After an internal investigation, six Japanese civil servants at Japan's Agriculture Ministry were accused of neglecting their work and spending countless hours editing Wikipedia pages. It might have been acceptable if they were toiling away on articles for say, beef exports or rice cultivation, but the six bureaucrats were busy tweaking entries about the ever-popular manga comics. Their favorite page was the one devoted to Gundam, a popular animated series on robots. One of the six had apparently made 260 changes to the Gundam site since 2003. Tsutomu Shimomura, a spokesman for the ministry, made it extremely clear that this was NOT in their job description:
The agriculture ministry is not in charge of robots.
And to discourage others from following suit, the six received a harsh, verbal reprimand. That'll keep 'em in line.
That was fast: The good folks at Dipnote, the new blog of the U.S. State Department, have heard our complaint and updated their blogroll to include FP Passport. Who says the State Department bureaucracy is cumbersome? Obviously, there are some folks with fine taste over there in Foggy Bottom.
I should note that it's a great sign that State is doing this, and especially that the blog allows comments. One other interesting project that State has embarked upon is having a few of its Arabic speakers go into mainstream Arabic-language online fora such as al-Jazeera, BBC Arabic, and Elaph.com and try to combat misperceptions of U.S. policy. What I like about this effort is that State's commenters are not trying to hide their State department affiliations, but are openly posting in their own names and as State Department employees. That's a good thing, Saudi political analyst Adel al-Toraifi told the New York Times:
Toraifi said the bloggers had generated some debate in the Arab World and had been the subject of a column in an Algerian newspaper lauding the State Department for discussing policy with ordinary people, something the writer said the Algerian government would never do. Indeed, several analysts said having State Department employees on the Web helps to counter one source of radicalization - the sense that Washington is too arrogant to listen to the grievances of ordinary Arabs, so violence is the sole means to attract attention.
At the end of the day, public diplomacy of this sort can only do so much; it's the policies that have to change before Arabs will embrace the United States. (Just as the State Department has a lot of work to do before most pundits will pronounce it a healthy institution.) But there's nothing wrong with open dialogue. In that spirit, I hope that Dipnote embraces its comment section as an asset and, as Mark Leon Goldberg stresses, gets engaged with other bloggers instead of just regurgitating press releases and standard talking points. We all understand the need to stay on message, but nobody wants to read a blog full of the usual boilerplate.
(Thanks to Passport reader JR for the tip.)
Last week, thanks to the good folks at the U.N. Foundation, I had the opportunity to meet David Miliband, Britain's blogging new foreign minister and a young star of the Labour party. Miliband was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, where he gave a speech on Thursday that focused on the link between inequality and insecurity, and he met with me and a few other bloggers for a 25-minute Q&A session.
The British press, typically, has a love-hate relationship with Mr. Miliband, slamming him for being too young to be foreign minister (the baby-faced Miliband is just north of 42) or for hiding his charisma in order to make Prime Minister Gordon Brown look better. Andrew Grimson deploys the latter approach here for the Telegraph:
Ever since Mr Miliband was captured by Brownite agents and taken to King Charles Street, where he was locked in a gilded cage at the dreaded Foreign Office and exposed to the full force of the regime's re-education programme, there had been fears he might crack under the strain.
In yesterday's speech [at the Labour Party conference], there were clear signs of the intensive de-Blairification process through which Mr Miliband has passed. Like every other Cabinet minister, he was only allowed to speak for an insultingly short time, and was under strict orders not to outshine Comrade Brown in any way.
I found Miliband to be warm, smart, knowledgeable, and sincere—if not quite oozing the kind of "gravitas" that generally befits his position. As former cabinet minister Clare Short put it in a recent Seven Questions, "I don't wish him any ill, but it's 'Harry Potter for foreign secretary'—a very, very clever boy, but there's a sort of weightiness, a solidity that he just cannot have because of his age." Miliband seems to understand this, positioning himself as a new kind of foreign secretary. Commenting on why he launched the blog, he said:
Foreign policy used to be about diplomats talking to diplomats. And now, it is about that, but it's also about citizen-to-citizen, business-to-business contacts... Opening up the debate about foreign policy is a good thing, not a bad thing.
I asked him directly about the age issue, and he had this to say:
You can't do anything about your age apart from wait. I think that in the end, you've got to be judged by what you say and what you do, and I think that most people are grown up enough to realize that. At least I hope so.
Today, Sept. 18, is the 25th anniversary of the smiley-face emoticon. At 11:44 a.m. on this day in 1982, Scott E. Fahlman, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, first typed the smiley-face emoticon, :-), on an online bulletin board as part of a discussion about how to signal that an online comment is being made in jest.
The historic phrase, located after a "heroic effort" of digging through ancient backup tapes, reads as follows:
I propose the following character sequence for joke markers:
Read it sideways.
A reproduction of the original bulletin board thread that gave rise to the emoticon is available here. (The discussion reveals that "&" and "#" were also proposed joke markers. The character "&" supposedly looks like a "jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter," and "#" supposedly resembles "two lips with teeth showing between them.")
Fahlman writes on his Web page about :-): "I've never seen any hard evidence that the :-) sequence was in use before my original post, and I've never run into anyone who actually claims to have invented it before I did."
Fahlman seems to have cemented his place in history as the creator of the smiley-face emoticon, which has spawned the creation of other emoticons and given Internet users worldwide the ability to express what in verbal communication is normally conveyed through tone of voice. In doing so, he has probably helped millions of people avoid all sorts of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. And that should make everyone feel :-).
Think Internet games are just an innocuous, childish pastime? Think again. For one serious online gamer in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, it became a matter of life and death. The 30-year-old man dropped dead from exhaustion in a cyber cafe on Monday after an intense three-day gaming marathon. Unfortunately, he isn't the country's first ill fated victim of online gaming. Earlier this year, a week of non-stop action claimed the life of an "obese young man" who couldn't seem pull himself away from the computer screen to find time to sleep.
China is expected to overtake the United States in Internet users within the next few years, and many of those users will be of the hardcore variety. According to one report, as many as 14 percent of China's estimated 20 million Internet users under the age of 18 could be classified as computer addicts. But we shouldn't lose hope in this young generation quite yet. There's always a trip to Internet-addiction boot camp.
This passage from a recent piece by Joshua Davis in Wired concerning last spring's cyber attack on Estonia's Internet infrastructure reads like a deleted scene from The Matrix:
Across the dinner table from Aarelaid sat Kurtis Lindqvist, the man in charge of running Stockholm-based Netnod, one of the world's 13 root DNS servers, which direct global Internet traffic. That makes Lindqvist a sort of Olympian in the IT crowd. He is a handsome 32-year-old with a dimpled chin and close-cropped hair. By day, he wears a trench coat and shades, but the geek in him is just below the surface. He loves to play badminton and often programs late into the night. And, befitting the trench-coat-and-shades look, he belongs to a clandestine alliance of Internet elite with the power to cut off global Internet flows. He's one of the so-called Vetted: the select few who are trusted by the world's largest ISPs and can ask them to kick rogue computers off the network.
The Vetted constantly crisscross the globe to expand their network of trusted members, and by a stroke of luck, Lindqvist and some others were in Tallinn that week for what was referred to as a BOF — a birds-of-a-feather — meeting with European network operators.
So what is this mysterious geek Illuminati?
As far as I can tell, "the Vetted" refers to the Internet Architecture Board. The IAB traces its origins back to DARPA, the tech-research division of the U.S. Department of Defense that created an early precursor of the Internet in the 1970s. Today, the IAB, no longer under DoD control, is responsible for overseeing "aspects of the architecture for the protocols and procedures used by the Internet." The IAB also oversees the Internet Engineering Task Force, of which Lindqvist is a member. The IETF oversees global TCP/IP protocols and does indeed hold regular "Birds-of-a-Feather" meetings. Far from being a clandestine society, however, the IETF is an open community whose meetings are open to anyone who happens to be interested.
No, I don't like staying up at night. I even told Wired to correct this. I like to sleep at night. Also, I don't think I have done serious programming for years...
I also believe that I have never owned a trench-coat. I do own a half-long beige jacket though...:-)
I'm still not sure I trust a guy who uses emoticons to protect us from Russian cyber terrorists.
UPDATE: In an e-mail exchange with Blake, Passport's editor, Lindqvist writes:
Actually, exactly what [the Vetted] refers to I suggest you ask Wired about, I have never attributed this term to anyone - and I am not exactly sure myself. Second guessing the author of the Wired article, I would assume this does not refer to the IAB as the IAB has no operational role at all. It has an oversight function inside the IETF, that sets the technical standards for the Internet. It's members are appointed by a well defined process inside the IETF.
No word yet from the folks at Wired, however.
Quick moves, right? But some Islamist fundamentalists also apparently see the British soccer star and the American singer as beloved cultural symbols whose deaths would bring the West to its knees. It's a tactic Joseph Stalin apparently tried to pull more against another powerful American symbol more than 50 years ago.
As legend has it, Stalin threatened to assassinate the Duke in an effort to silence the ardent anti-communist and deal a crushing blow to the American cultural machine against the backdrop of the Cold War. This being the new millennium, though, Beckham and Timberlake were threatened not by the Soviets but by Islamist radicals with Internet access and a grievance against Western cultural imperialism. The threat came in the form of a video posted on YouTube. According to several Web sites following the story, it was a British al Qaeda-linked group tied to exiled cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed that posted the video.
Watching the video, though, it doesn't exactly seem like the most sophisticated of plots. There's a shot of Eminem in a newspaper with the headline, "This Is the Way to Hellfire." There's a photo of 2-Pac underneath the words, "Servant of Shaytaan." And a smiling Beckham is juxtaposed with the question, “What Made u Among the Losers?” In the end, it looks more like a low-budge PSA than a serious wake-up call to Western civilization.
Worse yet for the would-be killers, this over-the-top exchange from Fox News suggests they made have made another monumental miscalculation: "Isn't this an instance where you might be rooting for the terrorists?"
Wired's Noah Shachtman has the goods:
For years, the military has been warning that soldiers' blogs could pose a security threat by leaking sensitive wartime information. But a series of online audits, conducted by the Army, suggests that official Defense Department websites post material that's far more potentially harmful than blogs do.
The audits, performed by the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell between January 2006 and January 2007, found at least 1,813 violations of operational security policy on 878 official military websites. In contrast, the 10-man, Manassas, Virginia, unit discovered 28 breaches, at most, on 594 individual blogs during the same period.
The difference may be that soldiers blogging in combat zones are instinctively more careful than the desk jockeys back in Washington. As Army spokesman Gordon Vlan Veet put it:
Often these bloggers are stationed in the combat areas and they more than anyone understand the importance of security and the potential impact any OPSEC violations could have on themselves and their fellow Soldiers, Airmen and Marines."
The BBC reports that Wikipedia Scanner, a tool that can identify the source of edits to Wikipedia pages, revealed that workers from CIA computers have altered a number of Wikipedia entries. So what insightful additions did the Agency allegedly contribute?
On the profile of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the tool indicates that a worker on the CIA network reportedly added the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" before a section on the leader's plans for his presidency.
A warning on the profile of the anonymous editor reads: "You have recently vandalised a Wikipedia article, and you are now being asked to stop this type of behaviour."
The entries for Porter Goss, former CIA director, and Oprah Winfrey were also apparently edited by the CIA network user, though these changes were "more innocuous."
The many Internet scams that fool people never cease to amaze me. Consider the case reported by the Telegraph on Monday:
An Australian sheep farmer who sought love over the internet was instead kidnapped and held hostage for 12 days after his African "bride" turned out to be a group of machete-wielding gangsters.
The man, Des Gregor, flew to Mali to meet and marry his online lover "Natascha" (and accept his dowry of gold bars worth $85,000), only to be kidnapped by a group of men who demanded a £42,000 ransom from his family. Eventually, Australian police working with Malian forces foiled the scam. But it wasn't actually the first time Gregor got caught up in this type of scam. Three years ago, he traveled to Russia to meet a different online lover. Nobody really knows what happened there, except that he didn't return with a bride as intended.
A while ago, NBC's Dateline aired a show called "To Catch an I.D. Thief," in which the show tracked people around the United States as they fell for online "lovers" who easily manipulated them into helping out with various criminal schemes. The trail ultimately led to Benin (which borders Nigeria, land of many an e-mail fraud), though Dateline never really got to the bottom of the conspiracy. But what was particularly striking was the ease with which Internet lovers can convince their targets to do some remarkably stupid things. As Des Gregor now warns, before divulging your bank account details or catching a plane across the world to meet up with your online lover, "Make sure you check everything out 100 percent." Sounds like good advice.
Piracy of intellectual property--including software, music and movies--is a huge point of contention between the US and less IP-sensitive countries. Last year, for instance, a Russian website accused of illegally distributing music files fueled a dispute between Russian authorities and the US Trade Representative's office.
Enforcement of IP laws is lax but getting better in many parts of the developing world, especially in countries that are cleaning up their act in hopes of gaining WTO membership (Ukraine, China). Beyond poor enforcement, another reason why piracy is so rampant is because the price of software in developing countries is just too high for the local market. It's easier for many to just buy priated copies at reasonable prices and take the gamble of breaking the law. Even if they are caught, the legal consequences are usually minimal.
Microsoft's South African division is hoping to gain market share and combat piracy at the same time with the introduction of a pay-as-you-go software subscription. Instead of forking over $700 for a legal copy of Microsoft Office, users can subscribe to Office for as little as $10 per month. Microsoft will also open up the subscription service to users in Romania.
Beyond just combatting piracy, Microsoft's move could also be a first strike to prevent the developing world from embracing Google Apps, a $50/year web-based software package offering many features similar to Microsoft Office.
The wife of U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards as quoted by CIO Insight, a business journal aimed at IT executives:
We can't make John black, we can't make him a woman. Those things get you a lot of press, worth a certain amount of fundraising dollars. Now it's nice to get on the news, but not the be all and end all.
This story has been bubbling around the Internets for a few days, but it's now getting mainstream coverage. The BBC reports:
An online game in China that allows players to eradicate corrupt officials has proved so popular its website has crashed, state media reports.
Since its launch eight days ago, the game, "Incorruptible Fighter", is reported to have been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
The game was devised by a regional government in east China to highlight the problems of corrupt officialdom.
Ha, ha. Wacky story, right? But to me, it merely illustrates that Chinese authorities are seriously floundering in their efforts to combat corruption. Until the government there becomes truly accountable to the public, no amount of executions (which are, in many cases, really about internal Communist Party politics and not corruption per se) or diversionary tactics like creating "Incorruptible Fighter" are going to solve this problem.
UPDATE: Here's a screenshot of the game.
It's ridiculously easy for anyone with an Internet connection to see how the U.S. media is covering Iraq. But it's nearly impossible to find out how the Iraqi media covers the United States. That is, unless you are fluent in Arabic, have a deep understanding of all the factions jostling for power in Iraq, scan the Internet obsessively, and basically dedicate yourself full time to the job.
That's exactly what Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have done for their report, Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas. In their 74-page report (pdf), the two analysts find that Sunni insurgents are spreading their message through a rich array of media—disseminating slick daily press releases, printing weekly and monthly magazines, posting video clips, and producing full-length feature films. But messages from the insurgents are hardly unified. There are platforms for those sympathetic to al Qaeda, websites for the Baathist "resistance" movements, and postings from revolutionary brigades. These diverse groups have one thing in common when communicating with Iraqis: They're flexible, and they're fast.
Even more troubling, if you take the aggregate messages from all the media outlets they investigated—as Kimmage and Ridolfo noted in the Q&A period after their presentation Thursday at Washington's New America Foundation—you hear a lot more from global jihadist movements than you do from nationalistic insurgents. It's not that people on the ground are necessarily more intent on propagating Greater Islam rather than on uprising against the Shiite Maliki government. But rather, it suggests that global jihadists from abroad are better than Iraqis at disseminating the message of jihad. After all, it's probably a lot easier to spread propaganda from a computer in, say, Damascus (or London or Glasgow, for that matter) than it is from Mosul.
Although it may be hard to log in from Iraq, it seems like everyone there's got a cell phone. And what do people like to watch on their phones? As RFE/RL president Jeffrey Gedmin said Thursday, they like to look at "traditional" pornography, and they like to watch "political pornography". Lots of people think that looking at traditional online pornography cools lovers' ardor in the bedroom. Somehow, though, I don't think the virtual jihad works that way.
Michael Kovatch was clever enough to buy the domain name iPhone.com ... back in 1995. Apparently, his thinking at the time was not that Apple would eventually make what some have dubbed the "Jesus Phone," but rather that Internet telephony would take off.
And now, after selling iPhone.com to Apple, he's a millionaire.
But Kovatch is just a rank amateur compared to Kevin Ham. Ham, a retired Canadian doctor and the owner of both God.com and Satan.com, rakes in an estimated $70 million per year from the 300,000 domains he owns. One of Ham's most brilliant schemes has been squatting on ".cm" Web addresses, which correspond to Cameroon but are just a typo away from ".com". And so, Ham—in a partnership with Cameroon's government—owns nytimes.cm, Beer.cm, and others, which redirect to Agoga.com. It's a hell of a way to earn a living.
According to a new study (PDF) conducted by the Communications Workers for America, a union for telecom employees, the United States is a sluggish 16th among industrialized nations in terms of Internet speed. The CWA crunched numbers for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, and found that the median download speed in the U.S. was 1.9 megabits per second (mbps). It compared that to data from other countries provided by the International Telecommunications Union.
In Japan, which topped the list, the median download speed is 61 mpbs, 30 times faster than in the United States. That means a movie that would take 2 hours to download in the U.S. would only take 2 minutes in Japan.
But never mind entertainment. What about more vital uses for the Internet, such as telemedicine in hospitals, education, and business? The United States needs to do much better. In fact, that 1.9 mbps number probably overstates the speed of American connections. The study claims 80,000 respondents, "nearly all" of whom had cable or DSL connections. Other studies, however, estimate that 30 to 40 percent of Americans are still rockin' dial-up.
Expanding upon its recent humanitarian efforts, Google is making a concerted effort to go green.
Last week, the search engine company launched an industry initiative with Intel to promote energy efficiency in computing to help cut greenhouse gas emissions. The "Climate Savers Computers Initiative" focuses on addressing the energy waste from PCs, and includes plans for a certification program to recognize energy-efficient computers (here's hoping they get Microsoft on board). And now, in addition to announcing its intention to go carbon neutral by the end of this year, Google is launching two more projects with a green tinge.
First, Google Earth is teaming up with a Brazilian Indian tribe with the aim of countering deforestation in the Amazon. The project aims to capture vivid images that could deter loggers and miners from cutting down trees and digging for gold in the tribe's reservation. It hopes to help police the reservation site and provide evidence to authorities if and when destruction occurs. Second, Google has just launched what the Financial Times calls its "first significant philanthropic initiative": an $11 million contribution to speed the development of the plug-in hybrid electric car, though this isn't the first time Google has expressed an interest in alternative energy.
What does all this green investment mean? Does Google really care about the environment, or is it simply trying to reassure the 80 percent of U.S. consumers who believe it's important to support green companies? And as the FT highlights,
Unlike other philanthropists, [Google.org's leaders have] opted to keep the bulk of their financial pledges outside a non-profit structure, a move designed to give them more flexibility in deciding how to spend money for social good, including the option of doing so through for-profit ventures.
Of course, it's possible to earn profits while supporting environmental causes. But if Google really wants to prove its environmental bona fides, Sergey Brin and Larry Page may want to reconsider jetting around in their personal Boeing 767.
Want to know how much your consumption habits are contributing to global warming? Climate Counts, a new nonprofit organization, now lets you see how companies rank in the fight against climate change before you go shopping.
On its recently launched website, Climate Counts scores 56 companies from 0 to 100 based on how they measure their greenhouse gas emissions, their plans to reduce them, their stance on legislation, and how fully they disclose these activities. The methodology focuses heavily on public disclosure of activities and policies, so the emphasis is on which companies talk the climate change talk, but not necessarily on which ones follow words with actions.
Canon comes out on top with a score of 77, while Amazon.com, Wendy's, Burger King and CBS find themselves at the very bottom of the climate-friendly ladder. The New York Times reports that Climate Counts gave Amazon.com a zero because researchers could not find relevant data about its role in climate change. Amazon's response? Climate Counts just didn't look very hard.
I'm not sure what kind of impact the group thinks it can have on consumption patterns, but I highly doubt it'll be convincing die-hard Pepsi fans (score: 26) to switch to Coke (score: 57) anytime soon. At best, these endeavors are good for the embarrassment factor they create. Maybe now, companies at the bottom will feel a need to step up their efforts—or at least make their policies easier to find.
Check out this gorgeous map of the Internet, compiled by thousands of
geeks researchers studying the Web's connectivity. The dense nodes in the center represent the core of the Web through which most traffic flows. The study's novel finding: Taking away these core connections wouldn't crash the net. The 'mantle' and 'crust' of connections would keep humming, albeit a little slower, through peer-to-peer connections.
Back in April, Christine flagged the effort by Google and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to map the atrocities committed in Darfur using images from Google Earth. That undertaking is now joined by the Eyes on Darfur project, which allows Web surfers to view before-and-after high-resolution satellite images of destroyed villages in Darfur and eastern Chad, as well as monitor a dozen villages currently at risk. Launched this month by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Amnesty International, the project aims to add images from commercial satellites to the online database every few days in order to monitor vulnerable areas and create a record of abuses committed.
Of course, Sudanese President Omar Bashir probably doesn't even care that the world is watching. This is, after all, the same guy who appointed Ahmed Harun in charge of dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Harun, formerly Sudan's minister of the interior, was indicted in April by the ICC for allegedly coordinating murders and rapes of civilians in Darfur through funding and inciting janjaweed militias over the past several years. It's a gross irony that he's now in charge of helping and protecting the same people he's been accused of terrorizing. But then, that's just business as usual in Khartoum these days.
Yet U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon seems cautiously optimistic that his new agreement with Bashir on a peacekeeping force will finally put a stop to the violence. With Eyes on Darfur, we'll be able to see for ourselves just how well that deal is working.
Yesterday, we learned that within Washington's Republican powerbase, bloggers don't wield very much influence. That's according to Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, who yesterday in a moment of frustration over the fledgling immigration bill proclaimed:
Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.”
One has to assume that Lott was talking about conservative America, because the liberal talking heads over Air America sure as heck aren't "running" anything. Passport sends its condolences to Jonah Goldberg, Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, and the rest of our conservative blogger pals, who have apparently been trumped within their party by the technologies of the last century. Sorry guys. Here's hoping the GOP joins 21st century sometime soon.
Last month, Passport blogged about an online newspaper in Pasadena, California, that hired two journalists in India to cover the meetings of the Pasadena City Council, which are broadcast over the Internet. Many U.S. reporters are understandably outraged. They believe that important nuances will be neglected if Indian reporters don't understand the local culture and institutions, and aren't physically present to report the news. Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten has even written a humorous article in which he attempts to cover a meeting of the legislature of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, after viewing a webcast, to show how ridiculous it must be to report from a hemisphere away.
But just how well are the two Indian journalists—one of whom is a journalism graduate from the University of California, Berkeley—actually doing? I visited the website of the newspaper and found a couple of decently written articles by Nisha Ramakrishnan, whom I confirmed was one of the Indian journalists. They were nothing like the joke of an article that Weingarten wrote. Perhaps an Indian journalist can write better about city government in the United States than a top U.S. journalist can write about state government in India?
Still, the offshoring of journalism can only go so far. When it comes to politics, much of the juicy news comes from the informal discussion that happens before and after official meetings, when the webcam isn't recording. If someone says something confusing or shocking at a meeting, it's important to be able to chase the person down right afterward and ask for a clarification. And how in the world would you be able to write about a local fire? For these reasons, American journalism won't die. I say let the experiment with offshored journalism continue.
British entrepreneur Nick Denton is best known as the founder of Gawker.com, a Manhattan media-watching site that's become one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. But his Gawker Media empire has other sites too, including Wonkette for Washington gossip, Gizmodo for news about the latest tech gadgets, and Deadspin for sports fans.
Another Denton venture, Gridskipper, is for travel enthusiasts. The blog is aimed primarily at urban twentysomethings who take (or at least want to take) globalization literally on a personal level, jetting off to find the best tapas in Sydney or the coolest design galleries in Paris.
Until now, the website has just offered travel tips and addresses for hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops. Now Gridskipper has added a mapping feature to six cities on its site: Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Paris San Francisco, and Sydney. So the next time you decide you really need to buy a skull sweater at Lala Berlin when you're in Germany, Gridskipper will show you exactly where to find it.
Yesterday, McAfee Site Advisor released its yearly report on "The State of Search Engine Safety." Perhaps inspired by the Department of Homeland Security, the study provides a colorful graph illustrating the level of risk associated with the most popular keywords: Red means "high danger," yellow "medium danger," and green is for the secure stuff.
You would think that porn sites are the biggest magnets of spyware and viruses, but it's actually innocent-looking words like "BearShare" and "screensaver" that are most likely to cause you trouble. Also, beware of "mp3" or "ipod nano," as the con men of the web find file-sharing software and technological gadgets to be potent honey for gullible flies.
Gossip lovers are another frequent target: The combination "Brad Pitt + Jennifer Aniston," for example, often leads to dangerous web ambushes. The work of overeager Jolie fans, perhaps?
China has developed first-strike cyberwarfare capabilities, according to an annual Pentagon report (pdf) on the status of the country's military:
The PLA has established information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computer systems and networks, and tactics and measures to protect friendly computer systems and networks. In 2005, the PLA began to incorporate offensive CNO [computer network operations] into its exercises, primarily in first strikes against enemy networks.
Experts say that the emphasis on first-strike capabilities represents a shift in Beijing's cyberwar thinking. As recently as two years ago, the PLA was focused on defensive technologies that would allow it to deter attack, thanks in part to the fact that the country was primarily running off-the-shelf, Western software. "Now there's no mention of that," says University of New Hampshire cyberwar expert Andrew MacPherson. "[M]uch more of the discussion is about first-strike capabilities."
Tensions with Taiwan might explain the change in Chinese strategy. Theories have been floating for years that taking down Taiwan's technological infrastructure would be a key element to any Chinese military campaign against the island and its American allies. And the Pentagon's report makes this point:
A limited military campaign could include computer network attacks against Taiwan’s political, military, and economic infrastructure to undermine the Taiwan population’s confidence in its leadership.
MacPherson goes even further, suggesting that, if backed into a corner, China may try to take down the Internet writ large: "Maybe [China] would be willing to unplug from the Internet if they saw the advantage to their side was great" by launching a virus assault on a global scale. It seems an unlikely scenario, but scary none the less.
Has China's Communist Party reversed its position on Internet cafes? Beijing has been notoriously suspicious of the country's 120,000 Internet cafes for years, and has staged high profile crackdowns on many. Just two months ago, the government announced a moratorium on the opening of new Internet cafes for one year.
Today, however, a party official seemed to signal that the current policy is hopeless. Zhang Xiaoliang, chief of the Communist Youth League Central Committee's rights protection division, said that access to the Internet is—wait for it—a right. Well, sort of. Here's what Zhang said today:
A healthy environment and healthy online content should be offered to all kids [...] You can't stop kids using Internet cafes just because they are poorly managed."
Of course, it has to be the right kind of Internet, which is, presumably, a highly censored Internet. Still, beginning Friday, China's Law on the Protection of Minors will declare:
Nonprofit Internet service infrastructures within communities shall be free or offered at a discounted price, as well as provide a safe and healthy online service for minors."
So all kids should not only have access to the Internet, but it should be free or at least very inexpensive. I guess it's a start.
A new social networking craze has hit the Internet: faith-based social networking sites, which have emerged as alternatives to popular, general social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. For instance, Xianz, which developed as a response to the loose behavioral codes on other social networking sites, explicitly markets itself as "The MySpace alternative for Christians!" At just one year old, it boasts 35,000 registered members and 500,000 unique visitors.
Shmooze, a Jewish social networking site, and its affiliated networks, have 200,000 members, and Naseeb, a Muslim social networking site, has more than 300,000 registered members. While they may not compare to MySpace's million members or more, their numbers in terms of both the number of sites and their memberships, reveal a growing virtual social bloc. And they may provide more than just "networking." Naseeb in particular frequently highlights the words "SOULMATES" on its home page, with an accompanying picture of a happy couple who met through the site. So apart from providing a virtual space for like-minded believers, free of bad language and obscene imagery, these sites can also be spaces where "Fairy tales do happen ..."
One of the essays in FP's 21 Solutions to Save the World package that has attracted the most attention online is Mikko Hyppönen's solution for preventing the growing problem of online banking fraud, specifically the "phishing" technique of luring trusting users to fake bank websites and then stealing their information. Hyppönen proposes to create a special Web domain just for banks, and make securing such a domain so costly and difficult that only genuine banks would be able to obtain one. I asked Hyppönen, who is chief research officer at F-Secure, to respond to critics of his idea. Here is his response.
Hyppönen: We've been pushing for an initiative to get a secure top-level domain (like ".bank" or ".safe") for some time now. We've received lots of questions and just plain criticism over the whole idea—most notably, from Larry Seltzer in his prominent blog.
So let me collect the most typical challenges to the idea, and answer them in turn. (below the jump)
The U.S. military has seen the enemy, and it is Web 2.0.
Explaining a ban on 13 popular websites, including MySpace, YouTube, MTV, and Pandora, Gen. B.B. Bell, head of U.S. Forces Korea, complained that the popularity of these "Web 2.0" sites "impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge."
Those are certainly valid concerns, but blocking access to soldiers' social sites hinders the communication between troops and their families and friends back home that is vital for morale. And in a larger sense, the Pentagon might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater with this move. Too often, the military and the White House complain about the lack of positive stories coming out of Iraq, whether because of liberal media bias, or just the plain news value of bombings over new schools. Yet here's an organic opportunity to air the accomplishments, and yes, struggles, of those in the battlefield with the entire world. And they're shutting it down?
Of course, this kind of transparency shouldn't come at the cost of national security, and locations of troop movements ought to be off-limits. But that's the kind of thing to be handled case by case. After all, even President Bush has sung the praises of personal blogs and social networking as a source for positive news from Iraq. Maybe the military could take a cue.
What do you do if you are a struggling website peddling local Pasadena, Ca., news, but can't afford to hire more U.S. reporters? Outsource the job of covering all things Pasadena to Bangalore. That's exactly what James Macpherson, publisher of Pasadena Now, has done, offering to pay two India-based journalists he found on Bangalore's craigslist site a combined $20,800 annual salary in order to watch Pasadena City Council meetings on the Internet and cover the local government beat. It's a strategy Reuters has also adopted, hiring Indian journalists to write Wall Street stories based on wire reports and news releases.
Macpherson defends his offshoring move by telling the Associated Press, "Whether you're at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you're still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview." He's got a point; a lot of journalism is done from a desk, thanks to technologies that put more information than you'll ever need at your fingertips, and the world's an email or phone call away. But he overlooks a crucial hurdle: simple time differences. I'll be impressed if his new Indian reporters successfully pull off local investigative pieces, as Macpherson intends, from 12.5 hours away. Not impossible, obviously, but harder for fast-moving news stories. But perhaps the news cycle in Pasadena isn't so rushed.
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