Category Archives: internet

Netflix launches its own speed test website thanks to frustrating ISPs



Netflix_Web_LogoA big deal has been made of bandwidth when using Netflix, especially so after the streaming service had to arrange a payment agreement with Comcast because it was throttling customers — a fee that amounted to little more than protection money from a mob shakedown.

Netflix also publishes a monthly report that calls out ISPs for their speeds. Since that public shaming wasn’t really enough, the company is now releasing its own speed test so it’s customers can see exactly what it is they are paying for.

The new site, which goes by the name fast.com, is similar to some existing services. It’s the same, but different from what the company has been doing.

“This consumer speed test is different than our Netflix ISP Speed Index. Fast.com measures your personal Internet connection at any given time. The speed index measures average monthly speeds of actual Netflix streams during prime time hours”, Netflx claims.

The service works in every country and you don’t have to be a Netflix customer use it. It’s also free, which is always a plus for people.


Reddit Research Nearly Proves Godwin’s Law



reddit-logo-01-674x501It’s a cliche that’s almost as old as the internet itself, and it’s summed up succinctly by Godwin’s Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches – that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism. The first utterance of such comparison is called the Godwin point of the discussion.

A blogger operating under the name GuriousGnu wasn’t necessarily attempting to prove Godwin’s Law. But CuriousGnu almost did, after analyzing publicly available data from Reddit. First, CuriousGnu made a list that shows the top subreddits that mention either Hitler or Naziism. This list might come as somewhat reassuring to anyone who’s spent more than a little time in online communities, as the top five subreddits for Hitler mentions are:

  • /history
  • /AskHistorians
  • /european
  • /italy
  • /de (Germany)

So it seems likely most of these Nazi-tinged threads might’ve at least been relevant to discussions on history.

CuriousGnu also made a graph that really starts to put Godwin’s Law into perspective:

Then I excluded history subreddits and looked at the probability that a Reddit thread mentions Nazis or Hitler at least once. Unsuprisigly, the probability of a Nazi refrence increases as the threads get bigger. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect that the probability would be over 70% for a thread with more than 1,000 comments.

CuriousGun goes on to state that the next logical step in the experiment would be to do advanced analyses using sophisticated text-mining techniques that would be difficult and time-consuming to complete. Still, this bit of analysis gives us some interesting (if not humorous) insight into what really happens when people congregate and communicate online.


Goodbye, Internet. Hello, internet



AP LogoIt always seemed like a curious thing to me. Does the word “internet” need to be capitalized? I’d seen it printed that way many times over the years. It sorta made sense. If you think of “the internet” as a singularly-defined, proper place, then it deserves the same type of grammatical treatment as California or Japan. And while it may seem that the world has just one internet, that really isn’t true. Some countries have government-run internets that can be closed off from the rest of the world. This means that there can technically be more than one internet. But there can only ever be one Ireland or one Botswana. That seems like as good a reason as any for the Associated Press (AP) to officially de-capitalize “internet” in its upcoming style guide.

And the AP isn’t stopping there. The organization has also decided it’ll be dropping the caps from the word “web” when referring to the World Wide Web (tho apparently, World Wide Web itself remains capitalized – this change only kicks in when the reference is shortened to just “web”).

As the AP describes it, the World Wide Web is a subset of the internet, like e-mail. And no one has ever capitalized e-mail.

Of course, the AP’s style guidelines are ultimately mere suggestions. No one will be kicked off the internet for referring to it as The Internet. Still, it’s nice to know that there’s something authoritative to point to in this matter.


VNC Roulette Will Make You Double-Check Your Remote Connections



VNC RouletteConnecting to a computer over a remote connection is nothing new. Most often, this technology is employed by people who need to connect to a work computer from home. Having a remote connection makes it possible for users to do all kinds of computer-related tasks without having to actually be on site with the host machine. This practice is typically referred to as Virtual Network Computing (VNC). Most modern computers have VNC capabilities built into their operating systems. This makes it relatively easy to get a remote connection up and running. But like any kind of connection made over the Internet, VNC’s should always be secured by a username and password. However, it turns out many VNC users haven’t done even this most basic level of connection security.

Hence, the creation of VNC Roulette. The VNC Roulette website is constantly scanning for open and unsecured VNC connections. When it finds one, it logs in and takes a screenshot of the remote computer’s desktop and then uploads it to the VNC Roulette website. Clicking the “Random Image” link at the top of the VNC Roulette homepage shows you a new random screenshot that has been captured by VNC Roulette.

Most VNC Roulette images are nondescript and fairly benign in nature. But some users have found some interesting things on the VNC Roulette site. For example, The Register found an image from an X-ray machine and another from a store’s CCTV system. Tom’s Guide found a screenshot of someone checking their Facebook page as well as several screenshots of what look like industrial control panels. The most interesting thing I’ve found so far is a cap of a Windows desktop urging the user to upgrade to Windows 10. (Image embedded above. Looks like they’re doing some home shopping as well. Imagine if the screenshot had happened a few minutes later while they were entering credit card numbers.)

Since VNC Roulette was able to capture these images, that means those computers are allowing open VNC connections without any security. In turn, someone with a fairly rudimentary understanding of network scanning could gain full access to those machines in short order. While VNC Roulette may be a fun voyeuristic waste of time, it also reminds us that it’s important to secure our remote connections. Otherwise, VNC Roulette could be the least of our online worries.


eBlocker Pro Protects Online Privacy at CES



eblockerGuarding your privacy online can be a real challenge. There are so many systems out there designed to track your every mouse click, it’s impossible to try and keep track of them all. And while you can give yourself a baseline level of protection by adjusting some browser settings, that may not be enough to keep you truly guarded. Many different companies have come up with tools to help users maintain their online privacy and eBlocker is the latest to enter this field.

At CES 2016, the company has announced its eBlocker Pro device. Unlike many other privacy protection systems that rely on software solutions, eBlocker Pro is a piece of hardware that easily connects to a home network. From there, eBlocker Pro protects all of the devices connected to the network by cloaking their IP addresses, and blocks all ads and trackers, allowing you to truly surf the web anonymously. eBlocker Pro also has a customizable service for shared devices called eBlocker Family. This allows administrators (i.e. parents) to whitelist or block certain websites, based on who’s using a device. eBlocker Family is especially designed for situations where family members are sharing a device like a tablet or a desktop computer.

eBlocker can be found during CES 2016 in the Sands G/Eureka Park building, booth #80432.


Websites Created with Wix get the Google Ban Hammer



Wix logoLet’s face it. Everyone needs a website in 2015. Gone are the days when you can live in blissful ignorance of the Internet and its impact on the world. Especially if you’re a business owner. And while web technology has improved dramatically over the years, the tools to build websites haven’t really kept up. That’s where services like Wix, a free website builder, come in. Wix promises a simple interface for building custom websites and many people have used it for just that reason.

But whenever something’s free, there’s always a catch. And it looks like erstwhile web designers who are relying on Wix to power their websites might be in for a surprise. It was recently discovered that Google has removed many Wix sites from its search engine results. This has caused a massive drop off in traffic that was previously going to those Wix-hosted pages. While no one knows for sure why this may have happened, speculation is focused on the nature of the Wix system’s “websites-for-all” approach, which could allow for a proliferation of spam sites, SEO hacks, and other black-hat activity to occur virtually unchecked.

Google’s search engine is its most prized asset. The company has spent years refining its search results to ensure they remain useful, in spite of the Internet’s continued attempts at gaming that system. It’s unclear if Wix-hosted sites with mapped top-level domains have been affected by this change. But, if you’re relying on an example.wix.com URL to power your website, you may want to start looking for other solutions.


Travel thru San Francisco History with OldSF’s Interactive Map



OldSFBay Area historical website OldSF has created an interactive map that makes it easier to see what certain parts of the city looked like, going all the way back to 1850. Just load the map and click on any black circle/section to see a list of photos for that location. A slider located in the upper right-hand section of the site allows you to refine the list of viewable photos. You can look at just photos from a certain year or you can select a range of different years.

Some tech sites have compared the OldSF interactive map to Google Street View. And while there are some similarities, OldSF doesn’t provide the same type of block-by-block, frame-by-frame coverage as Street View. Still, it is an easy way to look at how certain parts of San Francisco have changed over the years.

Images used by OldSF came from the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection. It’s good to see a modern use for this vintage media. The Bay Area is known for its fostering of new technology. Most of the area’s resources are focused on developing “the next big thing.” But projects like OldSF show that there is still some appreciation for where the city has been, not just where it’s going.


Upwork Apologizes For Website Issues



Upwork logoI’ve used the website Upwork a few times over the years. It’s essentially a go-between for freelancers and those who are looking to hire them. It’s not a bad site, and overall my experience with Upwork has been fine. But I don’t use it a lot, so when the site began having issues earlier this month, I wasn’t aware.

That’s why I was surprised to get a mass e-mail last week from Stephane Kesriel, Upwork’s CEO, explaining the reasons for Upwork’s recent website issues:

Upwork experienced an unprecedented amount of site slowness and outages September 7-10. Many of you who rely on us for your business and livelihood were understandably frustrated. I’m writing to apologize sincerely for the disruption and to renew our vow to make Upwork the high-quality platform you expect and deserve.

I want you to know that the recent site performance was completely unacceptable to us. The situation was a major wakeup call to re-think how we operate the site, as well as how we communicate with you about what’s happening on our platform.

For those wondering what happened, unusual spikes in traffic stressed our services and caused slowness on the site. These issues were compounded by the fact we have been re-architecting Upwork’s systems. This forum post by our VP of Product Hayden Brown gives more detail about the issues and measures we’re taking to make the site faster and avoid future disruptions.

In the wake of these issues, Upwork has created a status page that shows how the site’s servers are doing. The status page currently shows that all systems are up. There’s also a log of recently resolved issues as well as an e-mail opt-in box for system updates. Hopefully, in keeping this status page on a subdomain, Upwork has it completely isolated from its main servers, so it can properly report on potential outages in the future.


Medium’s Rules Make Their Website Welcoming



Medium logoMedium has become one of the many websites that has created rules that are intended to help make their site a welcoming place for everyone. Medium explains: “Some parts of the Internet lack rules. This isn’t one of them.”

They also summarize their rules as “Don’t pee in the pool (metaphorically).” Considering that Medium is a website where writers share their work, it seems fitting that their rules include some creative descriptions. There are several things listed under the header “Things You Shouldn’t Do”, (and I suggest you read their list for full details).

Here are some of the things that you shouldn’t do at Medium:

Don’t threaten violence against anyone. A second rule says: “Don’t post anything relating to minors that is sexual or violent. Don’t bully or harass minors.

Don’t use hateful slurs. Medium reserves the right to take down hateful slurs, “which tend to silence others while adding little if anything”.

Medium will not tolerate bullying, harassment, public shaming, or posing private or confidential information about others on Medium. That includes posts that shame specific individuals (including images or altered images), and posts with altered or unaltered copies of private communications posted without the explicit consent of a party to the communication.

It also includes posts with non-public, personal information intended to target, blackmail, or harass people. You are also not allowed to post repeated personally insulting notes, responses, story requests, or writer requests on Medium.

In short, Medium has made it very clear they will not allow people to use their site as a means to harass or publicly shame someone else. The rules also state that you cannot post intimate or explicit images taken or posted without the subject’s explicit consent (including revenge porn).

Medium will not allow porn of any kind. Their rule on that says: “No porn. There are other places to post it. You know where they are.”

Another rule states: “Don’t post content that violates others’ privacy, including personally identifying or confidential information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, or non-public contact information. To me, this rule is saying “no doxxing allowed.”

These are just a few of the rules that Medium has created. It’s nice to see them be a part of the growing list of websites that have put rules in place that will make their website a safer, more welcoming, space for everyone.


Reddit AMA Reveals Potential Content Policy Changes



Reddit logoSteve Huffman, Reddit’s Co-Founder and returning CEO, held an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on the website today. He discussed potential policy changes regarding what will, and will not, be allowed on Reddit. It appears that some things may change based upon the comments posted by people who attended the AMA.

Steve Huffman, who uses the name “spez” on Reddit, started the AMA with some explanation. Part of it said: “As Reddit has grown, we’ve seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit.”

As a result, Reddit is “considering a set of additional restrictions on what people can say on Reddit – or at least say on our public pages – in the spirit of our mission”.

Content prohibited on Reddit

I’d like to point out the part that says “Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)” in order to note that a clarification has been made.  A later part of the AMA says: Wording we’ve used elsewhere is this: “Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2)  fear for their safety and the safety of those around them”.

I find it very interesting that Reddit might require people to opt in to seeing NSFW communities.  Other types of content “will require a login, must be opted into, will not appear in search results or public listings, and will generate no revenue for Reddit”.  To me, it sounds like a person who was new to Reddit would be able to easily avoid the NSFW content – and avoid the stuff that “violates a common sense of decency”. People who want to see that type of content can, if they log in to the website and intentionally opt in.

That alone could help make Reddit be a more enjoyable place to visit.  Combine that with the potential change that would, essentially, hide most of the unsavory content from view – and from “search results and public listings”, and that the worst content “will generate no revenue for Reddit”.

It seems to me that hiding the worst portions of Reddit could make the website seem more enticing to people who have always considered Reddit to be a pit of the worst humanity has to offer.  Maybe more people would visit Reddit after those changes have been made?  It also sounds like these changes are being considered in the hopes to entice advertisers to want to post some ads on Reddit.  A brand might be able to do that without associating itself with some of the more horrible things that people post on there.