Archive for the ‘Web Rousing’ Category

Your ISP and Reality

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

In North America, whichever company is providing your Internet service, there’s a good chance you’re getting ripped off.

First of all, data caps are the biggest lie we’ve ever been told.  The fight against “bandwidth hogs” — people who download more than their fair share of data — is the reason for these caps. According to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) caps mean that average people, those folks who use the Internet for email and the occasional low-resolution YouTube video, will never pay extra while the hogs will pay for all the high-resolution video downloading they’re doing. The way they frame the argument, “hog” is a veiled reference to “pirate”.

There are holes in that argument.  “But” holes.  But: Netflix.  But: today’s 1080p HD video content on YouTube. But: lots of new and innovative services that can’t run without a modern pipeline of data to go with them.

The good news is that most of the big ISPs have introduced “unlimited” services.  I always laugh at the definition of unlimited: it means that they set their systems to accept a limit so high that no one should ever run into it.  This works in most cases.  For example, with the Rogers plan I have now, it would be impossible to hit the cap with today’s technology.  Still, we’ve heard the stories of “unlimited texting” plans that are exceeded by avid teenaged texters.

Even with the unlimited plans, we’re still facing a situation where our communications infrastructure is falling behind in terms of worldwide comparisons on price, availability, and speed — true in both the United States and Canada.

Google may change all that with the introduction of 1 Gigabit service in many under-served communities in the United States.  But Google is carefully evaluating each market and will only enter those where it knows it can make a huge profit.  They have no plans to enter Canada at all.

There are a couple of suggestions that seem to make sense.  These suggestions would outrage the big telecommunications companies, based on their last reaction to being told late last year by the CRTC that yet another merger was not in the public’s best interest.

  1. Do not allow the service providers to also provide content and distribution channels on top of their base service.  Laying cable and fibre then opening up the pipe, like a true utility company, should be the only thing an Internet Service Provider does.  When the same company has profit motivation related to data they are running along those pipes, the temptation to filter or otherwise hinder their competitors is too great.
  2. Introduce true competition in the space. We already have a duplication of wires running through most neighbourhoods, but as we lay down more fibre we have an opportunity to allow different companies to fight for the ability to serve on those existing wires or lay down additional ones.

What is the Internet?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

“The Internet is a series of tubes invented by Al Gore.”

If you get the joke references in that answer, then you probably understand all the issues I will try to raise in this post.  But even if you use the Internet on a daily basis through e-mail or your favorite Facebook games, you may be hearing some of the following for the first time.

The Internet is a technological marvel that, as with most marvels, evolved. Now, the timeframe is so compressed that it may resemble intelligent design more than evolution, but let’s just assume that the incremental improvements happened quickly and that there were more than a few innovators involved.  Most people think of the Internet and the World Wide Web as one and the same.  That’s fine for most purposes these days.

What’s more interesting though, as the recent debates about censorship to battle copyright infringement have shown, is that the Internet is actually a belief system.  The way it grew up was around trust and sharing.  It has been abused by spammers and scam artists, but mostly it thrives because of the goodness and fairness of the majority of people.

I strongly believe that people should be compensated for the work they do.  I see the “Occupy” movement’s difficulty with the richest 1% getting richer off the backs of the 99%.  I also see a strong parallel between that argument and the corporations that are the “content industry” getting rich off the backs of artists.  Copyright lasts so long now that it has nothing to do with ensuring that an artist is fairly compensated for their contributions to culture.  It is really a way for people who can afford to control distribution channels to make money off the artist’s work (70 or more years after the artist is dead).  The Queen Anne Statute (when copyright was first introduced) allowed for the artists to get a temporary monopoly on their artistic expressions (not ideas, by the way, only expressions of ideas) so they could make some money and at the same time contribute to culture.  After 14 years, when the artist has made a chunk of money from his or her creation, the art would fall into the public domain.  There it would be enjoyed by all and (most importantly) re-mixed and improved upon by the next generation of artists.

The Internet brought along the potential for an amazing resurgence of creative talent.  Cheap production and even cheaper distribution could have allowed for artists to create amazing high quality stuff, get it out there, monetize it quickly, and then the next generation would take over.  Instead we have big corporations doing their utmost to lock down all creative output for multiple generations.  The examples that really freak me out are the Walt Disney movies like Cinderella and Snow White which were stories in the public domain that Disney used to build an incredibly successful business; now any attempt by someone to put out content based on those same public domain stories are challenged by the Disney lawyers.  If things worked the way they were originally supposed to, Disney’s own versions would be in the public domain by now.  Remember, since corporations are considered people under the law, the copyright will now last until 70 or more years after the Disney corporation dies.

To stop online copyright infringement, the US government is considering legislation that will allow companies like Disney the ability to cut off funding and “erase from the Internet” any site found to be “facilitating infringement”.  There’s enough ambiguity in the law that Google or flickr could easily be categorized as a “rogue” site. The way they will accomplish the “erasing” is to muck around with the Domain Name System (DNS), the technical backbone of the Internet that converts the Web site name you type or paste into your browser into the IP addresses (numbers) that computers can understand.  The legislation breaks the Internet technically and shatters the underlying belief system.  No trust.  No sharing.

It should be interesting to see how we answer this question in a few years: “What is the Internet?”  If the companies pushing this legislation have their way, the answer may be: “A broadcast medium used by big corporations to deliver content to a paying audience.”  Surely this would be a better answer: “A communications medium that continues to allow each member of the public an equal voice, making it the greatest enabler of democracy and artistic expression the world has ever known.”

Link Rot

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I looked back at my posts from the early days of this blog (February 2007).  Apart from the embarrassment of seeing how much more frequently I used to post, I was disturbed by how many of the links I included in those articles are now sitting “parked” on a domain farm somewhere.  While technically not dead links, they are useless in terms of any value they might add to the articles.

Sure, nothing is forever, but the linkers that last longer than others on the Interwebs are hampered by the Sudden Internet Death Syndrome that befalls so many linkees.  It’s a bit of a drag.

Buy Low, Sell High

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

This Flash game is a grand simplification, but it is kind of cute.

Play Realtor

Play Free Game

Fighting spam

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

I took more than a month off from this blog to study (more on that in the new year).  But while I was away, I was bombarded with a higher than usual amount of spam comments and spam responses to my main site’s “information request” function.

WordPress and Drupal are popular enough platforms that spammers have widely shared bots that automatically crawl into your site and issue bogus requests that end up in my e-mail box.  What the incoherent and nonsense spam really is trying to accomplish is beyond me.  Some is apparently for male enhancement products, but much of it is just a jumble of letters in no particular language and a series of links.  I assume the links are the thing the spammers are trying to get people to follow, but… who would?  No one I know.

To fight this scourge, I have installed a CAPTCHA routine on my main site.  This is a pretty rudimentary version but it seems effective.  My spam has dropped to zero since I installed it a few days ago.  For those who haven’t heard of CAPTCHA, it is a system that displays graphical letters and numbers in random sequences that theoretically only a human can read and type back in as a response.  If you match the sequence, you are granted access to whatever function is being protected (in this case the request for information is actually sent to my inbox).

CAPTCHA ExampleAs spammer technology got more sophisticated, graphical codes were not sufficient… the bots could match pixel patterns and submit the sequence automatically.  The CAPTCHA routines became more advanced, and warping the images of the letters and numbers is intended to throw off the pixel-matching algorithms of the spammers.  Sadly, the spammers up their game and their algorithms begin to approach the accuracy of a human eye.  So the CAPTCHA warping — becoming more drastic to thwart the spam reader — starts to get so that a human has difficulty reading the code.  In the example above… is that an ’8′ or a ‘B’ before the ‘A’?  It is all pretty silly — the escalation of force that inevitably leads to some sort of doomsday scenario.

For now, I am simply happy that my inbox is no longer drowning in useless messages.

DoS and Don’ts of cyberwarfare

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

A denial of service (DoS) attack is a cyberwarfare tactic that usually involves bombarding a computer resource with so many requests that it can’t handle them all.  In the case of a web attack, the server either crashes or simply spends so much of its time responding to the bogus requests that legitimate ones are not handled or handled so slowly that the site seems unavailable.

In the recent dissident uprising in Iran, a DoS attack was conducted by everyday people who wanted to silence the Iranian government’s lies about what was going on.  A programmer in the United States wrote some code that would request refreshes of the key Iranian government web sites every second.  People all over could go to the programmer’s proxy and click “start” to conduct an additional attack.  It caught on and many of the “official” Iranian sites were effectively shut down: a seeming victory for the forces of freedom.

Unfortunately, as vast and infinite as the Internet seems, you always eventually run into scarcity in one form or another.  In this case, dissidents in Iran started pleading with the world to stop the DoS attack because it was depriving them of the bandwidth they needed to get their own message out to the world.  In other words, the people the DoS perpetrators were supposed to be helping were actually also hurt by the attack.

I strongly believe that clogging up the Internet (with spam or bogus requests) is wrong no matter how noble your intentions may be.

The Bozo Bit and Twitter

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

I’ve been a longtime advocate of diverse teams.  Fresh opinions add value to any problem solving exercise.

On Twitter and other social networking technologies, you tend to “follow” or “friend” people you enjoy reading.  This often means following those people with whom you have something in common.  The more you have in common, the more you likely enjoy following them.

Unfollowing someone who displays naivete (or is consistently “wrong”) about a topic is like “flipping the Bozo Bit“.  It is natural (I’m sure I do it myself) but probably counterproductive in the long run.  Now, please note that I am talking about divergent opinions on the same topic.  I am not talking about following everyone; those people who tweet about completely unrelated topics are obviously not ones to follow.  But people who disagree with you about relevant topics are perfect people to follow and learn from.

A corollary to this is the point that Jason Pontin makes about trying to conduct a debate on Twitter.  The format doesn’t really lend itself to serious debate.  The 140 character limit is probably too limiting for deep discourse.  But, as it always has, microblogging can provide links to the more substantial blog entries that you post to make your point.

Last.fm starts charging some nations

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

If you’re not in the US, UK, or Germany, you’re going to be paying a monthly charge for streaming music from the Last.fm site.

LastIt’s been almost two years since I wrote about the challenges of finding a site that even catered to me in Canada. Now it seems the free ride is over.  I wish there was some change in the way music distribution was licensed: the geographic exclusivity clauses seem so archaic.

For now, I get 30 free tracks and then I have to start paying.  Also important to note: only live streaming is going to cost money; the really powerful “scrobbling” feature of Last.fm will continue to be free.  To me, the music industry gets a huge benefit from “scrobbling” because it gives a pretty accurate view of who’s listening to what music.  Demographics aside, this is a measure of actual listeners that was never available on traditional radio with any real accuracy.

What’s with Internet Explorer?

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Any good Web designer will test with multiple browsers before deploying.  I started putting together a very simple web page and began testing as I went.  I am shocked at how badly Microsoft Internet Explorer fails to interpret rudimentary standard XHTML and CSS.  Maybe you don’t hear a hue and cry because people make a great living customizing Web sites so they comply with the non-standard way Internet Explorer works.  Safari, Firefox, and Google Chrome seem to be able to interpret things in a common way and actually function according to the W3 descriptions of what to expect.  I will admit that Opera screwed up one horizontal line (<hr> tag), so I left it out of the following visual comparison:

Browser Comparison

Local sells, lying loses

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

The following is a modified excerpt from an actual Web site (I took out the angle brackets and script notation):

Thank you for visiting my site. This is Corey Peters. I grew up in the –script src=“http://j.maxmind.com/app/geoip.js” –document.write(geoip_city()); document.write(geoip_region()); area. This is my story on how filling out one simple online form changed my life. Basically I actually make around $5,500 to $7,000 a month from Google.

So when you read the results on the web, you think the guy grew up in your local area.  But it is a scam and a half.  It is a scam because it is about link farming.  But it is another half a scam because it dynamically changes the “facts” for each visitor no matter where they are.  This practice is cropping up all over the Internet; Facebook allows it to happen.

Five hotties in (your city) want to meet you!

Three people from (your city) have a crush on you.

It is despicable.  I am especially annoyed with this practice after reading my brother-in-law’s excellent point about how legitimately locale-targeted Google ads can be very effective.