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New year, new repression

Wednesday, 2 January, 2019

The old year was ebbing towards its end when Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran, took to Twitter to wish people “from all races, religions and ethnicities — a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.” This is the height of cynicism, given that Zarif represents a regime that supports terrorism, pushes gays off buildings, forces women to wear mediaeval garb and refuses to allow the people of Iran free access to the internet.

Just as vile as the regime in Tehran is the regime in Hanoi, which has imposed a draconian new law requiring internet companies in Vietnam to remove content the communist authorities regard as “toxic” and compels them to hand over user data if asked to do so. The law also bans internet users from spreading information deemed to be “anti-state or anti-government,” as well as prohibiting use the internet to “distort history” and “post false information that could cause confusion and damage to socio-economic activities.” The law came into force a week after Vietnam’s Association of Journalists announced a new code of conduct on the use of social media, forbidding its members to post news and photos that “run counter to” the state.”


The IoT is a mess

Monday, 12 November, 2018

The problem with the IoT (Internet of Things) is the huge gulf between hardware and software. So proclaims the blog Digits to Dollars, which is a product of “a multi-purpose consulting firm” called D2D Advisory Inc. that helps companies “achieve their long-term financial and strategic objectives.” D2D was founded by Jonathan Goldberg, who can be found at the “intersection of Technology and Finance.”

What makes the IoT so complicated is that an oil company might want to collect data from thousands of different sensors over hundreds of miles of pipelines, while a shipping company might want to track thousands of pallets thousands of miles away.

Why is IoT such a mess? Snippet:

“IoT networks need two things, they need a network for communications, and then modules, attached to ‘things’, that communicates to those networks. But compare that to all the use cases possible. That oil company needs a long range network, cellular will not work because of the remote locations involved. The module can probably have power, but needs someone to go out and install them. By contrast, the cellular might work for a local delivery fleet, but then everyone fleet will need different sensors built into the module (e.g. temperature, location, activity, camera, whatever). Then remember that none of these companies actually build their own modules for anything, so they have to find someone capable of that. For those of in the technology business, the idea of finding a manufacturer in Asia to build a module is not too remote, for everyone else it is literally the other side of the world. Further complicating all this is the fact that there is no company on the planet capable of providing all the electronics needed — including four or five different flavors of radios and a dozen categories of sensors. The combinatorics behind this are one of those math problems with more answers than there are atoms in the universe.”

Bottom line: There will be no IoT platform. Instead, different solutions for different industries will emerge. “Time to stop dreaming and get building,” say the D2D writers.


Post from Kathmandu

Wednesday, 10 May, 2017 0 Comments

One in two Nepalis now use the internet, according to the latest report by the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA). There are 14.18 million internet subscribers in the landlocked Himalayan country, or nearly 56 percent of the national population of 26.49 million, writes The Kathmandu Post. “The report shows that internet penetration has increased by a whopping 18.22 percent over the year ending mid-February,” says the Post, adding: “Almost all the growth in web connectivity has come from mobiles as more and more people are using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”

Mr. Digambar Jha  Chairman of the NTA The Malaysian company Ncell has 6.21 million subscribers, representing 42.05 percent of the market. It posted a 2.4 percent growth in revenue in 2016, “driven by a significant rise in its data receipts.”

This news will be welcomed by Mr. Digambar Jha, the Chairman of the NTA. His rivals for the job challenged his appointment on the that he did not possess the required qualifications for the post. They pointed out that while he did hold a BA in mechanical engineering, he had no expertise in the telecom sector. The court, however, sided with Chairman Jha.

Meanwhile in Nepal, “A cholera epidemic since the past few days in Musahar settlement in Kachanari of Bariyarpatti Village Council of Siraha has claimed a girl,” reports The Post.


USAFacts

Wednesday, 19 April, 2017 0 Comments

What percentage of Americans has been diagnosed with depression and how much does Washington spend on treating the disease? How much money is collected from parking tickets in Chicago and how much does it cost to collect it? How many police officers are employed across the US and how do their numbers compare to the crime rates? The USAFacts public database is the first nonpartisan attempt to create a fully integrated overview of revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments in America and it’s impressive in its ability and ambition.

USAFacts was developed thanks to the generosity and vision of Steve Ballmer. The ex-Microsoft boss has deep pockets and he has spent more than $10 million so far on the project. With boundless energy and budget, he assembled a crowd of programmers, economists and academics that extended from Seattle to the University of Pennsylvania and together they built the start-up in stealth mode over the last three years. “Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he told Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for DealBook. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.” Way to go, Steve.

The websites EU Facts and Civitas EU Facts that Google returns in response to a search query are not quite Ballmer.


Talkin’ Industry 4.0

Saturday, 5 November, 2016 0 Comments

Today, at the 29th IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Munich, I’ll be talking about the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its seven key components: Industry 4.0, IoT, Big Data, cloud computing, robotics, AI and cybersecurity.

As with the three preceding Industrial Revolutions, which were powered, respectively, by steam, electricity and transistors, the cyber-physical systems now driving this fourth upheaval will transform manufacturing and replace William Blake’s vision of dark Satanic sweatshops with that of a better, cleaner, cleverer place — the smart factory.

“And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?”

Jerusalem by William Blake (1757 — 1827)


The war of the Mirai and XiongMai

Saturday, 22 October, 2016 0 Comments

It sounds like something from Star Trek: The war of the Mirai and the XiongMai. But it’s neither Hollywood nor science fiction. It’s real. Yesterday, users of Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix experienced problems because Dyn, an internet infrastructure company that provides critical services to these sites, sustained a massive, malicious attack. Spearheading it was Mirai, malware that had hijacked digital video recorders and cameras made by XiongMai Technologies, a Chinese hi-tech company. Mirai trawls the web for cheap devices protected by just their factory-default usernames and passwords and then conscripts them for attacks that launch wave upon wave of junk traffic at targets until they can no longer serve legitimate users.

Only a week ago, US-CERT, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a warning titled “Heightened DDoS Threat Posed by Mirai and Other Botnets.” It pointed the finger at the vulnerability of the Internet of Things (IoT), “an emerging network of devices (e.g., printers, routers, video cameras, smart TVs) that connect to one another via the Internet, often automatically sending and receiving data.” According to US-CERT, “IoT devices have been used to create large-scale botnets — networks of devices infected with self-propagating malware — that can execute crippling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. IoT devices are particularly susceptible to malware, so protecting these devices and connected hardware is critical to protect systems and networks.”

The solution? Security expert Brian Krebs is calling for a major, global effort to recall and remove vulnerable systems from the internet. “In my humble opinion, this global cleanup effort should be funded mainly by the companies that are dumping these cheap, poorly-secured hardware devices onto the market in an apparent bid to own the market. Well, they should be made to own the cleanup efforts as well.”

Malware  code


The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sunday, 2 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully,” is the popular variant of a famous quote by Dr Johnson. And the prospect of making a presentation on the topic of the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in early November means this blog will be focusing on all things i4.0 in the coming weeks. So let’s get going with some basic terminology:

  • The First Industrial Revolution: The steam engine freed people from relying on their own muscular strength or that of animals for manufacturing and transport.
  • The Second Industrial Revolution: Electricity powered spectacular improvements in productivity, innovation, comfort and well-being.
  • The Third Industrial Revolution: The microprocessor, the computer and the internet led to dramatic developments in efficiency, commerce and creativity.
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution: The smartphone, the Internet of Things, 5G, genetic engineering, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, robotics, nanotechnology, machine learning… will affect how we live and work for the remainder of this century.

“Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick’s skull.” — Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work


The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Wednesday, 21 September, 2016 0 Comments

Mobile super-computing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, AI, neuro-technological brain enhancements, chatbots, the Internet of Things… It’s a revolution! “The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed,” says Marta Chierego, who directed this clip for The World Economic Forum.

“The second industrial revolution has yet to be fully experienced by 17% of the world as nearly 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity…

…The fourth industrial revolution, however, is not only about smart and connected machines and systems. Its scope is much wider. Occurring simultaneously are waves of further breakthroughs in areas ranging from gene sequencing to nanotechnology, from renewables to quantum computing. It is the fusion of these technologies and their interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the fourth industrial revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions.” — Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution


Cyberwar: Moscow? Beijing? Pyongyang?

Friday, 16 September, 2016 0 Comments

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.” Says who? Says the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM company that “empowers cyber security teams to transform their security posture.”

That CTO is none other than Bruce Schneier, and when he talks, people listen. When he issues a warning, people should act. In his blog post Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet, Schneier echoes the conflict of a previous era: “It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”

Fancy Bear But this is not the work of a data fundamentalist like Julian Assange or a data thief such as Fancy Bear, Schneier believes. To him, it feels like a large nation state is at work. “China or Russia would be my first guesses,” he says, although he accepts that the identity of the country of origin for the attacks now being mounted could be disguised.

All this reminds the avid reader of espionage thrillers of the time when a rogue Russian spy warned an MI5 agent of a plot to hack into a top-secret US-UK military satellite system. Tomorrow, here, we follow Liz Carlyle to Geneva as she tracks the moles.


Yahoo and the end of Web 1.0

Thursday, 28 July, 2016 1 Comment

More than a billion people now check Facebook on their phones every single day. The social network revealed this new milestone last night when it released its impressive second-quarter earnings. What’s that got to do with Yahoo and the headline on this post? Well, context is important. Consider these stats:

Facebook now owns a $17-billion-a-year mobile ad business. In the second quarter, mobile sales made up 84 percent of its $6.24 billion in advertising revenue. Overall, the social network reported $2.05 billion in profit, up 186 percent year-over-year, on $6.43 billion in total revenue, which rose 59 percent compared to the same period last year. And Facebook ended the second quarter with 1.71 billion monthly active users.

Which brings us to Yahoo, which was was acquired on Monday by an American telephone company, Verizon, which paid $4.8 billion for the brand and its internet properties. The cause of this ignominious end was simple: Yahoo became irrelevant for adults quite some time ago, and young people don’t use it at all. They spend their time now on Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Spotify and Facebook.

Yahoo’s major missed opportunity was the rise of the mobile web. That failure had a lot to do with the short stint as CEO of Scott Thompson, who departed in a cloud of controversy. Distracted by its internal troubles, the company took its eye off the ball, as it were, at a critical moment. Thompson was replaced in July 2012 by Marissa Mayer, who bought Tumblr for a billion dollars in an attempt to attract younger internet users. A blogging platform is not what the yoof wanted, though.

Note: Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 million and Facebook for $1 billion.

The new benchmark is that more than a billion people check Facebook on their phones every day. The old benchmark was Yahoo’s directory of websites and this week began with the purchase of the gravestone. Yahoo belongs, with the rotary phone, to another era, and its departure marks the end of Web 1.0. Those riding high on the Web 2.0 wave now should remember, however, that “the bubble fame” does burst and voice-based interfaces on devices such as Amazon’s Alexa are moving the web beyond browsers and smartphones. Blink, and you miss it. Yahoo fell asleep and its legacy includes happy memories of the “Site of the Day” feature. The web was young then. It’s mobile now.


Mappa Mundi

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016 0 Comments

Welcome to our third day of reading Parag Khanna’s new book, CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Maps featured in the first post here on Monday and they’re central to today’s post as well. In the introduction to his book, Khanna follows the Prologue with A Note About Maps in which he writes: “Mapping the complex dynamics among the three greatest forces shaping our planet — man, nature, and technology — will require a whole new kind of geographic literacy.” Technologies such as Maptitude, StatPlanet, Project Tango and GeoFusion are some of the new tools of the new cartographic trade when it comes to adding economic and cultural data to maps, and that’s just the start, says Khanna:

“With the rise of the global sensor network dubbed the ‘Internet of Everything’ (Internet of Things + Internet of People), our maps will perpetually update themselves, providing an animated view into our world, as it really is — even the five thousand commercial aircraft in the sky and the more than ten thousand ships crossing the seas at any given moment. These are the arteries and veins, capillaries and cells, of a planetary economy underpinned by an infrastructural network that can eventually become as efficient as the human body.”

Those aircraft and ships are bound for port in what Parag Khanna calls “mankind’s most profound infrastructure” of the 21st century: the city. By 2050, there will be at least 40 cities with a population of more than 10 million people — the megacities.