Talking to myself about foreign policy, US politics, technology, &c.

Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

12% Of Internet Users are Blithering Idiots

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Ever wonder why you get so much spam?

Apparently because one in six internet users actually buy things through that garbage that clogs your inbox.

Given that the marginal cost of an additional email is, oh, zero, there’s no wonder these awful vendors keep trying.

Oh, and it’s virtually all being sent via botnets created by the 90% of users who are also cretinous imbeciles who do not keep their machines patched. (Yes, I’m looking at you. Run your updates now. Or do the smart, easy, sexy thing and buy a MacBook.)


Monday, November 12th, 2007

So, as predicted, we aren’t going to remember Nov. 11th as the Day the Internet Stood Still.

Jihadist E-Bomb Fails to Explode

Unsurprisingly, combine two things that journalists don’t understand – Salafist insurrectionists and the magic tubes of the Internet – and you’ve got great press but bad facts.

Of all the things to worry about out there, massive cyber-warfare isn’t high on the list. Even, I would think, in a time of real war.

Fortunately this won’t overshadow future celebrations of the signing of the Mayflower Compact


Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Uncowed by David Horowitz’s fatuous IslamoFacismAwarenessWeek , Al Qaeda has called for an Internet jihad against its enemies for November 11th.

I’m dubious about this stuff. Massive denial-of-service attacks, even if they occur, ain’t gonna do much. If a huge flow of data from the Middle East was swamping American servers, they’d simply cut off the link. A nuisance, but not a big one. Remember, DARPA was thinking about nuclear war when they designed the Internet.

The real malevolent force trying to destroy our American Internet-surfin’ way of life? the sinister backhoe.

Anyway, mark your calendars. If the Internet shuts down, go for a walk. It’ll be back in a minute.

iPhone II: A Very Smart Dumb Terminal

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Back from Costa Rica, only slightly sunburned. So here’s the much delayed iPhone Part Two.

Great wailing and gnashing of teeth was heard shortly after the iPhone’s marketing launch about one thing (other than waiting until June for the product): the fact that programs could not be installed on it. That is, you can’t go buy a copy of Space Quest and install it on the iPhone.

Apart from the fact that it is hard to figure out how to insert a CD through the dock connector, Steve doesn’t want dumb rubes to download stupid software that will cause their iPhone to crash. Which makes sense; having your phone bluescreen would be a pain indeed.

So what is one who needs solitaire to do?



Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Can’t call myself an Apple Fanatic without some post on the iPhone today.

I do actually believe it will prove revolutionary in the same fashion the iPod has. Remember, the iPod was not the first music player you could carry with you. Apparently the iPod team pulled the first player together out of mostly off-the-shelf parts, and it was ridiculously overpriced compared to its rivals. Many techies poo-pooed it, saying it was expensive and redundant.

Well, look where we are today. iPods still dominate the market. It wasn’t the hardware, though it was cute and elegant and stylish: it was the software. Specifically, it was the software on the device + the software on the computer that made it pass the can-granny-use-it test. Style, fun, performance, a massive marketing budget… these things drove the iPod to their 80% market share.

Cost, in the end, wasn’t much of a concern. Indeed, the high cost helped the appeal of the iPod as a status symbol; how many people are mugged over a CD player?

All these pieces are in play for the iPhone. The fact that it is ridiculously expensive compared to our free phones we get normally will only help manage demand over the short term – as production ramps up – and perhaps sustain it over the longer term. A couple years ago a RAZR was super sexy; now it’s free, and therefore no longer cool.

More on the tech behind the iPhone and its implications tomorrow.

Modern Civilization: Kinda Dangerous

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Enrico Fermi, the Nobel-prize winning physicist, was once dining with friends and discussing the vast number of worlds in the universe when he allegedly said “Where is everybody?” His point was that it is perhaps surprising that we on this particular pinprick of rock orbiting a minor star in the distant exurbs of one galaxy have yet to find any other intelligent life out there.

The sheer numbers involved suggest we should have by now.

I had an interesting conversation with one of my friends the other day where I waxed a bit pessimistic about the impact on technological innovation on our lives. The conversation and the answer to Fermi’s question are a bit abstract and rambling, so I’ll continue under the jump.


*Now* we know what the Chinese military buildup was for.

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

A PigeonBert would have been so impressed. Fresh off of their crunching up a satellite, those sinister Sino-scientists have come up with a newer flighted peril.

Actually, it’s not such a new threat, as anyone who has owned a freshly-washed car could tell you. Somehow (for some reason) these scientists have implanted electrodes in the brains of pigeons, enabling Sinister Forces to control their flight by remote control.

Taking the standard multiply-by-100 rule of imagining what the technology will be like in 10 years, it’s a bit creepy. Careful- next time that might be a cyborg-pigeon going for your roasted nuts.

Greetings to our Robot Overlords

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Those sciencey folks are a bit to clever for our own good. Some boffins at USC (go Trojans!) created a modular robot that has the ability to come together and build itself into various forms, from a simple inchworm to a two-legged walker. Most impressive was a group of 8 or so turning themselves into a sentient wheel and speeding along.

Make ‘em 10 times smaller, equip them all with wireless networking and parallel processing abilities, throw in some specialized modules with cameras, sensors, speakers, guns… with specialization would come fascinating possibilities.

Broken in one place? No problem. Discard the malfunctioning piece and reassemble.

The thing it could come to resemble, of course, is a natural organism with a multitude of different parts that combine to create something greater as a whole.

Anyway, check out the videos. They explain it far better than I could.

Two of them linking up.

Graceful this guy ain’t, but it’s impressive.

Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’…

And “swimming” across the floor.

Technorati: Google for Blogs. Bloogle?

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Anyone out there working on building a blog, here’s a tip for you.

Following the advice in this DailyKos diary on running a blog, I’ve created a Technorati account and profile. Putting a post with a link out there proved to them that I own this, so I’m edumakating you and confirming my account at the same time.

Technorati, for people who haven’t played with it, is a very cool system for hunting through the haystack of blogs out there today. Useful.

Brave New World of Web 2.0

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

A beautiful history of the Internet and its future in 4 minutes.

In this gem of a piece, the author – an anthro prof from Kansas State University – demonstrates how far the Internet has come and lets you mull over some of the implications. Impossible to describe in words – which is probably part of the point of Web 2.0.

Check it out.

I found it through the Foreign Policy blog. (which is excellent.)

The Machine is letting us know that it exists. And now I’m perpetuating it. Really thought-provoking stuff.

Pacts to Avoid Pacts with the Devil

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Google’s famous motto is “don’t be evil.” So it’s hard to square that with the fact that they do a lot of stuff that is, er, evil.

It’s that stupid competitive market thing. For a lot of products and services, you’re selling to governments – often ones that want to prevent problematic info from getting to their subjects. You know, dangerous information about crazy things like “elections” or “due process.”

Since even Google isn’t a monopoly provider for search products, that means that any company willing cut this little faustian bargain can make a heck of a lot of money.

How to get around it? Perhaps the suppliers can create a united front with a code of ethics. Shockingly, other than Google the leader in this project is Microsoft, a company that I had always seen as practically in the brimstone business.

The whole thing begs the question of whether corporate social responsibility is a contradiction in terms, but it’s a start.

Surveillance Society, cont.

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

The Washington Post has a wonderful article on a day in the life of a very typical urban middle-class person – from the standpoint of tracking technology.

Information is power, and for business this will mean reams of data that will make many enterprises boatloads of money. Information gains in value as it is combined; expect that all of these information-gathering groups will have every incentive to combine forces, share information, and build up a profile that knows more about you than your guardian angel does.

So what? I’m not sure. 8 years ago, the head of Sun Microsystems famously said “You have zero privacy. Get over it.” It’s far more true today. Are we moving to an entirely public life?

Certainly people know more about each other now than they ever did; the fact that I keep a blog means that I am putting myself out there for public consumption (not that people are exactly devouring my product. Too many trans fats?) in a way that only a celebrity or media figure could have done in the past. On MySpace shockingly intimate personal details are part of what’s expected.

The question is whether those making decisions about us will like what they see. In my (former) role as editor of the Fletcher Ledger I frequently got requests from alumni to remove what they felt were compromising articles or pictures. Employers google us now before they hire, and the increasing incorporation of things into the Internet means there’s much more of us to find.

Perhaps this will eventually mean a realization that we’re all equally complicated, flawed people. Certainly in many ways I feel society is moving towards a live-and-let-live mentality, which is a huge step forward. Judge me on my work, not my personal life.

But the personal is now public. Maybe we’re disarming each other by the fact we all are ending up with this information on the web. If we all have WMDs – Wackiness Made for Display – up there, perhaps MAD logic will kick in, and we’ll all be a bit less willing to judge lest we be judged. By that logic, perhaps RFID tracking isn’t the mark of the beast – maybe it’ll move us all closer to the golden rule.

I meant I should post every day. Or: I hate nationalists

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

For any of our dear readers who happened to see this blog between 10 and 12 today, you might have found a slightly atypical post. It ran like this:

Under the banner “We are so sorry that our dear friend Saddam was killed in Iraq”:

Yes, I love you my dear sister Becca and my mum Margo but I love Saddam, too.

Thats the end of story, i am so sad…

(*&^ off Bush, you killed Saddam! I hate you! | Rest in Peace my Dear Saddam

You can imagine my surprise when I found it.

Listen well, children: keep your software up to date.

Here’s what happened.

A bit before “my” elegy for the late unlamented dictator posted, someone in Turkey did a search on google for blogs that had to do with Armenia and were running on WordPress (the fine software behind this fine blog).

There’s a bit of enmity between the two, seeing as how Turkey clearly was guilty of acts of genocide against the Armenians back in the Young Turk era at the end of the Ottoman Empire. For some reason they don’t like having this fact brought to their attention.

From that point, they checked to see if the software was exploitable (mine was, since I was a release behind.)

They broke in – not sure of the precise mechanism yet – and changed all the passwords, then reset the email addresses so passwords couldn’t be retrieved.

Then they posted the paeon to Saddam. Presumably to make me look bad, since even the most troglodyte Turkish nationalist probably isn’t a big fan of that dictator.

Fortunately I was able to find it and fix it quickly.

The post that triggered this takedown:
My sister Becca (who yes, I do love) was in Armenia building houses for poor people with a group of religious Habitat for Humanity people. For goodness sake, who’s opposed to that? It’s not like the cement was made from the ground-up bones of Ataturk or something. There’s one post on this site, but most of them are on blogspot – and very good. Great pictures too.

The person clearly is a bit of a geek, being a Linux user, but not enough so that he knew how to cover his tracks.

I think I’m going to post a lot more favorable stuff about Armenia in the future. The stupid thing is that I love Turkey; I spent 5 glorious days there this last summer; you can check out some pictures.

I suggest you find out more information on the Armenian genocide.

It makes me wonder why I’m interested in foreign policy, when the world is full of hateful petty nationalists like this particular excrescence.

On the positive side: someone’s reading my blog.

Surprise! You’re on Candid Camera!

Saturday, January 6th, 2007

PanopticonJust finished Michel Foucault‘s great book Discipline and Punish. The book narrates the history of punishment from gettin’ medieval on people’s asses to modern day imprisonment where even the death penalty itself is on the wane. (Can’t understand why anyone would think getting rid of that would be good idea after watching the bizarro Hussein execution.)

Anyway, one of the core concepts he describes is the Panopticon, a perfect Stateville Pen where all the inmates are locked up in a ring of cells under constant observation from a central tower.

The key is that the jailbirds cannot see into the tower. This means they may or may not be under observation at all times. Theoretically, you could leave the central tower unstaffed much of the time, as long as you caught any offenses from the prisoners often enough that they felt they were being constantly monitored.

“Panopticonism” is a term for this on a more general level. Or surveillance society, if you prefer. This was a core premise of 1984: the TVs could watch you, too. Maybe no one was. But you never knew, so you generally behaved as if they were.

Anyway, we’ve take a nice step towards this brave new world. In England (airstrip one?) they have been particularly aggressive with the use of surveillance cameras. Well, now Big Brother can talk back, too.

CCTV cams in UK, now with loudspeakers . From Engadget

Take the spy cams, and add the ability for people monitoring to talk back. Suddenly everyone realizes they actually are being watched sometimes.

Is this good? Bad? I don’t know. Potential implications are scary. Like so much of this stuff, it depends on the goodwill of the government sitting on the other side of the TV screens.

God help any citizens of a new, fully technologically empowered Stalin or Hitler. Individual human control would be possible on a level unimaginable to the totalitarian states of the early 20th century.

I Feel Great – and now I’m counted.

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

Truly fascinating site someone pointed to out to me recently – We Feel Fine. Their automatons scan the Internet for blog posts that have the sentence “I feel…” and then log the feeling and everything they know about the individual.

Astonishing type of social voyeurism and a way to let the fun of serendipity guide you to new things to read. An alternate indexing system, too. Google doesn’t have a thing on this.

Plus it’s just a purty interface.

But the most interesting phenomenon you can tease out of We Feel Fine is that the Internet is aggregating huge amounts of personal information. In text form. Which can be searched. And counted. And we can draw from the relative anonymity of these personal observations aggregate data that provides really interesting insights on human nature.

Watch this space- there’s gonna be types of sociological, psychological and anthropological research that can take place in this that we can’t even imagine today. Particularly as more and more of our ephemeral private conversations become public property.

NoteBook: Good note taking software for the Mac

Monday, October 16th, 2006

I’m on a bit of a caffeine-fueled manic high right now, so why not put out another post.

Screen ShotThere’s a little program called NoteBook by Circus Ponies Software that I use for all my in-class notes. (On my Mac. Windows people can ignore the rest of this post until they see the light and make the jump.)

NoteBook is very slick; it is a fast and easy way to do outline-style note taking. The fact that you can easily jump back and forth between different classes and days makes it easy to find the info from just the class you’re looking for. It’s pretty cheap – $30 for students – and worth it.

Christopher Walken Dances us Up the Road

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

Since I’m an avid buyer from the iCrack, er, iTunes music store (we’ll have to do something about that name) I had to rush out and buy my very first music video today. Yes, it’s true – I have an iPod Shuffle, which makes the videos very hard to make out. But you can watch them on your computer, too, at full screen size.

So I made my purchase today: Fatboy Slim‘s brilliant video for Weapon of Choice. Starring my favorite triple threat and presidential candidate it’s just hilarious. And now I own it for ever and ever for $1.99

The point, though: Apple is building an infrastructure that completely does an end run around all the media middlemen. No distribution network, no advertisers, no television network, no cable television, no actual televisions, no rabbit ears. Incredibly simple, incredibly elegant, incredibly Apple.

Of course, if Apple can do it, others can too. Not as well, but they can. And some of them will be free. And in the end, anyone will be able to create content and get it to anyone else, anywhere. No wonder the recording industry and movie industry are worried- what do we need them for, anyway?

Oh, by-the-by, Apple also happens to bundle with its computers a complete media creation suite. How much you wanna bet they’ve already got the capibility to take submissions from Joe Public upload and then sell through their infrastructure?

Glorious future, that; anyone can create whatever crap they want, and then we can sort out what’s good and what’s not. Rather than having RIAA simply mass produce it all and force-feed it to us.

I heart The Future

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

Neat article at Wired today on a dish manufacturing device- basically it will form your basic kitchen needs (cups, bowls, plates, and such) on demand, then squish and reform them as needed.

Right now it doesn’t actually wash them yet. Details, details. Anyway, sounds like a pretty creative MIT lab (the Counter Intelligence group – har har har) doing interesting things

The bigger picture is that I expect in the next 10 years we’ll actually be getting to some of our long-awaited Jetsons future. Pervasive wireless network access and enormous advances in LCD and other display technologies means that eventually we’ll be able to slap an interactive visual interface on anything that’ll hold still long enough to attach one.

When I am walking from class, I listen to my iPod. When I get home, I plug it in to my stereo and continue from the same point. But that’s mechanical. I imagine the same process, across data types, letting people seamlessly use information where and when they want to. Or when other people want us to consume it.

Terrifying for the advertising potential, but what else does it mean? Hard to say, but I have a feeling that those that feel we are too connected now ain’t seen nothing yet.

A great (if apocalyptic) day for Mac zealots…

Wednesday, June 8th, 2005

I am a rabid Mac fan. I’ve used windows plenty (still compulsively scrubbing to get the stains off – What, will these hands ne’er be clean?) I run UNIX/Linux servers for a living. At the end of the day, a computer is a tool, and my mac laptop does more to let me accomplish what I want than anything I’ve ever worked with. Plus, as a raving paranoiac, I like the fact that I can keep it locked down enough that most people would have a hard time doing anything with it. And the hardware and OS are simply beautiful, and aesthetics matter.

So it was a weird day in Macland when Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs walked on stage to announce that we’d be sitting with Intel Inside on our shiny new ‘puters starting a year from now.

You have to understand the Evil Forces for Mac owners were initially Intel, Windows, and IBM. Years ago we became buddy-buddy with IBM. Now we’ll be using Intel chips. What’s next, Mac OS X Longhorn and a switch to holstein prints?

But after the plagues of locusts headed back out of town and I finished up mopping the rivers of blood, a big “cool” is my considered response. For Joe User, it’s just not going to be a problem. Allegedly this ain’t as big a transition as OS 9 – OS X, and perhaps comparable to that of the 68000 series to the PowerPC processor. So some developer pain, a bit of slowness in running emulated apps – but bear in mind that everything shipped in interim will be dual-architecture – and a lot of psychic pain as we have to re-memorize the DoubleSpeak we macolytes have been muttering in unison for years.

The upside? No “gigahertz gap”. The Mac platform will be wedded to a pair of companies – don’t forget AMD snapping at Intel’s heels has been responsible for much of that innovation – whose big goal is ever faster processors. Remember that the processor business at IBM was a vanishingly small part of their portfolio, and they like Motorola before them were heading ever more towards embedded devices/game consoles/etc.

I’m excited. Best OS, best security, best hardware, best brand image, best digital integration – all to be joined to the best processors. It’s a good time to be in Macland.

Unfortunately, I can’t wait 18 months for a new PowerBook, so I’ll let other people shake the bugs in the first round of the Mactels out.

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