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All 136 Posts in the Category: Internet

1
May 13
Wed

Google Shopping Express Trial

Google just let me join their Shopping Express Bay Area trial today. They tout same-day delivery on purchases of all sorts of physical goods (groceries, office furniture, pharmaceuticals, etc.) and are offering free delivery for the first six months.

Couriers don’t come cheaply, so this trial has got to be costing them a fair amount of money. Anyway, I just ordered two toothbrushes, for delivery later this morning (i.e. within the next 11 hours) for a grand total of $3.98 + CA sales tax. We’ll see how it works out. It’s like Amazon Prime on steroids!

  12:59am  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
17
Jan 13
Thu

A transaction

Fortune Magazine: Why SurveyMonkey is holding off on an IPO

NY Times: SurveyMonkey Raises Nearly $800 Million While Staying Private

AllThingsD: SurveyMonkey Raises $800 Million in Debt and Equity for Tender Offer — Including New Investment From Google’s New Late-Stage Unit

Forbes: SurveyMonkey To Raise $794M In Recap; Valuation $1.35 Billion

From the Fortune article:

“I took my first company public and worked at Yahoo (YHOO) for seven years, and I saw plenty of decisions made because of what it would do to the stock price that week,” he says. One of Silicon Valley’s best networked (and well liked) executives, Goldberg also witnessed up close last year’s most tumultuous IPO, the still-underwater debut of Facebook (FB), where his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, is chief operating officer. “There are lots of good reasons for going public,” says Goldberg, ticking off growth capital, brand recognition and credibility with business customers as chief examples. “We just don’t have any of them.”

And yet, SurveyMonkey—which offers cheap, easy-to-use online surveys—has two reasons for raising capital. One is to reward the investment firms, Spectrum Equity and Bain Capital, that bought the company just over four years ago, when it was about a fourth its current size. The other is the perennial tech-industry rationale for an IPO: so SurveyMonkey’s employees can sell some of the stock that is a significant portion of their compensation.

Then there is the fact that SurveyMonkey undoubtedly could go public. Its revenues, $113 million last year, are growing at a 40%-plus clip. Earnings (less interest expense, taxes and depreciation and amortization) were $61 million, a software-like margin of 54%. Its “freemium” model—new users pay nothing, though significant numbers convert to paying accounts—encourages consistent growth because its sucks in customers slowly. The company has 2 million active users, about 360,000 of whom pay in the neighborhood of $200 to $300 a year for enhanced survey features.

And so, rather than go public now, Goldberg plans to raise nearly $800 million in equity and, in a rare move for a rapidly growing Web company, debt. Tiger Global Management and Google (GOOG) invested in the $444 million equity round SurveyMonkey closed in December. (Goldberg and Sandberg are investing as well, accounting for $50 million of the equity financing.) Other new equity investors include Iconiq Capital, the money-management firm that handles the personal wealth of several top Facebook executives; Social + Capital Partnership, a venture firm associated with prominent Facebook alumni; and Laurel Crown Partners, a venture and private-equity firm in Los Angeles. The new financing—a recapitalization in Wall Street jargon—values SurveyMonkey at $1.35 billion.

  7:58am  •  Business & Finance  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
6
Aug 12
Mon

Mat Honan’s Epic Hacking

Here’s a pretty devastating story about Gizmodo reporter who got really badly hacked.

Apple ID access credentials are really scary as a single point of failure. A simple username and password can be all it takes to wipe out all your Apple devices.

  10:26pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
17
May 12
Thu

Aussies in Silicon Valley

The SMH ran two interesting articles about Aussies in the Valley, and why there’s so much brain drain: Brain Drain and Tech Exodus:

“The Australian scene is at least 18 months behind the froth & bubble of the Silicon Valley. Singapore is probably 12 months ahead of of us as well. In terms of the availability of capital and risk appetite we are in the dark ages.

“Australian super funds hold the keys to about $1.2 trillion of which not even a fraction of a per cent is deployed into Australian VC – largely this is in equities – and they fight amongst themselves and are seen to ‘outperform’ on single-digit basis points!

“Private investors are equally risk-averse taking safety in passive investments such as property and cash wherein they see a risk-free return to be 5 per cent per annum compounding. In the majority of advanced economies cash in the bank provides a net negative return. Into the near future there will be no such thing as double digit (percentage) returns for passive, low-risk investments.

“There is no denying that our ‘risk aversion’ and short-sidedness is holding us back as a smart country failing at innovation on the grandest of scales.”

  9:06pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
31
Aug 11
Wed

TinyLetter test

Read about MailChimp acquiring TinyLetter and am giving it a test. Sign up and you’ll get an interesting email from me at the end of summer:

Subscribe to my quarterly newsletter by entering your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

Obviously I’m not going to abuse your email address and you’re not going to get any spam from this.

  11:05pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
26
Jul 11
Tue

A video from the company’s Vegas offsite…

The product & engineering team get creative:

  11:07pm  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
7
Jun 11
Tue

NBN, bandwidth and the cloud

I was just watching the WWDC Keynote and it struck me the velocity at which things are moving onto the cloud. OS X Lion is only going to be available on the App Store and not on an optical disc. Music collections are moving all online. Apart from heavy duty office applications, everything’s pretty much on the cloud these days. Heck, I even work for a SaaS provider. In a few years, we’ll be storing and accessing everything online. (There’s some discomfort over centralizing data with a corporation – and all the perceived privacy and security that come along with that – but when you think about it, there are also privacy and security benefits that come with it too. If you lose or break your computer, you don’t have to lose your data… who really backs up religiously? And the risk that a cloud provider’s data center is going to get hacked in a way that your data will be comprised is a fair rarer event that your laptop getting stolen. All this discomfort will pass as people start figuring out all the benefits that the cloud brings.)

Anyway, the thing is that cloud requires bandwidth. Lots of it. And that brings me to the main point I want to make – cloud computing is one of the key reasons why bandwidth is such a crucial part of ensuring that Australia remains competitive in the world. As expensive as NBN is to put in place, the cost of not doing it, or slapping on a half-assed bandaid solution like the one the coalition proposed during the last election, is insanely myopic. It’s not about something facetious, like letting people watch more YouTube videos online (as I remember one sceptical politician pointing out). Bandwidth in Australia is still expensive, and a lot of plans are capped. In California, I pay $30 a month (or actually $15, since I split with my flatmate) for a true 2 MBps connection (that’s megabytes, not megabits), with no caps or overage fees. My connection allows me to run Backblaze, which I use to backup my entire computer onto the cloud (all 300+ gigs of data) and the bandwidth costs me next-to-nothing. Try doing that in Australia.

  12:17am  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
27
Mar 11
Sun

Color: a privacy analysis (Part 2)

This is part two of a two-part post about the launch of Color.  The first part talks about the business and is available here.

The privacy practices of Color

Several things struck me about Color after I had used it for a while.  The first is that Color gathers a lot of data.  This data is highly personal (a picture is worth a thousand words and all that).  If I see your photo stream, I can determine not only where you are at a given time, but figure out who your friends are, what places your frequent, and even your routines and habits over time.  The second is that Color automatically shares your photos with anyone, instantly.  Most of those people will be strangers.  Your next door neighbor can see what’s happening in the party you’re holding at your place. (“I really hate my neighbor right now because of all that noise.  Wait, is that a person doing blow in the corner?  Let’s call the cops.”)  This is different to media sharing tools like Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube or whatever, because they are either shared with people you actually know (or their acquaintances), or are shared on a very deliberate basis by the media owner.  Color is just a firehose of information… and it can contain information which is far more revealing than a Tweet.

The privacy issues are totally obvious.  If you take a sick day from work and you’re not actually sick, you better be careful about using Color, because if your boss uses it, he can probably automatically see your photostream.  If you’re snapping photos in an office building, you better make sure you don’t inadvertently snap anything that’s confidential, or your competitors three floors above you might get wind of it without you even knowing.

As a lawyer at a small tech company, I spend a lot of my time thinking and worrying about consumer privacy.  After reading all of that, it’s totally obvious that if you use the app, nothing is private and you have no control over where your photos go.  If you don’t like it, don’t use it.  Well, that’s all fine and good, but for an app that is completely invasive of privacy, it does what is, quite frankly, a bad job of informing the user about it.

Let me say here that there’s nothing wrong with an app that is completely invasive of privacy as long as people know exactly what they’re getting in to, and have some choice over the matter.  And as long as you comply with the law, which may be pretty difficult in some European countries which tend to rachet up compliance requirements the more invasive your privacy practices are.  Color is a U.S. company and will soon be registered under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework, but despite the Safe Harbor, some European countries’ privacy laws can impose additional obligations that have what is effectively extraterritorial reach (I’m looking at you, Spain).

As soon as you start the app for the first time, you are asked to snap a photo of yourself.  Before you know it, that photo is broadcast to everyone around you.  There is no warning.  You have to figure the last part out later, as you learn how to use the app.  (The app is pretty confusing as well – it uses icons I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of.)

I went looking for the privacy policy.  After literally 5 minutes of pressing everything in the app, I still couldn’t find it.  I checked on the app, and on the website.  In the end, Google came up with the goods.

Let’s do some analysis

The privacy policy is actually not bad.  I like the tone – it’s not only written in plain English, but it’s written colloquially.  This dispenses precision for comprehension and concision, which I think is appropriate in this context.  The formatting could use some work, however – it’s still a glob of text that you have to go hunting through to find out information you’re interested in.

A good privacy effectively communicates answers to three key questions: What info are you collecting from me?  How are you going to use that info?  Who are you going to give that info to?  However, I believe the most important question to be answered is: How are you going to handle my data in a way I’m not going to expect or know about unless you tell me?

There are a few other ancillary things as well: What control do I have over the info you collect- can I get it deleted or updated?  Are you going to tell me if you change your privacy policy?  How do I contact you?

Probably the best way to look at a privacy policy is to pick out all the bits and pieces of information being collected about users and seeing what happens to that information.  I’m looking at the March 21, 2011 version which covers both their app and their spartan website.

Contact details (name and email)

  • How Color uses it: In the second section of the policy, Color only says that it “stores” your data, but doesn’t mention at this point how else it uses the information.
  • Who Color shares it with: The second section also says they won’t disclose this information to anyone, except to courts.  However, this is contradicted later on in the third section, which says that they do share users’ names with other users (which is obvious in the app).  It’s also contradicted by the general disclosures section (the sixth one), where it turns out that they will disclose your name and email to others besides a court.  More on the general disclosures section below.
  • Notes: These are collected right at the start, when you register with the app.

Mobile device unique ID

  • How Color uses it: Color doesn’t mention for what purposes it uses this piece of info.
  • Who Color shares it with: We are told that this info is going to be given to certain unnamed others for “advertising purposes”.  This is ambiguous.  Is Color using it for its own advertising purposes, or are they giving it to third parties who can use it for their own purposes?  Is Color selling this information?  All we know is that marketers won’t contact us directly as a result of this disclosure.
  • Notes: After the privacy firestorm and lawsuit that Apple found itself in after the WSJ broke a report about mobile device identifiers being disclosed without users’ knowledge, companies are going to want to tell their users if they are getting their mobile device’s unique identifier.  However, Color doesn’t really do a good job of explaining what it’s doing with this identifier.

User-generated Content (pics, videos, comments, actions)

  • How Color uses it: Obviously to make the app work.  Color are silent on exactly how they use it in ways that aren’t readily visible – you have to go to the Content license grant in the Terms of Service for that (Color gets a perpetual, irrevocable, world-wide license to “use and reproduce any of your Content … for any reason or no reason, without notice” and “copy, analyze and use any of your Images and comments … for purposes of debugging, testing and/or providing support services”).  That stuff should really alos be in the privacy policy.
  • Who Color shares it with:  Pretty much to anyone.  It notes social networks in particular.  Can we say “viral”?
  • Notes: UGC is, of course, the meat of the app.  Color calls it “Content” so that’s how I’m going to refer to it here.  Traditionally, privacy policies have focused on personal information (variously referred to as “personally identifiable information” or “personal data” depending on which part of the world you’re from).  Personal information is basically any information which could reasonably be used to identify someone (including when used in combination with other information which has been collected).  The thing is, you don’t need a lot of information about someone to be able to identify them.  Netflix recently copped a lot of flak for wanting to release what they thought would be an anonymized data set about their customers (containing their genders, ages, zip codes and movie watching habits).   “Researchers have known for more than a decade that gender plus [5-digit] ZIP code plus birthdate uniquely identifies a significant percentage of Americans (87% according to Lant[y]ana Sweeney’s famous study).”  Lantanya Sweeney is known for her work with anonymization of data sets and her paper on k-Anonymity.
  • Related to this realization that anonymized data is not as anonymous as you’d think is a recent trend in privacy policies to take a more holistic view of what needs to be covered in them.  TRUSTe recently updated its privacy seal requirements to recognize this after the FTC released its report on consumer privacy: “Companies need to be transparent about all consumer data collected, not just those it considers personally identifiable or ‘PII.’”  Users don’t only care about personal information, but they care about all the other information that they give to a company.  Information that is not “private” in the privacy sense, but in the confidential sense.  For example, my photos of my attic (if I had one) are generally not personally identifiable, but I still could regard that information as private, especially if I have some weird stuff in there.  So, privacy policies should not confine themselves in scope to personal information (as legislative requirements generally do), but should cover all types of information gathered from users.  With Color, while not all Content is personally identifiable, it’s still information which people could regard as “private,” so it’s important for Color to mention how it handles this.
  • I wonder if they preserve metadata on Content?  Probably, yeah?  I’m too lazy to check right now.

Location information (some of which is attached to Content)

  • How Color uses it: To show you and others relevant Content.  The services uses your physical proximity to others to determine whose Content you can see.
  • Who Color shares it with:  Pretty much to anyone, just like user-generated content.
  • Notes: Geolocation information is pretty topical among the privacy crowd these days.

Audio recordings

  • I’ve read that the app takes recording of ambient noise, which is another way it tries to determine if you’re interacting in the same environment as those who are near you (people may be 50 feet away, but they may be in the building across the street).  This feature has led some people to make references to Echelon.  Interestingly, the privacy policy doesn’t make any mention of this.

Server log file information and cookies

  • As Color says, this is the “usual stuff”.  I’m not going to dwell on this much.  Color does mention that they don’t have a logon system for the website yet, but one may be introduced in the future.  This is in line with the CEO’s aim of keeping the website as sparse as possible – the focus is on the mobile app.

Mobile phone number

  • How Color uses it: Mainly for the user’s benefit.  If you lose your phone (or whatever mobile device you’re using), you can get Color to reassociate your account with your new phone so you don’t lose all your stuff.  Conversely, this allows Color to permanently ban any device or account they want.  But they won’t use your number to call you.
  • Who Color shares it with:  No one, apparently – subject to the general disclosure section (see below).
  • Notes: Strangely, Color tells us they collect our mobile numbers in the fifth section of the policy, which is kind of duplicative with the second section, where I think it should be.

Your mobile phone’s address book

  • How Color uses it:  Basically to show you relevant Content, and also to facilitate the use of SMS.  “We think you might be interested in seeing your friends’ Content,” Color writes.  Even if you’re not physically close to your friends, Color will still hook you up with them.
  • Who Color shares it with:  Not mentioned, but I hope it’s no one (subject to general disclosures).
  • Notes: This immediately reminded me of Google Buzz’s privacy woes.  If my photo stream is not only shared with those physically proximate, but also anyone in my address book… anyone from my boss to my grandmother could see my Content (as Color points out in its TOS).  For anyone who wants to keep their professional and personal lives separate – especially those who make it a rule not to friend colleagues on Facebook… this is not the app for you.  But I don’t think people are going to realize this.  Color calls the people with whom your Content is shared your “elastic network.”  And it’s super elastic.  There are no privacy controls on anything – it’s just one black box algorithm at work figuring out who to push your Content out to.  That said, iPhones do alert you from the get go that Color is trying to access your address book (scant protection).

General disclosure exceptions

  • The sixth section contradicts the second section (as I mentioned above) and contains pretty standard exceptions regarding disclosure of data.
  • If they get acquired, the acquirer will get your data.
  • If they are subpoenaed or are otherwise required by law, they may disclose your data.
  • If you engage in illegal activities, they can report you to the authorities.
  • Interestingly, they also permit themselves to disclose your information if they get alerted to “extremely offensive behavior”.  I wonder why they need to be able to do this when they have the illegal activities exception?  The interpretation of what is “extremely offensive” is pretty discretionary.  And why would they need to disclose your information?  To name and shame you?

Other issues

  • As Color continues to develop its product, you can bet this privacy policy is going to undergo multiple iterations (the policy itself alludes to them rolling out “more interesting options”).  Color is pretty ambiguous about how it will communicate changes to the privacy policy – “we’ll update you before our practices change” is all they say.  How will they do this?  (I doubt they will popup messaging in the app summarising what has changed, although that’s what they should be doing.)  How major a change to their privacy practices needs to occur before it triggers the notification requirement?
  • There’s not much information in the policy about deleting your account and whether Color retains your Content.  This is all contained in the TOS under the “Your Content is Public” section.

Terms of Service

  • I skimmed through the TOS and it’s written in the same style as the policy, which is unusual.  I’ve seen Virgin do it once on a credit card application form (which was pretty cool actually).  I was amused to see marketing statements thrown into what is essentially a contract.
  • Some gems: “We think this feature makes us different and exciting.”  “this is our sandbox”  “Unique users can view your Content … Anyone: from grandparents to bosses” (as I mentioned the issue is not so much that these people can view your Content, the issue is that they are among the people who are most likely to be pushed your Content).
  • There’s also this weird statement: “Don’t use our Service for commercial purposes.”  If I open up a restaurant, why wouldn’t I try and advertise it through Color?  This is a great way to alert workers and residents in the immediate area about your new shop.  I could also snap a picture of my sandwich board outside which says, “50% special on soup, today only!” and get it pushed out to everyone in the area.

So how does it all stack up?

The privacy policy isn’t bad.  It’s relatively easy to read, but it could contain more information (and more information means structuring the policy better and highlighting the important bits).  A lot of privacy information is actually contained in the TOS.  Like most people, I never read Terms or Privacy Policies top-to-bottom unless I’m getting paid for it (Color’s privacy policy is the exception).  I’m not concerned about most things: even if a company sells my email address, I get so much spam each month anyway that it doesn’t really matter.  However, I am interested in very specific things: if I sign up to a subscription service and it’s not clear how I can cancel my account, I will check the Terms.  On Facebook, I want to know if an app is going to post something to my wall without telling me first, and I will look up a privacy policy for that.  If you put privacy practices in the Terms, people who are just looking for privacy information aren’t going to find it.  This isn’t much practical help to consumers.

However, the only major issue I really have with Color is that there is pretty much zero notice of its privacy policy.  It’s damn hard to find.  There should at least be a privacy warning as soon as you open up the program.  Instead, the very first two things you get are iPhone notices telling you that Color wants to access your location and your address book.  Uh… what are you going to do with those two things?  We don’t know.  Notice given after the fact is not really notice.

The privacy policy contains a nice section at the end entitled “Respecting Privacy.”  It says: “A picture says a thousand words.  Before you use our App, consider whether you (or those whose image you capture) want the world to see the picture or video you took.  And have fun.”  This notice really should be up front and center, along with “we potentially share your photos with everyone – including your boss who’s sitting 20 feet away from you.”  And they could throw in an example for good measure: “your mother, who is in your address book, will see all your party pics.”  This is a visceral privacy notice (to use privacy lawyer Ryan Calo’s terminology).  It could also be presented a short-form privacy noticeJust put something prominent there.

When interviewed by the press, Color has been upfront that their app should not be used if you’re not willing to let the world see your Content.  But that upfrontness is distinctly missing from the app.

One other issue is that of inappropriate Content.  At the moment, social norms keep the Content in check – I have yet to see any inappropriate photos from the 100+ people whose photostreams I have access to.  However, just wait until the teenagers get a hold of this.  Despite this, I’m actually not very concerned about inappropriate content being snapped.  There is a distinct potential for misuse (snapping photos in restrooms or around schools, for example), but no more so than any other online service dealing with user-generated content.  It’s not a new issue.  The speed at which things could go viral is stepped up a notch, but this isn’t in itself a reason to get your knickers in a knot.  In today’s world, all publicity is good publicity, right? … Right?

 

  10:07pm  •  Internet  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Color: an analysis (Part 1)

This is part one of a two-part post about the launch of Color.  Click here for the second part, which examines Color’s privacy practices.

Enter Color

Color isn’t the next Google.  But it could be the next Twitter.

A mobile app called Color launched this week.  It would have been an otherwise unremarkable launch had it not been accompanied by the news that the company, Color Labs, Inc., had received $41 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, the VC arm of Bain Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank.  Assuming Color’s founders still have control of the company, the most conservative estimate of Color’s implied valuation puts it at a little more than $80 million.  This investment appears to have been made on the basis of the strength of its reputedly star-studded ~30-person team (headed by Lala founder Bill Nguyen) and a working prototype, because when $41 million was plowed in, Color had no revenue, no users, and no live product.  Its most “tangible” asset was its U.S.-centric domain name, Color.com, which was reportedly acquired for $350,000.

Sequoia Capital partner Doug Leone was reported to have said, “Once or twice a decade a company emerges from Silicon Valley that can change everything. Color is one of those companies.”  Which is expected when you’ve handed over more money than Google received in its initial funding round.  It’s a big call to make.  If there’s only room for one or two a decade, I can only think of two tech companies founded within the last decade that have reached 11-figure valuations.  For a mobile app to reach these lofty heights, well… let’s just say the gut reaction is immediate.  Color is going to have to be an app that you use multiple times everyday: Email, Google, Facebook, and perhaps Twitter have achieved this.

At a basic level, Color lets you snap photos (and video) with your phone.  The photos get uploaded to Color, which then pushes them out to all Color devices in your physical vicinity (within a few hundred yards), as well as to your friends further afield.  You get to see what other people in your vicinity are seeing – some will be friends, some will be strangers.

Color’s algorithms also attempt to group together bunches of photos taken by different people based on location, lighting, past interaction with people, and even ambient noise (yes, the app apparently turns the microphone on).

That doesn’t sound like something that might be worth $10 billion one day.  But, the VCs backing Color are not mediocre people.  So I think it’s natural that we give Color the benefit of the doubt and assume that the initial app is just scratching the surface of what the team in downtown Palo Alto want to accomplish.  Let’s let our imaginations run wild and see how the premise of the current app could bloom in the future.

The possibilities

Interviews with CEO Bill Nguyen disclose that Color is not really about sharing photos.  It’s about a “new way to build spontaneous social networks – and collect massive amounts of data about what people are doing and where they’re doing it.”  Once we frame it in that light, we start to see a few use cases that may be possible in the future.

The most cited one is people attending the same event, for example a concert or a sports game, who will be able to see the event from different perspectives.  This then extends itself to news reporting, and for search and rescue in natural disaster zones.  Something happens in the world that breaks on Twitter (“massive hailstorm in Sydney happening now”), and you skip over to Color, zoom in on the affected area in Sydney, and then get instant access to photos of the event from different people who are there.

Another use case is to connect strangers who are physically close, but with whom you would otherwise have no reason to come into contact.  For example, apartment buildings or public transport.  I’m a little dubious about this, but as inhibitions regarding privacy drop, some people will definitely make use of this.  To put it bluntly, it’s entirely possible that someone has already gotten laid by someone who they met through Color.

At the moment, Color collects a lot of data.  A lot.  It is basically building up a repository of  media items which are geotagged, timestamped and associated with an individual.  Image recognition will enable people and objects to be automatically tagged, and other semantic meaning can be embedded into the media.

This all reminds me about a book co-written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter called The Light of Other Days.  (A similar premise was depicted in the movie Déjà Vu, featuring Denzel Washington.)  In the book, a technology exists which allows someone to open up a “read only” wormhole into any past point in the spacetime continuum.  In other words, you can pick a time and place and then watch what happened there.  This is one place where Color might be headed.  You can relive a night on the town, or a vacation with friends.  A high school class could explore future historical protests similar to the one in Tahrir Square, or journey through the bloodied streets of Benghazi in real time as seen through the eyes of those at ground zero.  This idea has already been explored in some ways – Microsoft’s Photosynth technology stitches together geotagged photos on Flickr and recreates 3D scenes from photos that were taken at the same location.

That is the promise, but Color has some work to do to get to that stage.  I installed the app when I was at work.  I immediately saw a group of about 30 users and their photostreams.  It was mainly headshots of people – people eating in restaurants, people in the street, people in offices.  But I was most amazed because there were 30 people in my vicinity that were already using Color, and every minute or so, another photo would pop up on my screen – it seemed like user adoption had blown up overnight.  Alas, I later found out that Color’s offices were literally a block away from ours, so I had inadvertently gotten to “know” half of Color’s staff.

The trouble was that I had no context for the photos.  I didn’t know these people, they didn’t know me, and I guess I could have started commenting on their photos, but that seems like a creepy thing to do… like hanging around a clique and trying to break in when you clearly don’t belong.

I tried it at home on a weeknight.  Within sniffing distance of downtown Menlo Park, no one was using it.

What’s that you say about a business model?

Color is apparently one of those businesses where the idea is so appealing that the business model is just a detail that can come later.  “Build it and they will come… we’ll monetize it later.”  The app is free and the company intends to make money via location-based advertising.  Color is going to be competing in a space which is going to be crowded: Foursquare has been working on this for a while, and Groupon is apparently trying to muscle in on it as well.

I have a feeling that Color has the potential to become an important part of the internet, but only in the same way that Twitter has.  Twitter has little revenue to show for its circa $5 billion valuation, and it has been “experimenting” with different business models for years.  Twitter received enough funding and revenue to get it through to profitability (maybe?), but at $5 billion you’d expect it to be earning profits somewhere in the low 9-figure range.  On the other hand, it’s now part of the plumbing of the net.  It’s vital infrastructure.  There is another infrastructure-style site that provides a valuable benefit – Wikipedia, which is a non-profit organization that runs on a budget of only $10-20 million a year.

I believe that Color was invested in at a very overvalued price, but there is a reason for this – the wisdom of which I have mixed feelings.  This trend seems to have been growing over the last year or so as investors clamor to get in to companies at the ground level.  I attended a Y Combinator Demo Day last year and the start-ups there were routinely raising angel funding at $5+ million valuations.

Perhaps it’s a side effect of what’s been happening with Facebook.  Even if you wanted to invest a lot of money in Facebook after you saw The Social Network, you couldn’t.  This seems to have pushed Facebook’s valuation way up.  Private stock is normally valued less than public stock (all other things being equal) because of the benefits that liquidity offers.  Perversely, the opposite seems to be true – it is because the demand for Facebook stock is so high, and the supply so tight, that the lack of liquidity is actually pushing prices up.

It still makes some kind of sense, though.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Facebook is worth $20b and you had the opportunity to invest at a $30b valuation.  The 50% premium may still be attractive since you might not actually have the chance to buy it in the future.  By the time the private stock becomes available, or the company floats, the company’s “true” valuation may have grown to $100b.  You’ve still made money hand over fist because you managed to get in early.

It seems that angels and VCs have cottoned on to this a bit.  It’s a bit of FOMO.  Better to get in now at an overvalued rate, than get in later when the valuation has skyrocketed.  And it’s easier for a company to double $10m in revenue than $100m in revenue.  Of course, investing early at high valuations just pushes both sides of the risk/reward equation up.  (There’s nothing wrong with a bubble from a personal investment sense… just make sure you get out of it at the right time.  I have a friend from high school who made 100x on a sizeable punt on Rambus, having sold out shortly before its stock price crashed.)

But I’m going to move on now – many people have written more about the viability of Color in much more depth, and there are a lot of other interesting issues that they cover, such as the perils of choosing a generic word as a company name (it’s going to be challenging to trademark, not to mention issues with SEO), the app’s UI, who comprises Color’s team, and so on.  In the next part of the post, I want to talk about privacy, because Color raises a few fascinating privacy topics.

Continued in Part 2…

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31
Dec 10
Fri

The Mobile Device App Market

I’ve been hearing a lot over the last month about how the Big Growth Area for 2011 is the mobile market. Here are a random couple articles that are relevant:

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23
Oct 10
Sat

Facebook Feed Optimization

Your Facebook newsfeed is heavily curated… by Facebook. Daily Beast ran an experiment to better understand how your status updates and posts are pushed out to others (or not), and the results are interesting.

After weeks of testing and trying everything from having Phil post videos to getting some of his friends to flood him with comments, by the end of our experiment, a few of our volunteers had still literally never seen Phil appear in their feeds, either Top News or Most Recent. These were the “popular kids”—users of Facebook with 600 or more friends. (Conversely, those with only 100 to 200 friends were among the first to spot Phil.) So the key, as you build your coterie of friends, is making sure to include some without huge networks. They’ll see more of your feeds, interact in Facebook-approved ways, and up your visibility with all.

Will we see FFOs as SEOs for social networks?

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19
Sep 10
Sun

Manic entrepreneurs

The NY Times has an article about entrepreneurial personalities:

The attributes that make great entrepreneurs, the experts say, are common in certain manias, though in milder forms and harnessed in ways that are hugely productive. Instead of recklessness, the entrepreneur loves risk. Instead of delusions, the entrepreneur imagines a product that sounds so compelling that it inspires people to bet their careers, or a lot of money, on something that doesn’t exist and may never sell.

But contrast this with Gladwell’s New Yorker article earlier this year, who say that successful entrepreneurs aren’t really risk-takers.

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13
Sep 10
Mon

Everything Instant

Hot on the heels of YouTube Instant, comes:

These are not all practical, but they’re fun.

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22
Jul 10
Thu

Evidence that the West Coast is happier than the East

This is a visualisation of Tweets by US state of origin. Tweets were analysed for key words indicating moods, producing this:

The West Coast is generally happier than the East. Californians are much happier than New Yorkers, who seem to be perpetually grumpy. Early afternoons suck for everyone. Also, Californians tweet a lot (not exactly a surprise). Other conclusions.

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8
May 10
Sat

Facebook’s gradual relaxation of privacy, visualized

This is a great visual representation of how privacy settings have defaulted on Facebook over the last few years. If you set up your profile today, you have to curate your data a lot more.

And today:

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24
Apr 10
Sat

Profile on Facebook’s COO

An interesting Vogue article on Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s impressive COO:

Zuckerberg says, “By the time I met Sheryl”—in 2007, on the way into a Christmas party hosted by former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig—“I’d almost given up on finding a person who’d be good in the COO role. But it was immediately clear from the crispness of her answers and the intensity she had when she talked that she was the kind of person who could do this.” For the next half hour, the pair barely moved from the entryway. “I’d just walked into the party with my girlfriend, Sheryl was standing there with her husband, Dave, and people kept coming up to us and asking very superficial questions. And we were just like, ‘Oh, yeah, OK, that’s nice,’ ” Zuckerberg remembers. “I mean, I have much less social tact than she does.”

Sandberg recalls “having this intense conversation in the front hall about how you ‘scale’ an organization,” using the tech-world synonym for “managing runaway growth.” “And everyone’s coming up and asking: ‘Do you want a drink?’ or ‘I like your dress.’ And Mark and I are like, ‘We’re trying to talk here.’”

My company’s CEO also gets several mentions, for reasons that are obvious. I think she actually came to our office once, but I stupidly didn’t put two and two together. I only realized who she really was after she left.

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18
Mar 10
Thu
24
Feb 10
Wed
28
Jan 10
Thu

… and that’s 12 years of blogging

I know that there are several active, continuously-running blogs out there that are older than mine, but I don’t really know how many there are, or indeed, what the oldest one is. So, I went out looking for them.

There are two issues I encountered with this. Firstly, the definition of a blog in the late 90s was hazy, so there are some websites that don’t fit today’s standard format that may or may not be regarded as blogs (at the least, they are precursors to blogs). Secondly, what makes a blog “continuously running” and “active”? If there’s a hiatus of 3 years in the middle, it’s not really an unbroken run. Or if there is one post every three months, is the blog actually active?

My first port of call was Wikipedia’s Blog entry. Apparently Justin Hall started blogging in 1994, but has since stopped. Writer Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor is also held up to be the oldest active blog. It appears to be still active today, but the design is stuck in the 90s and it’s hard to tell from the archives when his first post was. Scripting News is still running and has comprehensive archives. I then recalled visiting longstanding sites like Robot Wisdom, Peterme.com and Everything But Gaming. Robot Wisdom stopped publishing in its original form, and became something else. Peterme.com is still active. It only has archives back to March 2003, but I’m sure that it is much older than that – at least 1998. Then there were gaming sites like Blue’s News which used to cover lots of Quake-related news. (I am surprised to see is still running – it has archives back to mid-1996.) A Google search turned up this article, which claims that a few ZDNet writers used to keep an online diary (ie, a blog). However, it’s difficult to verify given that the archives aren’t really available. In any event, those writers aren’t keeping that diary anymore.

So it turns out that it’s not as easy as I thought as it would be to identify what the oldest active blogs online are.

I started compiling a list, but I didn’t get very far. My totally arbitrary criteria for what qualified included: the post archives are still available somewhere (even on archive.org), it’s updated multiple times a month, it exists on the web (as opposed to a .plan file… after all, a blog is a weblog), and posts originate on the blog (and aren’t transferred in from some other medium like a paper diary or news articles published elsewhere first).

I am sure that this list is far from complete, so drop me a note if you know of any others:

Have you been reading Hear Ye! for a long time? Post a comment and let me know how long!

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25
Jan 10
Mon

Academic Earth

Described by TechCrunch as “Hulu for Education”, Academic Earth catalogs videos of talks and lectures given at some of America’s leading universities on a huge array of subjects. There are also a large number of complete courses available.

You can hear people like Jeffrey Sachs talk on the Future of Globalization, or Larry Brilliant lecture on Strategic Philanthropy, or John Doerr speak on How to Negotiate Valuations.  Fantastic resource.

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20
Jan 10
Wed

Best of Reddit 2009

List is here. For those who aren’t redditors, the IAMA, AMA/AMAA (I am a …, ask me (almost) anything) community is pretty darn fascinating. In there, people from absolutely all walks of life open themselves to questions from everyone. Some examples:

Some incredible information in there, from people who have been through some very socially taboo experiences to world-famous people.

Oh, although he’s commenter of the year, you’ll want to avoid bozarking’s posts if you have a weak stomach (he seems to have deleted his account, but his legacy remains).

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15
Jan 10
Fri

Embed Tweets in real-time into your Powerpoint preso

These days, it’s pretty standard for presentations at conferences to have a “second track” of chatter going on behind the scenes. If you look around, you’ll mostly find people on their laptops with Tweetdeck or some other Twitter client, repeating whatever the speaker happens to be saying at the time and adding a hashtash. I always thought it would be interesting to have a second screen showing the talk’s real-time Tweetstream (or an IRC channel) next to the person’s slides. Very distracting, and potentially opens the speaker up for heckling, but interesting nonetheless.

Timo Elliott, a coder at SAP (the ERP company) has now integrated a Twitter feed directly into a Powerpoint presentation so Tweets appear in realtime within a presentation. It can interface with TidyTweet for automatic or manual comment moderation. It also has an “AutoTweet” tool where you can send preset tweets during your presentation(!).

The other neat things you can do with the Twitter interface are to create a real time graph showing audience voting via Twitter, or even a worm.

Very neat stuff. Then, combine it with MightyMeeting, and you’re all set.

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12
Jan 10
Tue

Big changes in Google’s China strategy

Google China apparently was the target of a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on their corporate infrastructure last month which was successful in the theft of some Google IP. Google claims that the attacks were targeting the information of Chinese human rights activists. Significantly, TechCrunch has reported that:

In light of the attacks, and after attempts by the Chinese government to further restrict free speech on the web, Google has decided it will deploy a fully uncensored version of its search engine in China. This is a major change: since January 2006, Google has made concessions to the Chinese government and offered a censored (and highly controversial) version of its search engine at Google.cn. Google isn’t playing that game any longer. Should the Chinese government decide that an uncensored engine is illegal, then Google may cease operations in China entirely.

Google has clearly had enough and has decided to take a stand. Google’s CLO has written:

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

The last paragraph appears to be an attempt to provide some sort of protection from persecution for Google employees on the ground in China. Sinister.

China is a tough market. I can’t think of a single US internet company that has successfully broken into China – not Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Facebook, or Twitter. China has its own version of each of them (often very similar in look and feel to its US compatriot) and one can’t help but suspect that China is also wielding its censorship laws as a form of protectionism against foreign internet companies. My flatmate is a Chinese national who works as a software engineer for one of those US net companies, and he told me that Chinese companies are known for engaging in dirty, underhanded tactics against American competitors. These tactics are as direct as hacking a website, to more sneaky approaches, such as manipulating search engine results to get a company like Google in trouble with the government censors. These tactics are, of course, unavailable to the US company.

Update (11.10pm): Additional commentary by CIS’ Lauren Gelman and on Chinese Law Prof Blog (via @avstand), and a semi-contrarian view by River Crab Society who thinks that “China is far too big a market to ignore”.

Of course, Google has historically struggled against Baidu in China. If they’ve had enough of the foul play from its competitors and want to exit from the market, then this is a great way to do it – exit not with its tail between its legs, but exit gracefully by making a statement that will resound with the civil liberties people all around the world.

Also, the elephant in the room that no one has called out explicitly (surprisingly) is that the cyber attacks mounted against Google (and other corporates) may have been at the instigation of the Chinese government itself.

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A conversation with an anonymous Facebook employee

This conversation transcript has some pretty fasinating details about some inner workings at Facebook. Looks like we are the beneficiaries of this potential breach of a couple of NDAs.

The amount of data and metadata they generate is mindboggling (essentially logging every click). And hugely scary from a privacy and security perspective. Imagine the datamining you could do on that data.

Some choice quotes:

Rumpus: When you say “click on somebody’s profile,” you mean you save our viewing history?

Employee: That’s right. How do you think we know who your best friends are? But that’s public knowledge; we’ve explicitly stated that we record that. If you look in your type-ahead search, and you press “A,” or just one letter, a list of your best friends shows up. It’s no longer organized alphabetically, but by the person you interact with most, your “best friends,” or at least those whom we have concluded you are best friends with.

Rumpus: In other words, the person you stalk the most.

Employee: No, it’s more than just that. It’s also messages, file posts, photos you’re tagged in with them, as well as your viewing of their profile and all of that. Essentially, we judge how good of a friend they are to you.

Employee: No, not in our office. Absolutely not. We have four data centers around the world. There’s one in Santa Clara, one in San Francisco, one in New York and one in London. And in each of those, there are approximately five to eight thousand servers. Each co-location of our servers has essentially the same data on it.

Employee: We track everything. Every photo you view, every person you’re tagged with, every wall-post you make, and so forth.

Employee: … The one comment I would make about that, is that we’ve definitely tried to continue expanding to 3rd- world countries. Take Iran — well, Iran is not a 3rd world country — but when the Iranian elections came up, and then the disputes, we found out they were using Facebook as a tool to organize themselves and expose their qualms and discontent with the government. So publicly we translated the entire site into Farsi within 36 hours. It was our second right-to-left language, which was actually really difficult for us. Literally the entire site is flipped in a mirror. The fact that we did it in thirty-six hours — they hired twenty some-odd translators, and engineers worked around the clock to get it rolled out — was pretty fucking phenomenal. We had at least three times as many user registrations per day the first day it was out, and it has been growing. So we’re definitely still serious about foreign outreach. And the thing is, we have such a gigantic market share in the larger sections of Europe, in Australia, in Mexico, in the States and Canada, and that’s where 99.9% of our ad revenue is and probably will be always — or at least will be the next five, ten years. So the fact that we’re breaching into these other markets mostly means just allowing family and friends to connect even more deeply, which is really our ultimate goal.

Rumpus: So tell me about the engineers.

Employee: They’re weird, and smart as balls. For example, this guy right now is single-handedly rewriting, essentially, the entire site. Our site is coded, I’d say, 90% in PHP. All the front end — everything you see — is generated via a language called PHP. He is creating HPHP, Hyper-PHP [a compiled language form of PHP], which means he’s literally rewriting the entire language.

Rumpus: Any changes in atmosphere after the move?

Employee: It was just nice to have everyone in one office. Before, any meetings that happened were inconvenient for most people. I mean, engineering was split up into three offices. It was a pain. Now there’s more unity, more ease of communication. Everything feels more internal. It’s super-friendly. I think the coolest thing about the work environment is the trust. They don’t care what, where, how, when, as long as you get your shit done. If you want to work at a bar, the ball game, a park, the roof, they don’t give a fuck. Just get your shit done. Hence I was able to ditch work, come have two pitchers with you, and I will literally be able to go back and get my work done. And it goes a long way. Because I know I can get these things done. I know I’m going to have to go back. And I may be there until ten or eleven tonight.

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21
Dec 09
Mon

Windows Live Writer

Although we have a net connection in the apartment, the wireless router we ordered a couple of weeks ago (that was meant to be delivered in 3-5 business days) hasn’t arrived, so we have to take turns plugging our computers directly into the modem. Pretty annoying. Consequently, I was looking for a solution to drafting posts offline in WordPress. WordPress supports Google Gears, but it just adds local caching functionality to speed up WP’s operation; it doesn’t permit offline blogging. I found Windows Live Writer, which is an impressive piece of software. It interfaces with WP (and a lot of other blogging platforms), and allows you to write and preview posts under the WP theme you’re using. It also allows you to insert pictures, and it will upload the pictures in the same way WP natively does. It also supports picture processing, such as cropping, resizing, effects, and so on. It’s pretty intuitive as well.

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15
Dec 09
Tue

Google Wave invites

Have some Google Wave invites. Send me your email address if you want one.

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22
Sep 09
Tue

Transparent Text Symposium Liveblog – Day 2

1:43:10pm: A comment from the panel – Americans listen to podcasts because they don’t like to read. Might miss part of the picture – people read faster than they can speak, but you can’t multitask while reading, which might be the real reason some may prefer to listen.

12:33:45pm: Example 5: Analysis of the phrases used by newspapers. “Unborn child” more likely to be used by conservative papers. The use of words over time in the context of defense animation is pretty damn cool.

12:20:54pm: Kevin Quinn, Prof of Law at Berkeley, talking about visualizing political speech. Main thought: statistical models can be used to improve visual displays of data. They become increasingly useful for visualization as data size and complexity increases. This is especially true for textual data.

A statistical model is an assumption about how the text was generated – ie about the family of probability distributions that generated the observed data (typically indexed by certain parameters). There may be some background data which leads you to believe what the parameters may be.

Example: senate speech data from ’97 to ’04. Over 118k speeches. Speeches were stemmed, generating 4k unique stems. 74m stem observations. Looking at frequency of unigrams (single words). Agglomerative clustering generates 42 topics into which speeches were classified (eg, symbolic speech, international affairs, procedure, constitutional, etc). [but does it account for one speech having multiple topics?]

Example 2: political positions of newspapers. Looked at Ed columns of newspapers to see their stance on SCOTUS opinions. Then they place the stances of justices on a spectrum together with newspapers. NYT is more liberal than all of the justices. But Thomas and Scalia are more right than any newspaper.

Example 3: Invocation of commonsense. More conservative papers are likely to invoke common sense when describing SCOTUS opinions.

Example 4: Show which newspapers include a selected quote from a case, with x-axis being the political position of the newspaper.

11:56:21am: Emily Calhoun from MAPLight.org. Nonprofit, funded by the Sunlight Foundation (among others). Berkeley-based. Small staff. They do a mashup of financial and voting data (sourced from Center for Responsive Politics, Natioanl Institute on Money in State Politics, LA City Ethics Commission, GovTrack.us, and CA Leg Counsel). They have a nice, clean graph embedding feature so you can show a graph you dynamically generated on your website.

They have an interest in analysing the substance of bills.

11:31:11am: To implement the crowdsourcing project – fairly low costs – 1 week of developer time. Couple days for a designer. 450k+ of documents available for processing. Entertaining case study.

11:26:43am: Now showing crowdsourcing the processing of MP receipts, claim/expense forms. I used to do this stuff when I was working part time as an undergrad – processing application forms, indexing and data entry. This is the same thing, except that anyone who feels like doing it can log on to the website and do it. There are data quality issues, but there are ways around that.

11:21:11am: Come on, call a spade a spade… it’s a graph of MP spending. Sure it’s a “data visualization” of it, but speak like the person on the street and call it a graph. Oh, it doesn’t sound sexy? Get over it. Using “graph” will also help you fit into Twitter’s character limit as well.

11:20:06am: Simon Rogers, The Guardian (UK). MPs’ expenses – how to crowdsource 400k documents.

Showing infographic of government spending broken down by department and functions. Guardian created the Data Store, where they upload spreadsheets to Google Docs. It’s a collecting point for info. The Guardian manually copies data from paper sheets and turn it into graphs.

Case study about analysis of MP allowances claims scandal.

11:07:41am: Building Watson: Overview of the DeepQA Project. Training a computer to play Jeopardy. There’s a big challenge to parse natural language to understand what a question is asking.

9:22:48am: Building Watson: Overview of the DeepQA Project. Training a computer to play Jeopardy. There’s a big challenge to parse natural language to understand what a question is asking.

8:58:21am: Color popularity on the web – differs by TLCC domains.

8:56:25am: 95k+ documents, 2gb of federal legislation taken (10 word snips), generates 28gb of index = lots of repetition. Lots of overlapping language… no more analysis done

8:47:55am: Semantic Super Computing: Finding the Big Picture in Text Documetns (Daniel Gruhl, IBM Almaden Research Center in CA). Basic processing flow: PBs worth, then create 10x metadata as there is the source docs. Then index everything. Creating metadata dynamically: as more is generated, it may alter the metadata previously generated as more context is understood.

8:33:17am: Evaluation of clustering method is amazing. Looks to create an appreciable difference in clustering.

8:20:57am: Automated methods for conceptualising text. Computer-assisted conceptualization is arguably more effective. Using a classification based approach, specifically cluster analysis (simultaneously creating categories and assigning documents to categories). Humans can’t conduct cluster analysis manually very well.

Bell number = number of ways of partioning n objects. Bell(2) = 2,f(3) = 5, f(5) = 52, f(100) ~ 10^28 * number of elementary particles in the universe. So, the goal of creating an optimal application-independent cluster analysis method is mathematically impossible.

We could create a long list, but too hard to process and pick the best clustering unless we organize the list first. To organize, we develop a conceptual “geography” of clusterings.

First, code text as numbers. Second, apply all clustering methods we can find to the data within 15 mins. (This produces too many results for a person to understand.) Third, develop an application-independent distance metric between clusterings, a metric space of clusterings and a 2D projection. Fourth, local cluster ensemble, then create animated visualization, which then generates a smaller list which is comprehensible. We can then pick what’s best for us.

8:08:39am: And we’re back. Next up is “Quantitative Discovery of Qualitative Information : A General Purpose Document Clustering Methodology”. Gary King, from Harvard, is presenting.

7:43:23am: Break.

7:40:08am: Design case studies by thincdesign.

7:36:14am: Brain Movies. Shows brain activity when viewing movies.

7:29:31am: Unicode. There is no such thing as plain text, “avoiding mojibake”. Advice is to use Unicode (UTF-8 to be specific) encoding for text files. Telling us about character sets. Be explicit. [Eg, in HTML: <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=utf-8″ />]

7:23:37am: Transparent Control Systems. Purpose of text transparency is to “provide daylight on governance system. But governance systems are really control systems. If we want to effect change, it will be in teh control systems, not the data.” [Law as Code Lessig reference?] Can break control systems down to make them easier to understand. Example using an engine piston.

7:17:50am: VUE (Visual Understanding Environment). Pulls out tags generated by OpenCalais into a Viewmap. Seasr integrated into VUE to add things (notes and metadata) to nodes. Can load XML, CSV, RSS files. Rapid visualization of structured data?

7:12:39am: Dido. David Karger at the MIT Haystack group. Text is easier to write in than structured data. To incentivize people to write structured data. Contains in-page visualizations.

7:10:36am: Linked Open Data. Manipulating linked sets of data. \”What was each senator\’s vote on the economic stimulus along with the population and median income of the state he or she represents?\” No easy way of doing this (not even Wolfram Alpha yet :). Showing Guanxi, which is used to discover connections. Showing Audrey, which is about discovering and sharing news stories (like Google Reader but with a stronger discovery/recommendation service via social networking component).

7:02:38am: Data Portraits. They think that presenting data in a picture is more interesting (may or may not be unintentionally trivializing their message here). 1. Showing Fernanda’s Themail project (email analysis program). Xobni has a similar feature (but Xobni’s not as pretty). 2. Lexigraphs, showing most used words in a person’s twitter stream + most recent words used – words are placed in outline of person as art. 3. Mycrocosm. People keep track of things themselves using graphs. Reminds me of a basic version of Feltron’s Annual Report. 4. Personas.

6:57:09am: We Meddle. Identifying the linear nature of Twitter as a limitation. Showing We Meddle interface – filtering system – bigger text for people “closer” to you. But can reverse if interested in seeing what people more distant from you are saying (since you probably speak to people closer to you in person more often).

6:52:26am: Twittermood. A display of US mood swings. Another Twitter analyzer. Showing NYT interactive infographic showing word prominence during the Superbowl. Trying to track US “happiness”. [Kind of presumptuous to label Twitter users as indicative of the US! But anyway.] Just flashed up an amusing graphic showing that people tend to be happy in Central Park. Users Twitter gardenhose stream (~1.8m messages per day).

Conference Twitter stream still outrageous, why do I need 10 people telling me the same thing every 300 seconds?

6:47:55am: Bengali Intellectuals in the Age of Decolonization. Showing architecture of the project – SMIL file and gazetteer info gets fed into a database then output to pages. Slice and dice video clips. Concepts using Open Calais (tagging) and commenting + geographic and chronological searching. Lecture Capture system tie in to generate transcripts. Ok, seems like a metadata system built on some of video media. Tufts project.

6:43:44am: Picturing to Learn. Students drawing indicates their understanding/misunderstanding of scientific concepts (in the examples shown, chemistry concepts). Now tracking and tagging scans of these drawings. Looking for help.

6:38:48am: NY Times R&D. Emerging trends: web of documents is being transformed. Pages are being disaggregated into their component pieces of data and repackaged. What does it mean for NYT to be a media brand in a disaggregated world? Freebase. NYT likes to collaborate around visualization with other (design) organizations. Cloud computing: shifting from one multi-purpose computer to many multi-purpose computing devices. This means that data, content and text has to “get smarter” – needs to know how it’s being displayed and who’s watching it, and the context in which it’s being displyed. Focus on device-independent media (for print and screen).

6:33:39am: Transparency and Exploratory Search. Something about search and metadata.

6:28:43am: nFluent. They’re an IBM research group dealing with translation. [I saw them demo this yesterday – it’s like Google Translate, but they are building up their translation engine in a slightly different way to Google – they are determined it’s uniquely different, but I’m not so gung ho about that.] Their translation engine translates pages as they load in real time and people can highlight incorrectly translated words, and offer correct translations. Crowdsourcing approach. They have some interesting trends – analysing user contributions: 1% are “superusers” (contributing 30% of the data, by words translated), 65% are “refiners”, 33% of consumers (normally 90% in other contexts). Gong didn’t go off, excellent!

6:23:22am: Day 2, Ignite-style presentations (5 minute presentations about what people/companies are doing). They’re using a gong to cut short presentations. My side comments in square brackets.

Web Ecology Project. Analysis of data on social networks (Twitter, Friendfeed, etc).

Transparent News Articles via Semantic Models. Parses news articles through a browser plug-in. User can highlight words to find out more about a topic. Eg, highlight “Oracle’s $11.1 bn acquisition of PeopleSoft” brings up a context menu where you can select, “What happened to this acquisition?” which then brings up, inline, a timeline of the relevant M&A activity. Clicking on the timeline loads up a relevant article. Uses an engine they developed called Brussels for parsing.

MassDOT Developers. Speaker from Mass Exec Office of Transportation. MassDOT brings together several Mass agencies. Now moving to open data. If you wanted to make a transport app [eg, an iPhone app] then you would have to scrape the data and then worry about IP issues. MassDOT is opening up their data (from various agencies) to third party developers. [Cityrail take note!] Within a month, three transport apps were developed. Eg, MassTransit, To a T, RMV Wait Times. These apps wouldn’t have been developed otherwise. [I have no idea why Cityrail wants to close their data, other than it might expose how late their trains always run.] Challenge is extracting data, such as GPS data for buses, from systems which weren’t built with this in mind (ie exporting to XML or other accessible formats). Figuring out when a bus arrives is “lifechanging”, especially when the weather in winter is -10 degrees… Fahrenheit.

Day 2.

21
Sep 09
Mon

Transparent Text Symposium Liveblog

5:33:53pm: Similar to his code versions comparison, Fry did a study of the different editions of Darwin’s Evolution of the Species. Has some peripherally interesting uses, but a question was raised as to the usefulness to Darwin scholarship. That brings us to the end of the day’s talks.

5:20:56pm: Touching on Processing. I should learn that language, apparently the syntax is similar to Java. (There’s also a Javascript port of it that uses html5’s canvas tags to display output.)

Now showing a diff chart of the 40 versions of code for Processing (all on one screen).

5:18:36pm: He did a project for the World Economic Forum, and want to show how the sessions at Davos were connected – showing word connections. It’s pretty and… well, just pretty.

5:13:23pm: Ben Fry is up! Topic is “Darwin vs Code”

5:07:31pm: Now looking at State legislation (bills, to be specific). Shows that bills in different states have duplication – probably because they were submitted by the same interest groups. Eg, MN bill repeats a lot of language from an AK bill. See, eg, a Google search for the Firearms Freedom Act. The lobby group has published model legislation. “Open source for legislation”? Quaint way of putting it. It’s just a template law. I wonder what other work they’re doing apart from looking at duplication? I wonder if any research scholarship would find this duplication data interesting?

Now a guy is talking about compresing legal agreements – something that Creative Commons has done (icons to serve as proxies for legal texts). Must talk with him afterwards.

5:01:38pm: Dataset is 1000 Terms of Service. Looking for reptition. Acknowledge that “boilerplate exists”. Vivid depiction of boilerplate – shows how terms of art in law work – “magic words” get reused. Stacked view of duplicated language is good for showing what’s not boilerplate and therefore what’s deal specific. Interesting and useful. Now showing graph of websites linked by degree of similarity in their TOS.

4:58:21pm: Now there’s an analysis of personals ads – shows prevalence of repetition between ads. Now for legal text. I’m waiting in anticipation.

4:53:23pm: Now showing building graphs of words (graphs of nodes in a network), showing relationships of words. For example, searching for (word) “and” (word) builds a graph of nodes connected by the word “and” in a novel (Pride and Prejudice in this example). Search for (word) “begat” (word) on the Bible produces a rough family tree.

4:52:04pm: Now showing a wordtree (which is kind of like a structured wordcloud) of HR 3200 (Healthcare Bill). Useful way of navigating the universe of phrases in a long doc. Now navigating through a personals ad wordtree – we quickly find out that “I am married” is most often followed by the word “but”, and second most popularly by “and”.

4:47:52pm: They just showed Google, and typed in “Why”. The suggested search queries that pop up are hilarious. Now showing comparison of google suggest results sets, and then showing matches between sets. Eg, “is my son” & “is my daughter”, “is my husband” & “is my wife”, “democrats are” & “republicans are” etc. Very humorous!

4:42:50pm: Fernanda & Martin on Visualizing Text, Many Eyes project. What do people want to know when they see a lot of text? Fernanda says she was interested in repetition in text. Maybe as a way to connect large bodies of documents, or indicate levels of interest. They’re going to show a few demos of (experiemental) visualization techniques.

4:37:32pm: David Small, MIT Media Lab Prof on Transparency & Focus. This presentation is… unorthodox and experimental. Good visualization techniques and graphical manipulation techniques for museum displays.

4:15:28pm: Ok I didn’t blog the session after lunch although there were some very very interesting presentations in it (Arie et al, I’ll send you an email about it later). Now startig the 3rd session.

12:25:47pm: Interesting point: people sourced to track news on specific politicians had a strong initial preference to only track the politician they had a personal interest in (leading to spotty coverage). However, after having a positive experience, begin to relax those preferences.

12:13:45pm: Amanda Michel from ProPublica is up now. Talking about how to best use open data, and about how to collect more data where data is limited. PP uses crowdsourcing to find/produce info. Going to run through some case studies.

12:04:36pm: Demo: looking for SEC documents about Madoff from current DB of government PDFs. Eg of search query: “company: Google company: IBM” pulls out a BigTable paper. Also: industry_term:”hot gas” brings up report of Challenger accident. Now demoing Cloud Crowd which uses parallel processing to process a raw PDF. They’re going to run PDFs through OCR (very computationally intensive). CC is open source, getting debugged and plugins. DC uses full-text searches as well as metadata searches.

11:58:39am: Document Reader component presents documents in an easy to read format (can also use DocStop, Scribd). Has an annotation tool which also cites the page number (click and drag interface) – journalistic layer on top of a document. In the future, they want to be able to take annotations out of viewer and make them portable – so you can see what people are saying about the portions of the text. Working with Aperture(?).

11:54:34am: DC is a consortium of about 20 organizations (most of which are unannounced). So combining documents from different orgs into one repository should allow people to find relationships between different types of docs. Eg, news items about a person, or geographic location, or relationally proximate to a person or location. Calais seems to have a globally unique identifier system – eg, “IBM”, “I.B.M.” and the IBM logo all point to one Calais URL. Calais is looking for more members (info@documentcloud.org) – whether news orgs, or academics, etc.

11:50:22am: Great example of inspiration for DC – NYTimes was breaking stories about inconsistent statements made by a politician who wondered how they were pulling “needles out of haystacks” – they use proprietary cataloging software (FastESP). DC’s cataloging software is OpenCalais (and someone from Calais will be speaking later in the conference). Calais automatically tags documents with metadata. Seems to be able to read in PDFs (including running OCR on them). In summary, DC is trying to build a layer of intuitively searchable metadata on top of the base documents.

Watching people trying to capture what a speaker is talking about through the #tt09 Twitter channel is painful.

11:42:25am: Aron Pilhofer (NYTimes) & Jeremy Ashkenas on DocumentCloud. DocumentCloud is Pilhofer’s “hobby”, arising out of a conversation he had in his boss’ office. DC turns unstructured text into structured data. It comprises several tools for analysis, processing, publishing and searching/cataloging. Analysis: Aim is to derive meaning from the library of documents which anyone can upload into the cloud. Processing: Technical challenges to processing a lot of documents quickly – uses parallel processing (Mapreduce-type techniques?) to accomplish this. Publishing: making documents publicly accessible + presentation tools. Searching: by providing metadata. Focus today is on first 3 components.

11:33:10am: Hah, someone’s making the exact point in the Q&A session going on now that Andreas made. Irrelevant sidenote: Ellen Miller kinda reminds me of Angela Petrelli from Heroes.

11:29:46am: Twitter channel at #tt09 is filled with mostly non-useful chatter about who’s speaking, their topic and possibly some form of glowing compliment.

Sunlight Foundation is showing interesting visualizations of Congressional transcripts and the frequency with which politicians use different words. Text visualizations tend to be just word counts or single word/word-pair comparisons. Lots of word clouds. I’m not sure that’s very useful as you lose a lot of meaning, and also why isn’t a “top 10″ list of words (together with a frequency count) better than a word cloud? If I have a word in 92 pt font and another in 72 pt font, this doesn’t really confer any information about the relative frequency of those words. As Andreas mentioned, people are good at making things look pretty, but we need to take a long hard look at whether it is useful and more effective.

Conference website.

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8
Jun 08
Sun

Catch of the Day

Australia has now got its own version of WootCatch of the Day. But I’m not sure that the product selection for COTD is going to be all that interesting…

25
Apr 08
Fri

Survivor soothsaying

This is an awesome season of Survivor. Warning, spoilers ahead. Highlight the white text below to read:

Jason just got voted out in the second straight episode which sees the idol get taken out of play, unplayed. Very well done by the rest of the tribe – one of the few episodes where a plan plays out almost perfectly. Parvati and Natalie have little to no chance of winning due to putting jury members offside. Parvati especially has royally screwed herself over (getting flipped off by Ozzy at tribal was classic!). If any of the remaining guys get through, it’s quite likely one of them will win (I’m not sure the guys on the jury will like the chick clique girl-power thing going on and James and Erik are both highly likeable), so the girls really need to stick together and vote out the guys. Watch out for Cirie. She’s the queen bee, even though no one in her alliance seems to have recognised it yet. She’s an astute, excellent strategic player. Assuming Amanda stays tight with the guys, her alliance still needs to pull one of the girls across to even the balance of power. Hard to see which one that could be though. Prediction: Eight remain, but assuming the guys don’t go on an immunity idol rampage, this season’s fans vs favourites final five will be its first all female fight. Fantastic. (Although I’m still cheering the guys on!)

24
Apr 08
Thu

The $7,530 perk

Chat transcript:

Alfredo G says (12:39 AM): http://www.alleyinsider.com/2008/4/googles_ginormous_food_budget_7530
_per_googler

Stu says (12:40 AM): i so want to work for them.
Alfredo G says (12:40 AM): lol
i wouldn’t mind
free food
Stu says (12:40 AM): that’s probably why there are so many asians working for them

16
Apr 08
Wed

eBay forcing Aussie sellers to use PayPal and iPhone rumours

If you sell stuff on eBay Australia, you’ll know that eBay is going to make PayPal the only way vendors can accept payment aside from COD. eBay must have known the backlash they would have got from this, but decided the extra 3% or so in fees they’d reap from forcing the use of PayPal (which, of course, eBay acquired several years ago) would be worth it. They’re introducing it under the guise of “buyer protection”… but of course sellers will probably just pass on the transaction costs to buyers. The ACCC is now looking into the matter to see if it impinges on any competition laws. Pretty poor PR move by eBay in my opinion.

There are also rumours that the iPhone will be launched in Australia in June and will not be carrier locked. It hasn’t been mentioned in any articles, but I wonder if that’s because Apple reckons there’s an appreciable risk that the carrier locking arrangement may breach third line forcing laws?

11
Jul 06
Tue

Blogathon 2006

The event
I’m going to participate in the Blogathon this year. It’s a charity fund-raising event where bloggers stay up for a 24 hour period and post once every 30 minutes. The event will start at 6.00am, US Pacific Standard Time on the 29th of July. That’s 11.00pm on the Saturday in Sydney. The timezone’s a pretty awkward, so I’ve recruited a guest blogger (a first for this website) who will fill in during the witching hours so I can get some rest (yes, it’s allowed under the rules). Incidentally, this is also the first time I’ve used this website to request money (and it’s not even for myself!).

The charity
The organisation I will be donating to is World Vision Australia. I was trying to decide between World Vision and donating to a cancer research organisation, but I decided that for the amounts I’m likely to raise, the few dollars will go a lot further in the developing and third world than it will for research or palliative care in the first world. World Vision is well known for their 40 hour famine fundraiser and sponsor-a-child program. The Australian branch administers over a quarter million such sponsorships. In addition to that, they are active in organising appeals and relief projects for both natural and human-made disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, civilians living in conflict zones) as well as longer term developmental projects (such as helping communities to become self-reliant) throughout Asia and Africa. Importantly, only 7.1% of World Vision Australia’s revenue in 2005 was used in administrative overheads – a creditable amount which provides comfort that most of the money is getting to where it should be going.

Sponsor me
So, please click below to sponsor me! You don’t pay now, you just make a pledge – I have to complete the 24 hours first. (Mark donations in AUD.)


 

17
May 06
Wed

Making sense of it all

Studying for a Trust Accounting exam is not the most engaging of activities, and when you’re seated in front of a computer, the mouse tends to wander. Making the blog-rounds, I came across Ros’ post on an NY Times article, “Scan this book!” (presumably a pun on Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book).

It’s a visionary article looking at the changing nature of how information is created, stored and accessed today and perhaps in the future. It ties in the development of intellectual property laws (mainly copyright) with how technology changed the way business was done for content creators. It hasn’t been difficult to see that technological change has permitted IP laws to be broken with impunity. It’s happened ever since the VCR allowed people to (illegally) tape their shows from the TV – incidentally, a hollow law which only now has been fixed by Parliament, and only a partial fix at that (you can now tape TV shows but you have to delete them once you watch the tape once, and you can’t lend the tape to a friend, which means you can’t get a friend to tape something for you). Of course, no one can really do anything about what you do with your VCR at home.

MP3s arrived on the scene in the 90s, dramatically changing the music industry for consumers. It was “free” music for everyone – no more did you have to shell out $30 for 12 songs on a CD. But it didn’t change the music industry for corporations. They started suing everyone, which did nothing but earn them the eternal ire of consumers and a few thousand dollars from kids. Most consumers found it fairly clear that the corporations would have to change the way they did business if they wanted to address this problem of perpetual lawbreaking. But where technology changes quickly and consumers adapt swiftly, corporations are much more stodgy. Apple, with its iTunes music stores caught on quicker than the music industry. The law will also change in time, once the large corporations change their business models and talk with the Government.

Anyway, I found the article very thought provoking, and it is fertile stimulus material for a good discussion on quite a lot of issues. However, this post is not the time for that.

The article talks a lot about a single universal library where everything is referenced, cross-linked, laden with metadata and incredibly accessible – an exciting concept which I’m sure we’ll see an approximation of within decades. However, I’m surprised that this hasn’t been done yet in the legal field from the perspective of a lawyer.

Law is the ultimate in information-intensive professions (as opposed to data-intensive, which I’m going to define as an unprocessed or raw form of information). Legal materials are all words and concepts and there’s a huge volume of the stuff. Searching through it can be very time consuming. But it’s also incredibly structured, so it’s waiting to be sorted out and combined. Wikilaw or Google Law, anyone?

First, you have your primary materials – legislation (the stuff Parliament makes) and cases (the stuff judges write). Plenty of metadata available there for sorting, categorising and creating some sense out of it all. You have secondary materials too. You can find out why Parliament enacted legislation through explanatory memoranda and second reading speeches. You can find more about cases by reading court transcripts (they type all that stuff down!), and other cases which reference other cases. Then you have traditional academic material – journal articles, legal encyclopedias, dictionaries and so on. All of these resources form an incestuous relation with each other, and they are all meticulously proofread, formatted and structured which makes handling them on an individual basis easy.

Now don’t get me wrong – we have big publishing houses like LexisNexis and Westlaw providing lots of resources. Case citators for cross-referencing cases and to a limited extent journal articles. Statute and case databases (but with truly horrible search engines). However, they are all poorly interlinked.

Let’s say I want to find out what the law is regarding a specific issue. Maybe it’s whether it’s legal to play live music on top of a building and impersonate a band (I have been reading through ImprovEverywhere lately!). So I figure there’s an issue with noise, and I need to find laws on noise or nuisance. I have no idea where I’d find that so I look through a Halsbury’s laws (online) – a legal encyclopedia and find it refers me to a section in the Nuisance Act (imaginary – just using it for the sake of this example) but doesn’t give more information. I pull up a statute search engine (such as LawLex) to find out the exact wording of the section in the Nuisance Act. It creates an offence for a person to create unreasonable noise. But I want to find out what would be “unreasonable” – that is, what do courts reckon “unreasonable” means in a practical sense? I can look at Parliamentary intent through a second reading speech (which is a spiel by the MP introducing the new law on why he or she is introducing it and why he or she reckons the country will be better because of it). I can also look at case law (among other resources).

If I’m lucky LawLex will link me to the second reading speech. But the Nuisance Act has been around for decades and LawLex doesn’t have a link to the speech for an Act that old. So then I need to find out the name of the corresponding Bill for the Act and find the hansard (Parliamentary transcript) that corresponds to the date the Bill was read in Parliament. Unfortunately, the hansard hasn’t been digitised yet, so I need to hunt for a hard copy.

That’s not convenient so I look for cases referencing that section of the Nuisance Act. I can use CaseBase, FirstPoint, maybe even Austlii. I could try a criminal law textbook, but one isn’t available online.

Ok, we’ll stop with the example there. If all that is confusing and seems time consuming, that’s because it is. One hundred and one different online resources, poorly connected and disjointed to find the answer to a relatively simple question. Yet from a human’s perspective, it is all logically structured. It’s easy to see what resources are linked, and know what to look for (“all materials referring to the word ‘reasonable’ in section X of the Nuisance Act”). It’s just that no one has put it all together.

It wouldn’t be difficult, just labour intensive – but even then you could open it up to the Internet public for help (perhaps not Wikipedia-style, but something along those lines). You don’t even run into copyright issues with the primary materials (statutes and cases are all copyrighted, but the Government is very liberal when it comes to licensing such materials). Austlii has taken advantage of this, but let’s face it – their search engine is crap.

Hell, if Google can make something as monstrously unstructured as the 100 billion pages of the net searchable in a handful of milliseconds, why can’t a legal publisher do the same for law materials? To compare the task – if internet search engines didn’t exist and I asked you to find a pages on, say, how to learn how to program in Java – how would you even begin to work out how to search the internet? What sort of search algorithm would you use to sift through 100 billion pages? But if I ask the same sort of question about a legal issue, the search algorithm is a lot more apparent (to a lawyer, anyhow) because the materials are already categorised.

The organisation that successfully consolidates everything legal into a usable service with the intuitiveness of something like Google will earn a packet. Just invite me on board first.

6
Aug 05
Sat

Note concerning e-mail

E-mail to me has apparently been bouncing… but only to my POP3 account. E-mail is still successfully getting through to me via Gmail. (Incoming mail goes to both accounts.)

2
Feb 05
Wed

iiNet’s new ADSL plans

iiNet has been busy installing DSLAMs at Telstra exchanges and the result is a bunch of new plans. They all guarantee a minimum 1500/256k connection, up to 8000/1000 depending on your distance from the exchange. The plans basically require bundling with iiphone (their voice line service), and the heavy plan comes with a 40gb+40gb download limit (offpeak limit runs from midnight to 8am) with uploads not being counted. $120/month for the service and line rental seems very worth it.

6
Jan 05
Thu
1
Nov 04
Mon

E-Mail

Well, I was complaining about my e-mail going down early last week, but the entire UNSW unimail system collapsed late last week because of a “massive power outage”. That’s 30,000 accounts rendered inaccessible. The system was down for a few days for most people, and now the people that can access it are complaining about lost mail, which I understand is in the process of being recovered.

Update: Apparently the power outage caused the air-conditioning to fail. If the temperature hits 28°C, failsafe is meant to kick in and the whole server room is meant to shut down. That, it did. Everything shut down. Except, all at once and not going through the proper shutdown procedure. Apparently the mail is stored on a RAID 5 set of hard drives which are themselves mirrored – the drives all lost power at the same time and hence, corruption.

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20
Oct 04
Wed

When E-Mail Malfunctions

E-mail’s a generally reliable communication media. So much so these days, that it’s almost unthinkable that e-mail just “goes missing”. My e-mail has been playing up over the last day or two. I noticed it when there was a blackspot of about 12 hours where I wasn’t receiving anything. At first I thought it was just one of those quiet periods (even though that’s unusual on a weekday), but then I realised that I wasn’t even getting any spam. Then one or two pieces of mail came through. Then nothing. Turns out that something has been delaying some inbound mail for a few hours, and randomly making the rest of it “disappear” into the ether. Senders haven’t been receiving bounce messages, either. It’s very, very disconcerting. My server provider hasn’t been too illuminating on pinpointing the problem, either…

20
Aug 04
Fri

Affordable Wireless Broadband

Unwired Australia offers wireless broadband that’s actually affordable. Go on the lowest plan and get Sydney-wide access. Probably more affordable than UNSW’s uniwide wireless service which charges a $1 connection fee per day whenever you connect, on top of per megabyte fees (despite high connection speeds). If I had a laptop, I’d be signing up for this.

18
Jul 04
Sun

IMWatching

Someone has got around to implementing another idea I had years ago (1999, to be exact, although of course I doubt they got the idea from this site!) about gathering statistics from instant messenging programs. IMWatching records when buddies are offline, idle, active, and away. Unfortunately, it appears only to work for tracking AOL buddies, but I’m sure something for ICQ and MSN will come along (the protocol specs for the two programs are widely available). Not sure how useful it is for people like me who leave their machine on 24/7, but most IM programs have auto-away statuses these days.

I’ve recently started to use MSN Messenger (I don’t really know why myself, but I quite like the ability to change your username at will so you can use it like a mini bulletin board). My account which I can be added under is: *** [at] gmail.com

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27
Jun 04
Sun

Proxy Shipping from the States

I can’t find the post right now, but a few years ago, I wrote about how it would be an excellent idea to have a service in the States that shipped goods internationally for you, so that you could order online from US merchants who only shipped domestically (eg, Amazon electrical goods) and they would forward it on to you internationally for a fee. Price Japan sort of does that for Japanese electronics. I just discovered that this site, Shop the States, does precisely that. The service charge is only US$5 per package, in addition to normal shipping costs. They can even repack several orders from different merchants into one box, for a small fee. Australian shipping rates are here. Excellent. There are a lot of electronics that are much cheaper in the States (or get released there months before getting released here) such as Muvo MP3 players, and now we have a way to get at them.

23
Jun 04
Wed

Gmail

I have more invites. Seems like Google is slowly phasing in a full user base. Again, let me know if you want one.

Update: Out of invites again, sorry.

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21
Jun 04
Mon

Gigabyte usage

At this rate, it will take 2 to 3 years to fill up my Gmailbox:
   

So much for for being a commodity

I am swimming in Gmail invites. Let me know if you want one.

Update (22/6 17:00): They went like hotcakes. If I get more, I’ll let you all know. WaD seems to have a Google employee on the take and has a huge stash of invites. He was last seen pimping them out on Fuzzy’s site.

4
May 04
Tue

Gmail Idea

Someone should write a little piece of modding software so that “mailto:” links on web sites, instead of opening up a “new message” box in Outlook (or whatever email program you use), will link you to a Compose Mail page for Gmail.

28
Apr 04
Wed

Gmail Account

Massive props to Wad for hooking me up with a Gmail account!

19
Feb 04
Thu

Keyring Project

With all these photo projects going around, I reckon it’s only a matter of time before someone sets up a “Keyring Project”. I have a bunch of apartment keys, a car key, a Photon Microlight and a Victorinox Minichamp on mine. What’s on yours?

24
Nov 03
Mon

Spam Alert

I am now getting so much spam in my mailbox that it’s getting hard to separate out legitimate mail from it. I’m sure I’ve inadvertently deleted some legit mails from people I don’t know (and perhaps even people I do) due to a trigger happy delete finger. I don’t use spam filters because they tend to produce false negatives. (It helps if you provide a decent subject title and type using capital letters where they belong.) Surely I can’t be the only one experiencing this problem?

15
Nov 03
Sat

Photologs

For a little diversion… some good photologs: Quarlo, Will Simpson, Teofil, Couloir.

10
Nov 03
Mon

Friendster Photos

Guide to interpreting Friendster photos. Funny. I have some disparaging comments about Friendster (or at least, how some people appear to use it), but I’ll leave such rantage for another time.

28
Sep 03
Sun

OSI Layer 1 Replacement

Uni students have time for anything. Including an implementation of the OSI physical layer via… Bongo Drums. It was in response to an off-the-cuff challenge made by a university professor who no doubt will think twice before he speaks next time.

Eight weeks later, the first public demonstration was given to the class by using a simple ping packet. With a blinding 2bps speed, the class sat patiently as the packet was received in roughly 140 seconds.

28
Jun 03
Sat

In Memoriam

Did you know that if you go up to someone with a packet of flour, and tell them you’re selling them Cocaine, you can be charged for supplying Cocaine (and be liable for all the punishments that go with that), even though it’s really only flour?

But anyway, enough study for tonight. I was reading Fuzzy’s post and it just made me think how much things have changed over the past decade with regards to the net, and how my usage patterns of the net used to be. It’s a fond memory, and it’s with a bit of regret that things won’t ever feel the same way again. The Net was something new and extraordinary back then – literally a world of exploration.

The mid-90s: We were with OzEmail, a 28.8k dialup connection (hey, I’m STILL on a 28.8k dialup connection… some things never change *grumble*) at $5 an hour. Dad used to restrict my time spent connected to the Net quite heavily. I remember joining the Aussie Warcraft 2 (OzWL) league in Year 10. OzWL was one league in a series of leagues run by Prowler and Garfield, and all its players formed a community on Kali. I had registered for a Kali ID back then by sending off a cheque to Jay Cotton. Anyway, I used to get home from school at about 5pm, and because Dad only got back from work at 6.30pm, I’d have a narrow window of time to log on and play a bit of War2 behind his back. That was fun, one of the first gaming communities in Australia that started up over Descent and later migrated over to War2. I started up a clan. We had ranking systems, profiles, clan wars, competitions and stats – everything, all arranged via a website coded by Prowler’s excellent Perl scripting skills. Battle.net at this stage was years away and multiplayer games still ran only over IPX (hence the need for Kali). The concept of LAN parties was also new. I recall when they arranged LANDAY1, for the league community. They ran it over a 10mbps network when network cards were far from commonplace.

I also remember stumbling upon MP3s for the first time. Back when Winamp was in its really early days. I recall the very first MP3 I downloaded was *ahem* a Spice Girls track. I actually still have that track on my hard drive – it’s datestamped 1997. I got such a thrill that I was downloading music, for free, onto my computer. Similar to the thrill I got when we upgraded from the Apple IIC to a 486 and played a game with colour and speech, instead of monochrome and beeps (Might & Magic 3). The lawsuit-happy RIAA was ages away from identifying MP3 as a threat, and some web sites traded MP3s openly and easily.

I don’t remember how I found things on the net back when the default background colour for web pages was grey. There was no Google. And when Altavista eventually surfaced, it was extraordinary (a search engine that sorta worked!). “Real-time” news sites were rare. If I got a reply to an e-mail within a day, that was an extremely fast response time. The sites that I kept going back to were the sites that updated, and back then, updating was quite rare. Most web sites were just static pages. No such thing as content management systems. No ICQ. And wireless connectivity? Forget it! Hardly any mobile phones back then.

Everything was new and exciting. Writing my first web page was awesome. Figuring out how to stick it online, doubly so. Back then, the physical structure of the Net was a blur to me. I didn’t comprehend how it worked, and it didn’t really matter. It was something mystical. It was something to unravel and learn about. There weren’t idiot guides, TV shows or people you could call up to ask questions. If you wanted help, you had to first figure out where on Earth (literally) to look for it.

We’ve all learnt a lot about the Net over the intervening years. Things are at the stage where nothing is truly revolutionary. If you can envisage something, it can most probably be done, and even done personally. There is the occasional thing that will wow us, but never will it be the same as the sense of wonderment and awe I felt, when way back in 1992 I logged onto this little application called CB Radio and started chatting with some high school dude in Cremorne.

This is all a very circumlocutious way of answering the question of why Fuzzy is having such a hard time finding sites that satisfy like the “olden days”, and why there’s sometimes an old school mentality amongst the older personal web sites. Back then, finding a personal web page that was regularly updated was a treat. Communities formed, and being exclusively online, they were communities in a very novel sense. Nowadays it’s all commonplace. Nothing special. Three clicks in Blogger.com and you’re away, with your very own tiny piece of real estate in the megapolis that is the Net, population 2 billion. Your friend’s meeting someone in the real world that they met online last week? Yeah, so what’s new? It’s like the movies. The first couple teen spoof flicks were excellent. Then they just got boring, because they were unoriginal. It doesn’t mean the later films were crap, it just means they were unexciting.

Ok it’s too late. This post has meandered quite badly, and my writing sucks. I’ll be off now.

25
Apr 03
Fri

File Swapping Tools Legal

“A federal judge in Los Angeles has handed a stunning court victory to file-swapping services Streamcast Networks and Grokster, dismissing much of the record industry and movie studios’ lawsuit against the two companies.” RIAA to appeal. (CNET Article) KaZaA not in the clear, but the judgment has very interesting implications.

If upheld, the decision could lead artists, record labels and movie studios to cast new legal strategies that they have until now been reluctant to try, including bringing lawsuits against individuals who copy unauthorized works over Napster-like networks. …

The judge’s surprise ruling marked the first validation of an argument that file-swapping supporters have been making since Napster’s first controversial arrival. Peer-to-peer file-trading is a technology that can be used for activities well beyond copyright infringement, and the technology should not be blocked altogether to stop solely its illegal uses, these backers have said.

In making that argument, the judge looked back to the landmark 1984 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the legality of Sony’s Betamax videocassette recorder (VCR). That decision helped establish the doctrine of “substantial noninfringing use,” which protects technology providers that distribute products–like the VCR or photocopier–that can be used for both legal and illegal purposes.

In the Napster case, the Betamax argument failed because the overwhelming majority of activity occurring on Napster was not substantially noninfringing. In this case, Morpheus and Grokster operate in a technically different way from Napster (decentralisation), and that the judge has also taken the future usefulness of this technology into account. Naturally, the parties will keep appealing until it gets to the Supreme Court, but that will take years.

22
Feb 03
Sat

Spam Scams

A Czech geriatric was stupid enough to fall for a Nigerian scam. So he went out and shot one.

3
Oct 02
Thu

BTA

BTA is a somewhat bizarre publication-in-production. You’ll have to have a bit of a browse to figure out what it is. Bizarre but intriguing.

2
Oct 02
Wed

Fanatical Service

I was browsing Rackspace last night, when I diverted my attention to another browser window for a few minutes. Suddenly, a soft voice intoned through the speakers, “Welcome”, and a pop-up box appeared. Another pop-up ad box. My neurologically ingrained impulses automatically set my cursor moving towards the box’s close button before my consciousness realised that it actually wasn’t an advertisement. It was a chat dialog, originating from Rackspace customer support officer “scottw”, complete with his smiling visage framed in a tiny mugshot. He inquired if I needed help with anything. Taken a little aback, I replied with “just browsing thanks” and satisfied myself, after he replied, that it was actually a human being I was talking to, and not some gimmicky bot. It’s a scenario you’d run into everyday in department stores, but the first time I’ve come across it on the net. To realise, there are actually a bunch of support peons who have to chat to web site visitors who linger too long on one of their pages. It’s weird. I wonder if one day there will be anti-loitering security personnel monitoring a page: “Hey! You’ve been idle on our site for 60 seconds. Did you know it’s rude to browse someone else’s site when you still have ours open?”

Or a salesperson who virtually eyeballs you as you browse their wares: “Sir, did you know we also have that Modena 360 in yellow? And say, while you’re at it, why don’t you fill in this job and income survey so we can determine whether to waste anymore of our bandwidth on you?” Well, maybe not. You can only stretch the analogy so far, I guess.

25
Sep 02
Wed

Ports

Port number reference page. Technical link, more for reminding myself than anything else.

27
Aug 02
Tue
16
Aug 02
Fri

Flame Warriors

A classification system for all types of net forum inhabitants. Pretty amusing.

3
Apr 02
Wed

Old Browsers

Deja Vu, “the web as we remember it”. The site contains a chronology of web browsers, together with a java applet that emulates browsers from the early 90s. Ah… memories of Mosaic.

13
Dec 01
Thu

Usenet

I’m sure you’ve heard that Google has now archived 20 years of Newsgroup postings (frig that’s a lot of data!!). Here are a listing of some historical usenet posts. Not just computer related ones, either. {src: AJH}

17
Oct 01
Wed

How Akamai Works

On all the major media sites, you’ve likely noticed that most, if not all, of the images are coming from “akamai” servers. Akamai is basically a company which provides media caching throughout the world for companies. When you connect to an “akamai-enabled” site, the images are actually pulled from a server that is geographically near to you – Akamai has thousands of such servers for this purpose. The result is load-balancing on a global scale, and theoretically quicker response times for visitors. Here’s a more in-depth article, and an interview with the VP of R&D of Akamai.

13
Aug 01
Mon

Financial Accounts Aggregation

This story has been circulating the office. A part of our team at EDS is responsible for implementing that for the CBA… I don’t know a great deal about cryptography, but one thing I don’t get is when they say all the passwords are stored under one way triple-DES encryption. If that’s true – how do the CBA servers logon to third party financial institution servers to gather information from them? The CBA servers still need to be able to send the decrypted password to other banks’ servers (although re-encrypted via SSL) – for that you’d need two way encryption which means that passwords can be recoverable. Hmmmm…

14
May 01
Mon

Different forms of the same URL

I think I might have posted this link before, but it’s on how to obscure URLs.

2
May 01
Wed

Dynamic IP with TLDs

Got a web server on your machine, want a top level domain name, but your IP is dynamic? Well, easy solution is to sign up with a dynamic IP service like DynDNS. Once you’ve done that, add a CNAME entry onto your dns name server that references the subdomain (www or @ or whatever) to point to your dyndns name, like so. Of course, you need to have access to your name server zone file.

9
Apr 01
Mon

Query…

Anyone know of any cheap places to register domain names? Something under $9.50 a year which is the best I’ve found so far… Let me know please.

DNS

Free DNS Hosting (ie: free name servers).

6
Apr 01
Fri

Anonymous Browsing

Use web proxies. Also good for bypassing IP htaccess bans.

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20
Nov 00
Mon

Cable Cut

SEA-ME-WE3, a 20Gbps cable carrying 60% of Telstra’s international net traffic got cut about 100km off Singapore’s coast. I was wondering why certain US sites became suddenly inaccessible. News article. Telstra is not hooked up to the new Southern Cross cable yet.

If you look at this link (off Dark Magnet) you’ll see a sudden drop in traffic originating from Aus.

17
Nov 00
Fri

Feel The Speed

Sydney got hooked up with a 120Gbps transPacific pipe a few days ago. It’s actually an 18mm fiber optic cable. Tech specs.

11
Nov 00
Sat

Free Phone Calls

Remember how I said you could dial any US phone number via MSN Messenger? A2ZConnect does it for any Aussie or NZ (non-mobile) phone. Screw Optecom… this one doesn’t have ads interrupting every 2 minutes. Works quite well – even over my modem connection there’s only about 1 second of lag.

29
Oct 00
Sun

Permanent Dial-up

You’ve seen this (Oct 5). Shaun sent me a pic of his permanent dial-up connection. The NT dial-up box shows a 30+ day connection!

25
Oct 00
Wed

The Googlebot

Read up on it (info on the bot itself, using meta tags, robot.txt etc.). You can also manually add your site to be indexed by Google here.

10
Oct 00
Tue

HTTP Headers

Puckhead points this site out. Still looking for that site which displays the full header list though. You can simulate the effect by telnetting into a web server and entering a Get command manually through there. Eg: the web server on my computer (midkemia.levitate.org) returns these headers:

GET /index.cfm

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: Microsoft-IIS/5.0
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2000 07:29:41 GMT
Content-type: text/html
Page-Completion-Status: Normal

[HTML follows]

Some servers return more extensive headers, like Zipworld's Apache one:
GET /index.html HTTP/1.0
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2000 06:48:22 GMT
Server: Apache/1.3.12 (Unix) PHP/3.0.16 PHP/4.0.1pl2
Last-Modified: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 03:06:15 GMT
ETag: "2706fe-76a-3838b327"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 1898
Connection: close
Content-Type: text/html
[HTML follows]
Hmm... might write a header grabbing page for myself...
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7
Oct 00
Sat

Search Engine

Search engine enable your web site. It’s pretty easy to set up and customise.

I Know It’s Out There Somewhere…

There was a site that enabled you to view the HTTP headers that get returned along with a web page (so you can see stuff like what the web server that serves the page is). I’ve lost the URL… anyone know it?

4
Oct 00
Wed

E-Quill

As advertised on Kottke.org, E-Quill allows you to annotate other people’s sites like they were a piece of paper. After doing that, you can then send that annotated site to whoever. I’m curious to see this in action with this site… so if any of you has a few spare moments, I’d appreciate if you could install E-Quill, surf back to Hear Ye!, scribble notes all over the place (design suggestions? content suggestions?) and email me back the mutilated page.

I Need Broadband

… and why it has to be flat rate and have unmetered downloads. And no, I don’t want you cable/DSL users sending me screenshots of how you can transfer that amount in about 3 hours.

Typical dialup session...

2
Sep 00
Sat

Mail via WAP

Check your Hotmail or POP3 account via a WAP-enabled mobile here.

26
Jul 00
Wed

Personal Certs

Get a free Thawte personal certificate (used for stuff like digitally signing e-mail). I always wondered where you could obtain one of them.

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5
Jul 00
Wed

Extreme-DM

Has anyone else found that the Extreme-DM counter is screwing around big time? It’s getting damn annoying.

1
Jun 00
Thu

Random Whois

skepticisms.com is available. Interesting, because most one-word domain names have been taken (skepticisms is also the longest word that can be typed with alternating hands).

26
May 00
Fri

OzEmail Retracted

OzEmail sent around an e-mail this week:

OzEmail are looking at introducing an Account Holding Fee of $5.00 per month (charged quarterly) for customers who wish to maintain an account with OzEmail.

The Account Holding Fee will be charged if the account is not subscribed to one of OzEmail’s monthly pricing plans.

This would mean the 7 year old “emergency net access account” I have with them would start geting charged at $5/month. Damn. Fortunately, something happened and they retracted it… so I get to keep my account (I still have some old web pages hosted there – back in the grand old days of the now defunct OzWL. Anyone remember OGN?)

23
May 00
Tue

Corporate Spies

Paranoia is no longer paranoia when you’re justified in being paranoid (in which case it was never paranoia in the first place). Now that you have that in mind, check this out.

5
May 00
Fri

Beware!

Pages like this are a virtual deathtrap. Do you really think Hotmail Admin has an account at pass_opert@hotmail.com? And why would Hotmail allow employees to have access to user passwords? That’s a violation of privacy. My guess, is that if you did what that page said, your Hotmail account’s password would be mysteriously changed the next day. Very slimy and a nice example of “hacking” (oh sorry – cracking) via social engineering.

Cable Whores

This and this are just obscene, ok? (It’s off Optus cable, btw, not BPA.) Dave ya bastard, stop gloating… :)

4
May 00
Thu

Raging

Raging, Altavista’s copy of Google, simply isn’t as good as at searching as Google is. They sure look similar, though.

1
May 00
Mon

Google

Hey why does Google have a UFO on their frontpage today?

2
Apr 00
Sun

PalmOs.com

Palm has recently raised a Palm Developer’s site.

25
Mar 00
Sat

Efonexchange

Efonexchange allows you to check and reply email through your mobile phone via voice at $20/month, which doesn’t include mobile phone charges I think. I reckon the idea is a bit of a flop. E-mail is a medium that is not meant to be verbal. And if an e-mail is *that important* (the advert portrays a businessman and a caption saying, “This man lost $1 million because he couldn’t check his e-mail) why wouldn’t the sender just give a phone call instead of sending mail? Besides, there are devices you can get for cheaper that allow you to check and send e-mail on the go, for about the same monthly fee.

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23
Feb 00
Wed

Extreme-DM

Extreme-dm, the folks that provide the counter service are starting to annoy me. Their server is starting to go down weekly, on a regular basis.

Netbank

That Netbank thing (see yesterday) is pretty nifty. Pay bills, transfer funds and check account balances. Which would be good if there was any money in my account. Very convenient. Also another thing you don’t have to get out of the house to do anymore, so your body can stagnate in front of the computer :)

22
Feb 00
Tue

E-Business in a Box*

See, this is what happens when you don’t give uni students on industrial training enough work to do. They go and open their own e-commerce store.

Hey Stu,

was surfing (not working) and found this interesting site.  It goes thru steps and ‘builds’ u ur own ecommerce store (shopping carts …) and then allows u to customise it.  People can surf to ur site and actually buiy stuff..if they do u get a commission!

vstore.com   will probly explain it better

anyways u can check out my sites and buy away hahahhaha

http://easy.vstoreelectronics.com

Pete

Now stop trying to make money and get back to your password authentication work, Pete :)

* This post is in no way related to Sausage software’s eBusiness in a Box

  9:45pm (GMT +10.00)  •  Internet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Commonwealth Netbanking

The CBA have been running their netbanking ad campaign for a while now, so I decided to give them a call tonight. They told me my online account will be activated 8am tomorrow.

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1
Feb 00
Tue

Kill Doubleclick’s Tracking

Doubleclick, that web banner advertising giant, has been under fire from people concerned that their collection of “demographic data” infringes on personal privacy. Their response is an “opt-out function” which disables their cookie. Crumble that cookie here.

Ouch.

This excerpt, with a comment about Indian bandwidth, makes my whining about lack of download speed make me sound like a spoilt child:

Another key area for government policy and intervention is the capacity by which their country is able to interconnect with the rest of the world carriers. “India is connected to the Internet by only 6Mbps through four international gateways. While there is no limit to the number of independent ISPs and there is no licence fee to become an ISP, ISPs are obliged to go through VSNL’s international gateways for global connectivity.” (Raju, K. S. 1997). This fact will restrict the ability of local businesses in India to provide competitive services across the Internet, and the sheer issue of capacity and performance will deter many potential customers.

India, of course, has the 2nd largest population in the world. To think, you cable whores have more bandwidth than all of India’s international gateways, combined, had in 1997. Sourced here.

8
Dec 99
Wed

Browser Testing Site

This site was set up to test your web browser’s capabilities. I didn’t know there were so many &xxx; tags in existence: áâã.

ABA Hacked

A friend, Andrew, forwarded me this link to the ABA’s web site (Australian Broadcasting Commission). It’s been hacked (local screenshot). Australia does indeed have the weirdest stance on Internet regulation. They are trying to regulate something which is unregulatable, and something which normal people have no desire to see regulated. For a developed country such as ours, we sure have some crony old backward luddite politicians. Also, when hackers hack, why can’t they spend a bit of extra time composing a message that is coherent and written in proper English? Then maybe for once, when people who read the hack think about the hacker, images of a rebellious, uneducated teenage muckabout aren’t conjured up. It would give them a little credibility … and dropping the hacking lingo would show you’re more serious about your message, and not the fact that you’re so “l33t” cos you cracked the security of some site.

22
Sep 99
Wed

CABLE!

Flat rate cable’s coming to town! Rejoice! Hopefully it’ll force Telstra to go flat rate too. Stole this off Rooshooters (this is one sweet deal). Of course I live in Camden. Whoop whoop. No cable. Not even Foxtel cable, much less Optus cable. Pay TV comes in via satellite. Makes the case for me moving up into civilisation and closer to uni more compelling :)

Hi There :)

I noticed by your posts @ Rooshooters that you are interested in Optus@Home cable internet. Here is some techincal info on the service you may be interested in which I found on the cable newsgroups:
- our modems (pre-DOCSIS standard) will NOT work with Optus@Home
- the launch is scheduled for December 99 (tv / radio / newspaper ads etc)
- The Optus cable network is capable of 30 megabits downstream (like BPA) and 10 megabits UPSTREAM (unlike BPA’s 768 kilobit upstream capacity).
- a good way to gauge if you can get optus cable internet is to see if you can get optus telephony over cable. This means your local cable setup can do bi-directional comms etc.
- NO LOGIN CLIENT REQUIRED. Yep, as long as your OS supports DHCP (BeOS / Linux / MVS / Unix / Windows / MacOS etc), you can use OPtus cable internet.
- You will only be allowed 3 IP addresses per modem.
- No address translation allowed on the client lan (this is to stop large lans from all sharing the same modem etc), but for <5 pcs, this will not be a problem with a simple firewall etc [his words, not mine]
- Up to 3 different pcs can use the internet at the same time (no extra charge for each pc login etc) unless going through said firewall etc..
- the usage plans offered will be used to specify how much upstream capacity you can use. Downstream will always be 10 megs though.
- Flat rate pricing structure (based on how much upstream capacity you want).
- Port 80 WWW & port 21 FTP will be proxied transparently, all other protocols will be unencumbered.
- NO INTRA-ROUTER blocks. You will be able to ping / communicate with anyone, no matter what router they are on etc.
- 5 email addresses as part of the deal.
- 5 megs of webspace for each email address (non-contiguous though – ie; 5 megs in 5 separate directories etc)

Hope this of some use to you :)

Kind Regards,
Tim Harris

14
Sep 99
Tue

Free Net Access

Freeonline is offering free Net access (to 75 hours/month). First of a slew of free-net access firms opening up in Australia. But as usual they have all these restrictions and limits, so it’s not as rosy as it seems.

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6
Sep 99
Mon

Damn Yanks

You and your cable. As posted by Fallen Angel.

Bytes received: 480473046
Connect time: 04:58:50

System Activity [Kbps]:
Current: 0.00
Maximum: 620.71

Telstra, Australia’s largest Telco, has a monopoly on cable modem. That same 480 megs on a regular cable plan would cost an Australian about $200 (about $140 US). In 5 hours.

4
Sep 99
Sat

Cybergeography

Site showing representations of cyberspace and stuff like physical global cabling (those bigass intercontinental links). It seems that the Australia-USA link is a mere 512Mbps (although I’ve read they’re laying a new, bigger cable). Related is this article on the history of intercontinental cabling.

But with the China-U.S. cable in the works, FLAG stands to lose its stature as the longest cable in the world. Expected to be more than 30,000 km or 18,750 miles long, the cable will have a total capacity of 80 gigabytes per second, or enough to simultaneously carry four million phone calls. With more than 950,000 circuits, it will be the largest network of its kind ever constructed. Initial China-U.S. investors, including Teleglobe, Tyco Submarine Systems, Alcatel, KDD, AT&T, Lucent, and Sprint, expect to spend a total of U.S. $1 billion to build the network.

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30
Aug 99
Mon

While I was asleep

Someone found out a way to bypass the password on all Hotmail accounts. As reported on Geeklife and Slashdot. The implications are not good if you’re using one of their accounts. Seems like the problem has gone away now.

29
Aug 99
Sun

Mmm Bandwidth

Pity those Canadians don’t know what to do with it… Thanks to Miyagi (stop playing EQ, man!)

26
Aug 99
Thu

TLDS

Top level domains. If they happen, it won’t be because some relatively small two bit company run by a (former?) porn webmaster starts it up. No, I don’t think MS would let that happen. If the system is as centralised as it currently is, there’s nothing to stop a company, be it MS or whoever, who has more resources and better infrastructure (not to mention the ability to code the addition of the DNS mods into the O/S) to control it all. And we all wouldn’t want that, would we. The funny thing is, by the time this truly takes off, a good part of the two years of free domain time would be gone. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You registered 100 domain names? That’s a hefty bill waiting for you if you want to renew it after two years…

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11
Aug 99
Wed

IRC

I know next to nothing about IRC. Can anyone point me to a good comprehensive site, or explain what exactly a script is? What’s a bot? And IRCop? And what’s the difference between all the different server networks? And everything else in general about it (that I wouldn’t know from using Kali, say). Mail me. 6 years and I’ve never really used IRC…

28
Jul 99
Wed

Amazon Greece

From Adam of the Soapbox:

Shocking news…and I quote
“Amazon Greece is temporarily off line for re-stocking…”
Change the word “re-stocking” to “getting our asses sued” and you might have it right.
So, if they’re in Greece, can Amazon.com do anything about them?

Maybe we should ask Frustrated. She’s had enough experience with litigation

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23
Jul 99
Fri

Amazon.gr

“Amazon.gr is not affiliated with Amazon.com, Inc.” Uh… huh. www.amazon.gr

SMS Web Gateway

Know someone with an sms (short messaging service) enabled mobile phone? From this site, you can send them a message, from anywhere in the world for free. Nifty, except that my mobile doesn’t support sms. The phone company said they’d be getting it in this month… but you know these corporate types and dates.

25
Jun 99
Fri

Anonymiser and the Information Systems exam

Hah some damn ethics question popped up in my CIS exam. About www.anonymizer.com. So I thought I’d make a post about it (actually I was writing out my next set of posts cos I finished early, and in a non-mathematical based exam you can’t really go back and check answers, but I forgot that the “working-out book” I was doing it in had to be handed back in). www.anonymizer.com is sort of a “proxy browser”. You send it a site to fetch, and it fetches it for you. So basically, it accesses the site you want, but not from your IP, but theirs. You can get around bans this way (unless you ban anonymizer.com, of course).

17
Jun 99
Thu

Commercialism

Well. My primary ISP, Zipworld was acquired by some Singapore firm. I pray that their service and pricing won’t be affected…

My secondary ISP (no monthly fee.. good backup one) sent out an alert about the Melissa virus and the ExploreZip one… and they took the opportunity to alert users that “[Isp name]’s original Vet Anti-Virus Software offer is still available, which, at $66.00 plus P&H, is over 30% off recommend retail price.”

14
Jun 99
Mon

ICQ & Spam

I pretty much eliminated ICQ spam.  If you go to Security & Privacy -> Ignore List there is a checkbox that says only accept messages from users on my contact list.  Then you can turn off the annoying authorization thing, and they can only send you messages if you add them to your list.  I just hope I’m not ignoring anyone I know.

Adam Pirkle

13
Jun 99
Sun

ICQ

Has anyone been getting spam through ICQ now? Ignor-o-tron time. UINs have hit 40 million, too. How long until it hits 9 digits?

2
May 99
Sun

eBay

The weird stuff that happens on eBay. This time it’s a “real live human” on auction for (only) $500. He’ll do anything that’s legal for you, for one whole year. As long as you feed him and give him shelter, and pay for his plane fare over to your place. Link here. You know what? This may seem strange in the West. But in Asia, many families hire a maids (like from the Philippines – spelling wrong, I know). They can’t benchpress 100+ kg, but they don’t eat that much either.

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11
Apr 99
Sun

AllAdvantage (.com)

They pay you 50c for every hour you’re on the web up to a max of 40 hours a month (I think it’s 40…). They place adverts on your desktop that can be minimised. In a spate of greed, I signed up for it. I feel dirty already. What I will not do, however, is send spam e-mail or a mass ICQ post trying to get ppl to join. My referral # is AWF-825, if you’re feeling generous. Link.

19
Mar 99
Fri

Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar?

Most major news seems to be echoed on all E/N sites. I think I might devote a section of this page to news that gets replicated on multiple sites. But this page is cramped already… where can I put it?

Anyway, as you’ve no doubt already seen, Microsoft released IE5 (I’m currently waiting for a nice 50meg full install version to come in from… Czechoslovakia, of all places). Ard sent me this link to 5 Unruly Janitors (the name of the site speaks for itself :). Then there’s some article on Microsoft trying to get in on MP3 (sort of).

What’s my opinion how IE and NS rate against each other? I’m not going to hold anything against MSIE because it is MS. The truth is, IE loads faster (hehe that’s probably because it’s integrated into Win98 so much), the interface is nicer, and it just appears cleaner (I hate its caching problems though). However, all this could change with version 5 of IE and NS – for once Netscape is going to release its browser after MS.

21
Feb 99
Sun

National Public Radio

www.npr.org is a nice news site with its articles recorded from radio in Real Audio format. Many interesting articles in here. There’s one on Arty-farty pretentious web sites (mentions Lanquid, which Geeklife linked a few days ago) and another on the release of the Big Brother CPU. There’s also non-tech news such as one entitled “Dragging Death“, about the fuckers who dragged a black man frrom the back of a ute. It’s also easier to listen to new articles than read them.

Another link to tech news worth checking out is www.betaonline.com.

28
Jan 99
Thu

$500,000?

Who the hell would pay half a million (or maybe more) for a domain? Even if it is www.computer.com, being sold by some AOLer? We’ll see…

18
Dec 98
Fri

Corporate Christmas Sites

Blizzard, Westwood, Yahoo, HardwareZone, Mining Co.,
… all have modified their site in some way for Christmas without directly being motivated by profit (see IBM and Qantas‘ site, for an example of modifications which use Christmas to get them more money).

8
Dec 98
Tue

Keep a Lookout

It’s that time of year again. The time when web sites start adding holly to their pages and change their colour scheme to green and red. Me? I’m still looking for a nice picture of holly :). I remember last year Auran had modified their logo to reflect the Christmas season. So just watch out for the blinking lights, pictures of Santa and Christmas trees.

5
Dec 98
Sat

Internet Time

The year is 1998. The date, December 6 and the time is @671.

Sounds sci-fi-ish? Well, it had to happen. Swatch has introduced the concept of Internet Time. Swatch describes it as a “revolutionary new unit of time” with “beats” instead of seconds, bypassing timezones and geographical borders. It bases the time of day into 1000 beats (metric time!), with one beat lasting exactly 1 minute, 26.4 seconds. The time is denoted with the prefix “@” and is timezone independent. Swatch’s logic behind this seems to be reflected in the quote they have on their page: “Internet Time is not geopolitical, it is global.” Funny how the meridian/standard time for Internet Time is based on Swatch headquarters in Switzerland, with @000 denoting midnight and @500, midday in the Neutrally-orientated nation.

Personally, I think the idea, while not altogether stupid, is just too radical to work. I don’t think time will ever be converted to metric, or a universal measurement (perhaps until we take to the stars, but even in Star Trek they are using 24-hour time :). For one, the current standard of time is too deeply embedded in our sub-conscious for us to really learn Internet Time. What will invariably end up happening, is people equating the Internet Time with a current time (for example, @670 is 2am in Sydney, Australia and so on). The only visible benefit is that there is no hassle in converting between timezones – only converting from Internet Time to local “Real” time, so the chance for error is less – you’re much more familiar with local timezones and daylight savings than you are with another country. How many Aussies know what MST or PST stand for? And what timeshift designation they represent? With Internet Time, you don’t have to specify a timezone at all. Anyway, I predict that this idea will ultimately be widely utilised by geeks. Too bad for Swatch. They are producing a range of watches that tell Real Time, and Internet Time, on the same display.

It’s now @680.

25
Nov 98
Wed

Altavista

You know how Altavista accepts real questions, and how they give examples of questions you can ask it? Well one example came up as, “Am I in love?” Now I was wondering how the hell Altavista could answer that so I checked it out and it gave me discographies and other irrelevant stuff. Oh well :)

24
Nov 98
Tue

Web Site Design

Why do I write web sites as a hobby? Writing a web site can be an artform, and from time to time you stumble across a site that just captures your attention. Colours is such a site. The design of this site is exquisite. It’s an archive of stories (fixated, so it seems upon the sexual, but that’s not the point). The integration of music with the stories, the colour scheme, design elements in full screen mode are nothing short of exquisite. It’s something to aspire too. At least, it makes me go,”I want to design a pretentious [well, it is!] site like that one day.” And it’s just one of the web site “styles” I want to try.

Like it or not, web site design is an artform. When textual content, graphical elements, layout, motion, interactivity and sound are all integrated masterly, that site is destined to be acclaimed. I must be scaring you now :). I guess most don’t appreciate good web site design until they try their hand at making a good site. It’s time-consuming, stressful, technical, but the end result can be as satisfying as finishing any other work of art (a painting or a novel or a poem, for instance). And most of it is self-taught. I’m not talking about the people who make casual “here are pictures of my family, pets and friends” personal pages. Those are stuck on the web and remain there static. I’m talking about people who design sites. Those that experiment with new facets of design; who undergo layout changes every month (or week); who bother to read up about browser compatibility issues and catering for differing screen resolutions (except 640×480 – screw them :). Hmm… this post ended up saying something totally different from what I intended. Well, if you made it this far, you might appreciate that site I linked above a bit more.

If you don’t know anything about web sites, click “view source” at an appropriate site and see the stuff people had to write to create that site.

4
Oct 98
Sun

Petition

I strongly urge you to sign this environmental petition here. It’s an issue I feel strongly about, so please make your way over to this page.

1
Sep 98
Tue

Liberal Party Site Hacked

With the Federal Election less than 5 weeks off (3rd October), someone hacked the Liberal Party Site (for you Americans, there’s two major parties – Labor and Liberal, with the Libs in government). Anyway, the hacker(s) redirected a few links off to porn sites, and relabelled descriptions of MPs (Costello – treasurer for the rich and stuff like that). I don’t think the stuff is still there, but the site is at http://www.liberal.org.au/.

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23
Jul 98
Thu

Slut site

It’s a hoax, nuff said. And no more will be said.

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13
Jun 98
Sat

Amazon.com

Now offers music CDs.

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30
Jan 98
Fri

New Domain Names

Forgot to mention this. New top-level domain names are opening up (right now there’s .com, .net, .org, .gov .edu, .mil). Domains are relatively expensive, but the new domain names (.firm,.info,.nom,.rec,.shop,.web,.arts), combined with more domain name “retailers”, means the price to register one will be around US $50 (about AU$75 right now with our shocking exchange rate) for two years, with response times (to get the domain registered) coming down to minutes, as opposed to weeks. That’s global microeconomic reform for ya :).

I’ve also seen the site “http://come.to“. The domain is Tongan, but Tonga has been selling off domain names to aid its domestic economy :). Profitable, because “to” has obvious domain name benefits, as can be seen by come.to. Also was travel.to and something else I can’t remember



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