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Tech Writer Prepping For One Year of Internet Abstinence

Posted by AndrewH at 2:28 PM on April 30, 2012

Goodbye Internet....for a year anyway.

Tech writer Paul Miller (most recently writing for The Verge) – is leaving the Internet for a year  starting tonight at midnight. One of his final indulgences is a Reddit IAmA session (the comments, as usual when you expose yourself to Redditors, are a mixture of hilarious and tauntingly offensive).

Aside from the novelty of a tech writer giving up the Internet for a year – there doesn’t seem to be much substance behind this…uhhh, experiment? Life without the Internet is neat, but a giant chunk of Planet Earth goes without the Internet everyday. With the cultural saturation of challenge-style reality shows on TV, some dude forgoing the Internet for a year doesn’t really deliver much pop anymore. It’s kind of like a really rich person giving up dollar bills for a year. There’s something latently offensive about it.

It’s not so much the experiment itself, but the misplaced gumption Miller wields in his explanation about why he’s doing this and what he hopes to learn or find (see video on link above). For example, here’s a little nugget of daringness – “At midnight tonight I will leave the internet. I’m abandoning one of my “top 5″ technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. If I can survive the separation, I’m going to do this for a year. Yeah, I’m serious.”

The tension – it’s palpable.

What Miller is doing is neither interesting nor unique. Modern day Luddites – by either design or chance – would scoff at Miller’s experimental abstinence (assuming they stole a glance at someone’s laptop or phone long enough to read his parting words). Heck, I quit Facebook four months ago and not only did I not really care, but I betcha Facebook is somehow carrying on without me. I can sum up my learnings from quitting Facebook in one sentence – I am 30% less annoyed/disappointed by humanity. (Full Disclosure – I have supplanted Facebook use with a minor, and already faltering, addiction to Reddit.)

To Paul Miller – explorer and risk-taker that he is – I offer the following: Godspeed. And good luck being a reporter without using e-mail. Oh, and good luck finding a new gig sans Internet should The Verge crumble from the Internet whilst your gone.

On a serious note – the meaning of the Internet in modern day life and its effect on humanity is an important concept that should be studied and learned from. I just don’t think a dramatic, announced exit from the medium is the way to do it. Thoreau didn’t trudge over to Walden Pond with a brass band on his heels. Miller should have just disappeared the Internet from his life without a word to anyone but his editors; kept records of his experience along the way; and reappeared one year later to tell his tale.

Image: Bad Day At The Office from BigStockPhoto.com

Battle For The Internet Looms

Posted by AndrewH at 1:39 PM on April 10, 2012

Image - BigStockPhoto.com

With the perpetually refreshed glut of information available on the Web, it’s rare to find a thoroughly researched, thoughtful and meaningful piece on – of all things – the State of The Internet. In the May issue of Vanity Fair, contributing editor Michael Joseph Gross writes a captivating article, “World War 3.0,” that is both rich with history and chilling in his description of the challenges facing a tough-to-tame digital behemoth.

In this lengthy (by Web standards, anyway) piece leading up to a December conference in Dubai where the world will meet to discuss and renegotiate a UN treaty – International Telecommunications Regulations – as it relates to the Internet, Gross pens a somber outlook on where things are headed with the Web. Crisis, Gross asserts, is in store for the Internet and its users because of four main issues:

Sovereignty – the Internet was created and has developed specifically to exist outside or above the worldly territories we’ve mapped out

Piracy and Intellectual Property – the battle between freedom of information and folks wanting to protect their work and, more importantly, get paid

Privacy – the incomprehensible mass of information on the Internet and our ability to contribute and participate with relative anonymity is great for creativity and freedom, but it’s also awesome for criminals and folks who want to use your information for nefarious purposes.

Security – Code written is code hacked. It’s all just a matter of time and effort. With so much at stake and with so much money being made from the Web, how on Earth do we protect it all?

Four main issues – each extremely difficult to solve. In most cases, it’s damn near impossible to get consensus on the terms of each of these issues. You’ll have to read the article to see how Gross places this all in a context that makes the battle over the Internet one of the most important showdowns we might ever see.

The chill-factor for me comes from the last paragraph of his article – discussing the options for achieving security in such a connected world:

Aside from wealth or arcane knowledge, the only other guarantor of security will be isolation. Some people will pioneer new ways of life that minimize their involvement online. Still others will opt out altogether—to find or create a little corner of the planet where the Internet does not reach. Depending on how things go, that little corner could become a very crowded place. And you’d be surprised at how many of the best-informed people about the Internet have already started preparing for the trip.

Image: Blue Digital Background by BigStock

Mind the Gap – Your Site May Have a Secret Ad

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:23 AM on April 10, 2012

Let’s say that you have a website that is entirely your own. Maybe it is your blog where you write about your favorite video game. Or, it could be the website where people can stream or download episodes of your podcast, check out your show notes, and leave you comments. One way to make money from your work is to connect with a company that wants to place ads on your website.

This doesn’t magically happen all by itself. Instead, content creators have to take the time to figure out which companies will pay to have their ads placed in a banner across the top of your page. Next, they have to contact someone from one of those companies, and negotiate a deal. It takes work to make this happen.

So, let’s say you went ahead and put in the effort, and the hours. You found a company that wanted to place ads on your website, you worked out a deal with the company that you both find acceptable, you spent time to get their ads to appear in the correct places on your website.

Now, imagine that some other company, one that you have never made any contact with yourself, came to your website and removed the ads that you worked so hard to put there. In their place, this other company put completely different ads. They didn’t ask your permission to do it, and they are now gaining revenue from your website, (instead of you), off of the ads they stuck in there. How would that make you feel?

Unfortunately, this scenario is actually happening. The New York Times has a frightening article that describes how a web engineer name Justin Watt noticed what was going on. He was in his room at the Courtyard Marriott, in Midtown Manhattan, and browsing the web through the hotel’s internet. When he visited his own website, he noticed a strange gap at the top of the page that he did not put there.

There is a company called RG Nets, Inc. that is behind this nefarious, and sneaky, placement of ads. They sell a service to companies that offers “pervasive web page advertising injection through HTML payload rewriting”. In other words, RG Nets, Inc., goes onto websites that it doesn’t own, without permission, and rewrites the HTML code, in a way that generates revenue for whomever their client is, (and therefore, for themselves as well). I’m not a lawyer, but something about this seems less than legal to me.

UPDATE: Marriott has now told RG Nets, Inc., to cease and desist. You can use the internet at the hotel now without accidentally allowing RG Nets, Inc., to secretly make money from the website you visit.

Sinde in Plain English

Posted by JenThorpe at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2012

I have heard the Sinde law described as Spain’s version of SOPA. As someone who is bilingual, I have noticed that the information you get about a particular topic that is written in English will often differ from the information about the same topic from websites that are written in Spanish. After reading over several Spanish articles that discuss the Sinde law, I can bring you some facts about it that you may not be aware of.

This law is being called “Sinde” but that is an informal name for it. It is also being called “Sinde-Wert”. It is a portion of a law that translates into English as the “Law of Sustainable Economy”. The Sinde law is included in the second final disposition within that law.

Why is it called “Sinde” or “Sinde-Wert”? The law was first proposed by Ángeles González-Sinde who was the Minister of Culture during the time when José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was the Prime Minister of Spain. The law was later approved by Jose Ignacio Wert who is the Minister of Culture, Education, and Sport at the time this law was passed.

From what I have read, there were a lot of Spanish people who were very much against this law, but it was passed anyway. There have been some protests. Many articles refer to it as a “bad law”.

Sinde is similar to SOPA in many ways. It officially says that it is designed to prevent piracy. In reality, this law gives tools that can be used by the “cultural industry”, (such as the movie companies, the television companies, and the big record labels), to protect things that they have under an American copyright. It gives different departments of the Spanish government the ability to shut down websites that contain something that one of the big companies has claimed is their intellectual property, or that they have a copyright on.

An interesting thing to know about Sinde is that it will affect universities. It seems that, previous to the Sinde law, there was an ongoing issue involving Spanish universities that were distributing books, and other written materials, to students without first getting permission from the authors who wrote them. There are a lot of authors who have been trying to be compensated for the use of their work. They might be able to use the Sinde law to help them get that compensation.

Image: Spain by BigStock

The Internet is a Utility

Posted by Andrew at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2012

Router and CablesLast week, I moved to a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Nothing particularly unusual about that except that I had been with my old ISP, Demon, for nearly twenty years. That’s almost the whole of the my adult life and I’m sure it’s the longest customer relationship I’ve had. To be quite clear, I didn’t leave Demon as a dissatisfied customer and on the contrary, I would recommend them to anyone. So why did I leave?

To answer that, we’ll have to take a little trip down memory lane. Back in the early 90s, the 486DX2 was the CPU of choice, 8 MB was a lot of RAM, 120 MB hard drives were huge and dial-up modems were specialist items. JANET, the UK’s university network was the closest thing to the Internet, and it was email, ftp, telnet, Usenet and gopher. I imagine that some readers will be thinking, “gopher?” Never heard of that.

In 1992 and in an early example of crowdsourcing, Demon ISP was setup by persuading 200 people to pay in advance for a year’s dial-up access. I wasn’t part of that group but after publicity in the leading UK computer magazine at the time, Personal Computer World, I signed up for their £10 a month dial-up service. You had to buy your own modem in those days – no freebie wireless router – but it came with unlimited email addresses, 10 MB of ftp space and Usenet newsgroups.

Demon provided their own email package called Turnpike as this was all pre-Outlook, and a certain level of skill was needed just to get on-line. The connection software was a command line program called KA9Q that was originally amateur radio software. Winsock fortunately arrived shortly afterwards, which made life considerably easier with Windows 3.

One of the great things about Demon in the early days was that the support staff were technical folk too and quickly got the measure of the caller. If you said to them that you were having problems with DNS resolving, they’d understand that you had a reasonable grasp of the problem and work with you, rather than blindly follow the procedure written in the training manual.

Since then there have been many changes in the world of technology, not least the arrival of ADSL broadband, which single-handedly changed the web from geek toy to consumer product. In the end, two things conspired against Demon. The first was free web email such Gmail and Hotmail which meant that I no longer needed my ISP to provide me with an email address. The second was video-on-demand which had the twin impacts of volume and speed. My new ISP, Sky, offers twice the speed of Demon and no data caps for less money. Bit of a no brainer, as they say.

Demon provided a great technical service for geeks 20 years ago, but as the web has become a consumer product, the need for technical features such as ftp space has faded. All that is needed is the connection. The Internet has become a utility like water, gas and electricity, always there and always ready. No understanding of the technology is needed to use it, just as turning on a light doesn’t need knowledge of volts and amps.

I’ve no doubt that Demon has a successful future working with business but I think that the future of the independent ISP in the consumer space is bleak. People will choose consumer brands linked to utilities or telcos – Sky, BT, Virgin, Orange - and get one bill for multiple services at a reduced price…as I did.

Routers and Cables 2” image courtesy of BigStock.

All Your .com Are Belong To US

Posted by Andrew at 9:40 AM on March 1, 2012

In the latest cyber moves by the Dept of Homeland Security against a Canadian on-line gambling outfit, it’s been confirmed that if it’s a .com domain, it falls under US jurisdiction, regardless of where the servers are, where the company is incorporated or who the domain registrar is.

Strangely for the “Land of the Free”, Americans aren’t allowed to gamble on-line but this didn’t stop Bodog, a Canadian-based on-line gambling site with the domain bodog.com, from aggressively marketing its services to US citizens. As a result, Bodog’s four owners have been indicted (pdf) on various internet gambling charges.

Almost everything to do with this organisation was out of harm’s way in Canada – the company, the owners, the servers, the domain registrar – so the DHS took the step of forcing Verisign into doing the dirty work. Verisign manages the .com infrastructure and they removed (pdf) some of the key linking records to the bodog.com domain, thus putting the domain off the net.

In this instance, it can be hard to feel any particular sympathy with Bodog as it appears that they did what they did knowing that it was illegal. Regardless, though the point is now made that a .com can be taken off the internet pretty much because the US doesn’t like it. Selling holidays to Cuba – you’re gone. Trading with Iran – you’re off-line. Evolution is a fact – you’re history.

If you or your organisation has a .com, you’re now under US jurisdiction, and if you think this is bad, imagine what it would have been like if SOPA had been enacted.

ARIN Talks IPv6

Posted by Andrew at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2012

World IPv6 LaunchJohn from the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) chats with Jeffrey and John on the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

In the past year, the last remaining IPv4 addresses were handed out to global regions. Some areas of the world have already run out of unallocated addresses, so it’s essential that in the next few years everyone starts using IPv6. This year, the World IPv6 Launch happens on 6 June 2012, with internet service providers (ISPs), networking equipment manufacturers and web companies permanently enabling IPv6 for their products and services. This is a big step forward in the transition to IPv6 but don’t worry, IPv4 isn’t going away for at least 10 years.

Warning…this interview is for advanced users only.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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SiriusXM Lynx Satellite and Internet Radio Receiver

Posted by Andrew at 8:40 AM on February 14, 2012

SiriusXM Lynx Satellite RadioSiriusXM is best know for their in-car satellite receiver head units but the latest Lynx unit combines satellite with Internet radio and an mp3 player. John finds out more with Sirius sales manager, Paul Truman.

The Lynx SiriusXM receiver combines the traditional head unit with features more usually found on a personal media player. Large touchscreen – check, mp3 playback – check, Internet radio – check, wifi and Bluetooth – check, rechargeable battery – check.

But one really clever feature most media players don’t have is the ability to go back in time. Not literally, but your favourite stations are constantly being recorded so that if you tune in and discover you missed the start of the programme, you can simply rewind the stream to the start of the show.

To cap it off, the unit is about the size of a paperback. Sweet.

Interview by John of F5 Live.

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ViaSat exede 12 Mb/s Satellite Broadband Pricing

Posted by Andrew at 1:30 AM on January 10, 2012

ViaSat LogoIn a follow up to our earlier story on ViaSat and NRTC, ViaSat have announced their new 12 Mb/s satellite broadband service, exede. The high speed service will launch on 16 January beginning at $50 per month, offering 12 Mb/s down and 3 Mb/s up, using the new ViaSat-1 satellite.

The exede service will be welcomed by rural communities that have been unable to get high speed Internet connections because of the lack of infrastructure and the distances involved. Satellite broadband overcomes these issues to offer a “feels like fiber” experience.

With our new exede broadband service, customers across the United States will have a way to get exceptional speed whether they live in a city, suburbs or a more rural area,” said Tom Moore, senior VP of ViaSat.  “Our new exede service speeds make us very competitive with both wireless home broadband service as well as legacy DSL and many cable services.

The exede residential broadband packages all feature the same high speed but with higher data allowances at each price point. 

exede12 Services

Up to 12 Mbps downloads
and up to 3 Mbps uploads

Data Allowance (monthly)

7.5 GB

15 GB

25 GB

Package Price (monthly)

$49.99

$79.99

$129.99

Overall, this looks like a great new service for people who were poorly served in the past, but users will have to watch out for those data limits.

Withings Internet Connected Baby Scale

Posted by Andrew at 12:20 AM on January 10, 2012

At CES in Las Vegas, Withings has announced its wireless Internet-connected baby and toddle scale, winner of a 2012 CES Innovations Award. Developed by the French company, the Smart Baby Scale incorporates WiFi, Bluetooth and the low power Bluetooth Smart connectivity and allows parents to accurately record their child’s weight from birth.

Withings Smart Baby Scale

Using the Smart Baby Scale, parents can view the weight readings from any net connected device, such as PC, laptop, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch using the already available WiScale app. Parents can easily pass on their child’s weight profile to their doctor, family and friends and the scale can also update Facebook and Twitter. Messages can be sent to email addresses with new readings and, if desired, parents can put together a scrapbook with notes and photos to create a story of their child’s growth.

Cédric Hutchings, Withings co-founder says, “We are very excited to announce our Smart Baby Scale and offer parents an amazing new way to take care of their newborn or young child. The success of our WiFi Body Scale has proven the benefits of connected weight tracking on adults and we were eager to also bring these benefits to babies and children. We are thrilled that our Smart Baby Scale was awarded the prestigious CES Innovation Award and this further reinforces our vision of designing smart communicating devices that help families take better charge of their health”.

The Smart Baby Scale complements other Withings products such as the adult Withings WiFi body scale and the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor. Parents are able to monitor their child’s weight on the same dashboard they view their own weight and blood pressure. (Hmm, I wonder if parents are as inclined to put their own weight on Facebook!)

No news on pricing but the Smart Baby Scale will be available from Q2 of 2012. The WiScale app is available now for iOS devices from the App Store for free.