringing along your geeklings, be sure you do a little pre-show listening to determine which artists you feel offer appropriate lyrical fare; then consult the performance schedule to plan accordingly.

There are Ample Diversions: If you’re looking for something to do between sets (or if you just need a break from all the rocking), this year’s festival features its own ‘Gaming Pavilion.’ Boasting spectacle-driven options from Dance Dance Revolution to Marvel vs. Capcom 2, even this aspect of the event is likely to draw a crowd.

It’s Reasonably-Priced: Tickets for both days of the event have recently been reduced to $20. Yes, you can dork out for an entire weekend for a mere twenty bones. If you’re only in town for a single day of the event (Saturday, July 11 or Sunday, July 12), daily tickets are $15.

You Can Meet the Talent: If you’re a fan of, say, Uncle Monsterface, Nerdapalooza is an excellent opportunity to not only catch them on stage, but to actually interact with such artists in the proverbial trenches. In fact, as most performers spend the bulk of their time in the audience supporting the other participants, you’d have a hard time not meeting the talent.

Oh Yeah; The Headliners!: Headlining the events first night is the combined geeky hip-hop might of MC Frontalot and MC Lars. Likewise, day two will conclude with the Mega Man rock of The Protomen and the incomparable mc chris. But don’t forget that these acts represent only a fraction of the musical entertainment on tap for Nerdapalooza 2009. With live performances from noon to midnight both days, the event’s headliners may be the main course, but don’t discount the other dozen or so daily acts on the table!


(Via Wired News.)

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Fake Steve on Chrome OS

Fake Steve on Chrome OS:

"So everyone is worked up about this new browser operating system from Google. Drudge apparently has gone off his meds again and calls it a 'death blow' to the Borg. No spinning red light, but still, pretty over the top. I guess it's supposedly going to destroy us too -- like we're some kind of collateral damage. Man oh man. Where to begin?

First of all, nobody seems to appreciate how goddamn hard it is to make an operating system. You don't just wake up one day and fall out of bed and make one. Not even the smarty pants kiddies at Google can do that. These things take years. Decades, even. Ours started out 20 years ago, at NeXT. You could say it goes back to 1977, with the BSD guys. Heck, you could even say it goes back to 1969 with Dennis Thompson and Lionel Ritchie. Even Windows is -- what? Twenty years old? Something like that. For that matter, look at Linux. Correct me if I'm wrong -- and I'm sure you fucking freetards will find something to correct -- but I think Linus Tordalv started working on Linux back in 1991 when he was a high school student in his native Denmark. That's nearly twenty years ago, and the shit still doesn't run right. Point is, whatever Google might release in the second half of next year, it will just be a starting point. It won't come close to what we've got.

Point two: Who in their right mind thinks the world needs yet another desktop operating system? The hacks who are foaming at the mouth about this big threat to Microsoft are the very same halfwits who a couple years back were declaring that the desktop OS was dead, Windows Vista would be the last one ever made, Apple shouldn't bother making any more versions of OS X, blah blah. Now they're saying nope, the world does need more operating systems, especially ones like this that are designed to work extra super specially well on computers that are hooked up to the Internet. Whatever that means.

Point three: They're aiming this OS (or as we call it, 'POS') at netbooks, at least at first, and in case you hadn't noticed, the netbook market is fucking tiny and will remain so forever. According to IDC, there were 11 million netbooks sold last year, and by 2013 that figure will hit 39 million. The market for PCs and laptops will be 10 times that size -- literally -- at 400 million units. Smartphones will be over 300 million units. So, um, you guys at Google want to have a dog fight with Microsoft to get a few points of that market? Go have fun. Seriously. Knock yourself out. Frankly, if the entire netbook market caught fire, I wouldn't piss on it to put it out. But that's just me.

Point four: You also may not have noticed, but nobody uses Chrome. I mean think about it. Do you know anyone who uses Chrome? Really? And you know why nobody uses Chrome? Because Chrome is shit. Just utter, utter shit. I mean they've got all these big brains at Google and you'd think they could make a decent fucking browser. Jesus, the freetards at Mozilla can do it. But not Google. Nope. They gave it their big best effort and what did they come up with? Chrome. It's a joke. I mean, literally, we laugh about it, except when Eric is around. But as soon as he leaves the room we all go 'Chrome!' and just burst out laughing. Our guys on the Safari team even had special toilet paper made up with a Chrome logo on every sheet. That's how bad it is. Trying to make an OS out of Chrome is like saying you're going to turn a Pontiac Aztek into a stretch limousine. I suppose it could be done, but why?

Point five: What the fuck is going on inside Google? How much more out of control and undisciplined can this place get? How many new goddamn operating systems are they going to create? They've already got Android, and nobody wants it. Now they're going to make yet another operating system, this time out of a browser that nobody wants. What's next? A Gmail-based operating system? A YouTube-based operating system? Honestly, Google, is there anyone in charge over there? Is there anyone who knows how to criticize anything in that fucked up little Montessori preschool of yours? I mean I guess it's nice that you all get to spend 20 percent of your time dreaming up useless shit, and I guess you have to use the Montessori method and tell everyone that whatever little piece of shit they've created is just so wonderful and perfect and beautiful -- but really, as I've told Eric before, that doesn't mean you have to release everything these bozos dream up. There's a word for this. It's called 'no.' Have you heard of it? I mean, fine, let them fuck around with stuff. Engineers like to tinker. So let them tinker. Then when they bring you whatever it is they've made, first you say you're too busy to meet with them. Then you say you've changed your mind and you will meet with them after all. Then you wait until they're all in the conference room with everything set up, and you send Katie down to tell them that you're going to be a little bit late. You make them wait an hour. Then two hours. Then, at six in the afternoon, you send Katie down to tell them that you've changed your mind again and now you can't make it. Then, finally, you set up another appointment and this time you do meet with them -- but before they can even speak you just look at whatever it is they've made and you say, I'm sorry, that's a piece of shit, and you walk out. Trust me, engineers love this. They're all masochists. That's why they became engineers in the first place.

Point six: It's going to be free. So what's the point? I mean I understand the idea of a loss leader. We don't charge for iTunes. You'll notice, however, that we do charge money for music and hardware. But how does this concept apply to Chrome OS? Somehow if you put out a new operating system you'll get more people using the Internet and then you'll be able to sell more of those shitty little ads? Forgive me if I'm missing something here, but I don't see how a free OS or a free browser helps Google. To put it another way, have you ever met anyone who said they'd really like to try out that Interwebs thing, but they're just put off by the low-quality operating systems and browsers that are available at this time, so they're sitting it out for now? Or like maybe they're on the Internet now but they would just be soooo inclined to spend soooo much more time on the Web, and they'd be soooo much more likely to actually click on the ads, if the OS and browser made it somehow less onerous to, um, type in a URL and go to a page? Nah, the only point in Google giving away a free browser and OS is somehow to fuck up Microsoft. (And/or to do some sneaky shit that helps Google screw users a little bit more efficiently. See Point 8 below.) But on the anti-Microsoft angle, take it from someone who has spent the past 10 years selling a superior operating system and getting only 4 percent market share -- as obsessions go, battling the Borg is waaay overrated. If you ask me, Google is getting a little nutty about the Borg and it's starting to show. They're starting to look like the new Scott McNealy. Remember him? Ran a company called Sun, which had a great little business going until McNealy became obsessed with Gates and started doing things like paying millions of dollars to buy StarOffice so he could get into that booming free software business.

Point seven: The only people who are pushing for this are the hardware OEMs and ODMs and they're only doing it so they can get a bargaining chip on the Borg. They don't want to use Chrome, or Android, or Linux. They want Windows. They just don't want to pay for it. Whatever Microsoft wants to charge for Windows 7, the hardware guys want to pay less. Hang the threat of yet another OS over Ballmer's shiny head and maybe he'll bring down his prices. That, anyway, is the thinking. Happened already in netbooks when they first came out with Linux on the Anus EEEEEPC -- that rang some bells up in Redmond, believe me. So maybe there is some benefit to Google in forcing Microsoft to lower its prices. Maybe by doing that they choke off a little bit of Redmond's oxygen supply, and that makes it a little harder for Microsoft to encroach on Google's search advertising business. Google is pissed about Bing, and the Yahoo stuff. So they splatter back some machine-gun fire at Microsoft's cash cow, the OS business. Fair enough. As DeNiro said, They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue. That's the Chicago way. But if that's your big goal in life, the chance to maybe put a stick in Microsoft's spokes -- well, we've come a long way from the days of Sergey and Larry with stars in their eyes, wanting to make the world a better place. If that's really what gets these guys up in the morning, well, friends, I will pray for your soul. Here at Apple we have better things to do. Like creating new devices that nobody else has ever created before, and restoring a sense of childlike wonder to people's lives. Or inventing whole new multi-billion-dollar markets that didn't exist before. You'd rather just ape the Borg. Well, whatever. Godspeed to you, Google.

Point eight: People are starting to realize that Google is not their friend, and that all this 'free stuff' from Google is not about a) philanthropy, or b) keeping Microsoft honest, but really about c) helping Google gain even more control over what you do on the Internet. See a nice piece by John Paczkowski here for an example. You know how we call IBM the Original Borg, or OB? Google is the NB. Really, Google, in case you hadn't noticed, a lot of people are kind of not really liking you guys right now. Even the freetards are starting to turn on you.

So, to reiterate, everything's fine, and there's nothing to worry about. It's nice that Google wants to make more operating systems, and we at Apple don't feel threatened by this, or betrayed by our own board member Eric Schmidt, just as we didn't feel betrayed or threatened by the Android smartphone platform. We welcome competition and think it's just great that Google wants to contribute to advancing the state of the art of personal computing. As Sarah Palin would say, the engineers at Google are ambitionistic about wanting to progress the world, and gosh, ya know what? That's darn good for everyone.

Or, as I just told Eric on the phone a few moments ago: Dear friend, I realize you think I'm weak right now, and maybe a little bit vulnerable, and you may also still be a little bit peeved because even though you're on the board at Apple I didn't tell you about the surgery I was having and instead led you to believe that I had moved to Tennessee because I needed to negotiate some country-western deals for iTunes. Okay. Fair enough. And I know you think you got a lifetime free pass on fucking me over after you and Al Gore bailed me out of that jam with the SEC investigation of the options backdating a couple years back. But, dear friend, enough is enough. You really need to think about what you're doing and who it hurts. Seriously. I mean it. Do some thinking. Meanwhile, for the time being, I've instructed Apple security to revoke your pass at Infinite Loop, and I would really, really, really appreciate it if you would just not call me or come around here anymore. Because if you do, well, I'm just so upset about all this that I might just -- well, honestly, Eric, I'm afraid I couldn't be responsible for what I might do. I will hurt you, Eric. I'm sorry, but I will. Are you feeling me? Because that's how it is. Seriously, bitch. It's over between us. Namaste."

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Spanish Police Foil Remote-Controlled Zeppelin Jailbreak

Sometimes movie plots actually happen:

...three people have been arrested after police discovered their plan to free a drug trafficker from an island prison using a 13-foot airship carrying night goggles, climbing gear and camouflage paint.


The arrested men had setup an elaborate surveillance operation of the prison that involved a camouflaged tent, powerful binoculars, telephoto lenses, and motion detection sensors. But authorities caught wind of the plan when they intercepted the inflatable zeppelin as it arrived from the Italian town of Bergamo.

(Via Schneier on Security.)

Nine Must-Have Features We Want to See in a Google OS

What's inside Google's just-announced Chrome Operating System? How does it work, exactly? Nobody outside Google knows. We can, however, build a dream operating system from the ground up, and that's what we're doing with some help from the hive mind.

We asked on Twitter what features users wanted to see in Google's Linux-based, web-focused operating system, due to be released in code later this year, then on sponsored netbooks in the second half of 2010. We've compiled ten must-have features that we'd like to see from Google's upcoming operating system here.

Speed, Speed, Speed

twitashu says,

'Well I'll be more than happy with a 10 sec. boot time. Also, Google should drive software companies to consider Linux seriously.'

TomRittervg says,

'if they want me to care, it has to make me go 'holy crap, THIS IS FAST'; just like did when I started using chrome'

There are two schools of thought on the boot-up speed wars—one being that, if you're going to work all day on a computer, a few more seconds at start-up don't really matter. The other idea, though, is exactly what Google's aiming at: the netbook as something you fire up, quickly jump on the net with, then suspend or shut down when you're done or moving again. If Google can recreate the relative speed of Chrome as a browser to Chrome as an operating system, it's definitely going to open more eyes.

Of course, it's not just about boot-up speeds. Regardless of how quickly an operating system boots up, what matters the majority of the time is how fast it works when you're actually using it. Google will probably be aiming for the sweet spot between kitchen sink functionality and fast, lightweight operation. We'd guess that the first few releases will be fairly barebones to keep things snappy.

Seamless Syncing of Your Browser and Desktop

Bittermormon9 says,

Browser with syncable bookmarks. Thats A+ #1!!

It is odd, isn't it? Despite the plethora of syncing services, there is still no viable bookmark synchronization service for any browser you want, whether on your phone or across desktops. Fixing this would go a long way toward demonstrating Google's commitment to openness—even in an OS named after their own browser.

We'd go even further and suggest syncing all over the place. For example, I want instant, no-brain-needed synchronization of files and cloud data-whether through a 'G Drive' or Dropbox or my own server space-between my laptop, my browser access, and my Android phone (or, in my Happy Land fantasy on Lollipop Lane, any phone out there).

Integrated Quicksilver/Quick Search Box

Friend of Lifehacker and Quicksilver/QSB developer Nicholas Jitkoff is one of the folks at Google working on Chrome OS, and we've heard that he plans on integrating something Quicksilver-like into the OS, so that's at least something that Quicksilver, Launchy, and Ubiquity geeks like us can get excited about.

Keyboard Shortcuts and Other Power-User Considerations

Apart from Quicksilver dreams, crazy keyboard shortcuts, along with all the small productivity pieces that power users love from their OS of choice, may not make all the difference to just anyone, but if you want to win over the Lifehacker crowd, your OS better be plentiful with shortcuts.

Support for All Kinds of Hardware

mpwalker says,

'I'd love to be able to load Chrome OS on my eight year old laptop and see it speed along. any chance of that?'

The Linux kernel that Chrome OS will run on is notably adaptive and swift on older processors with less memory. That said, compatibility with peripheral hardware like video cards, Bluetooth devices, and, especially, wireless networking gear, is the reason most clear-eyed Linux fans can't quite say it's ready for mass appeal, so it'll be interesting to see how Google navigates this terrain. It'd be great if Google could churn out a lightweight OS that would work well with aging hardware as well as cutting-edge netbooks.

Further Blurs the Line Between Web and Desktop

dmandle says,

'cloud storage (seamless) separately launchable webapps IE Fluid on OS X, fast standby/resume, ability to export settings to liveCD'

Wow, that's a mouthful (tweetful?). Fluid/Prism-like apps seem like a given, based on what we've seen in Chrome's built-in 'application' powers, but it'd be nice to see web and desktop integration grow even stronger. Let me drag attachments into Gmail or access all of my apps whether I'm online or off. Last, we kind of think that live CD export is just a great idea.

An Eye for User Privacy

dpreacher says,

'must-have for chrome OS: no google snooping on me'

This will be the conversation that rises once the initial turbulence of 'Google Trying to Kill Microsoft?' subsides. There will be license agreements and privacy disclosures, sure, but those concerned that Google's holding too much of their personal data now have to contend with an operating system where 'most of the user experience takes place on the web.' Let's hope for controls, placed somewhere accessible, that let one control just how much data is saved, collected, and reported.

In a similar vein, total encryption of passwords and user data (in the case of loss or theft, a la BitLocker/FileVault) would be great. We're particularly concerned about saved password encryption for web pages and (Wi-Fi) networks, and presumably so is Google.

Support for Current Linux Applications

jussinen says,

As it's built, Linux apps should work. Having wine in to allow windows apps would be nice. Running mac apps be brilliant.

Linux apps can likely be made to work on Chrome OS, but many Linux apps work on just a choice distribution or two (these days, mostly Ubuntu and Fedora), then painstakingly ported to meet other distributions' library/system/kernel requirements. Google has experience tweaking WINE to the needs of their apps like Google Earth and Picasa, and could potentially make it more accessible for Windows porting. As for the last bit: Sure Mac compatibility would be 'brilliant,' but also very unlikely.

Enterprise Friendly

johnwohn says

'must have? for enterprise use, must run Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, etc in browser with no hitches. Oh, and Google Apps.'

A good question, and one we'd expect for any new platform. We'd assume that Google can't, or won't, rewrite their browser product to support proprietary protocols or handlers, but would hope that the increasing popularity of standards-compliant browsers will push enterprises down that road. It's not that sexy for general consumers, but it could make a huge difference in widespread adoption, especially if Google wants their OS to compete with Microsoft.

There's still plenty of room for discussion on the must-have features of a modern OS, so tell us what you'd like to see included, or stripped out, in the comments.

(Via Lifehacker.)