Saturday, November 14, 2009

Feedback of a Flash user on Silverlight

I came across this article a couple of days back, and found this to be a nice review, although a bit one-sided. The article takes the case of a long time Flash developer who got tempted to use Silverlight for a project. The article presents the problems he faces, and although he mentions in the end that he was not experience enough in the Microsoft and Visual Studio area, this should not be a roadblock. And he is right, since Silverlight is meant to take the battle to Flash, and it should have a great experience for somebody whose expertise on Flash. If a Flash developer found it difficult to move to Silverlight, it would just add another level of difficulty in getting Flash user to convert to Silverlight. Read the article at this location.
The article is a thorough criticism, not only of Silverlight, but also the efforts around Microsoft for improving the infrastructure related to Silverlight. For example, the article talks about how difficult and time-consuming it is just download and install Visual Studio. And the help and guidance provided was not very friendly.

Don’t dumb things down on my account, but understand that not everyone installing (rather, waiting for the install process to complete so they can use) your tools knows them well enough to get themselves in and out of your workflow with ease. Lower the barrier of entry and you may appeal to, and more importantly, enable, a lot more folks. This may be hard for you, seeing as your existing and historic developer contingent has already adapted to what I think is a very hardcore centered developer process.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The iPhone app that shows climate change

The iPhone is a great commercial success for Apple. The phone has mesmerized users all over the world, and become the corner-store for a smartphone that is well designed, provides what users want, and most noticeably, provides a platform for 3rd party apps that can extend the various functions available to users. The App Store allows developers to create apps and have them in front of users, whether these Apps be free or purchasable, and the number of apps that have been downloaded is an ever increasing number. The Apps cover a huge gamut of areas, whether these be news, business usage, games, cool gadgets, useless stuff, sports, and so on.
A different topic; that of global warming. Global warming is a phenomenon that is progressing at a rapid pace, and human efforts to put a brake on emissions are really not up to the mark; developed countries that have contributed to the problems in the most significant ways do not want to take measures that will harm their economies, unless developing countries take similar steps. Developing countries want to make sure that the contributor pays the maximum, and do not want to get strung by tough climate norms without exacting all the possible help they can (even though it is developing countries that will be hit harder by the impacts of global warming).
Some of the impacts of global warming are:
- Glaciers receding and carrying less water
- Water levels rising due to melting of polar and Greenland ice caps
- Atmospheric temperatures rising
These are just an indicative list.
Well, visitors to the Swiss Alps can now get to evaluate the results of global warming on an iPhone (link to article):

As these rivers of ice retreat back up the valleys they carved out, so scientists' knowledge of climate change advances, in turn helping us recognize the signs of a warming world. Now a new iPhone app is helping visitors to the Swiss Alps understand how climate change is altering the landscape. Developed by the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern in Switzerland and Swiss software company, Texetera, the Jungfrau Climate Guide is an interactive guide to glaciers and climate change.
For a fee of 20 CHF (around $19) visitors to the Jungfrau Alpine region can hire an iPhone loaded with the app. "For example," Meuli explained, "if you are standing in front of a glacier you will be told why it is no longer as big and provided with images of what it looked like 100 years ago, and what it might look like in the future."

Such an App can be very interesting to the user. They provide information that a tourist seeks in terms of tourists tracks, information about flora and fauna, and also provides information about how global warming has changed the levels of glaciers. As you get more Apps that cover changes in weather patters, track storm patterns and sea levels, people will be more aware.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Twitter confirms that it does not own user Tweets

There is a section of Users (using various internet services such as Facebook, Email services, Twitter, etc) that are very sensitive to any thought that companies might want to be claiming copyright on the content that users generate. So, for example, when Google first announced that Gmail would have advertisements running next to the email, and these advertisements would be based on the content of the email, there was some controversy about how Google would be looking at the content of user's emails to generate these ads (and it slowly died away after Google talked about a computer algorithm to derive the context-aware advertisements).
Facebook faced a problem in February 2009, when its Terms of Use scared people into thinking that the Facebook is claiming copyright over the content uploaded by users; that controversy became very large very quickly, and needed changes and announcements by Facebook management to mollify and dampen the controversy. Twitter was in danger of landing in a similar public relations problem, but they seem to have taken quick action (link to article):

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone on Thursday said that the popular online messaging site had updated its Terms of Service to clarify what users can expect from the service, though the announcement appears to be more about reassuring users than delineating substantive rights. "The revisions [of Twitter's Terms of Service] more appropriately reflect the nature of Twitter and convey key issues such as ownership," said Stone in a blog post. "For example, your tweets belong to you, not to Twitter."
"The vast majority of tweets are likely to be too short and lacking in creativity to qualify for copyright," said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an e-mail. "So they are not 'owned' by anyone, much like your idle chatter while walking down the street isn't 'owned' by anyone."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Apple responds to FCC enquiry about rejection of Google Voice

The Apple iPhone is such a popular device that it has encouraged a huge number of 3rd party developers to write applications for the iPhone, and Apple makes a large number of them available on the iTunes store (Apple claims that around 20% of the 500 apps that it receives per week are not approved - either directly rejected, or they need some modifications). However, it is apparent that one area where Apple is most concerned about is apps that either affect Apple's or AT&T's data plans or the money they make from voice calls. There was a lot of controversy in the month of July when Apple rejected the Google Voice (learn more) application, a software that could enable people to save money in making calls (even if Google Voice is not a VOIP application). The FCC was concerned about this apparent rejection, since it would seem that customers were being denied an alternative, and asked Apple for an explanation.
Apple has finally replied to the FCC, giving multiple reasons for the rejection, including privacy issues, and an apparent change of the basic call making flow inside the app (link to article):

"The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail," Apple said in a statement posted on its Web site. Apple also said Google Voice's importation of the Contacts database represented a privacy concern. "[T]he iPhone user's entire Contacts database is transferred to Google's servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways," Apple said.
Separately, Apple acknowledged that its agreement with AT&T obligates it "not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T's cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T's permission.

However, Apple is stating that the application is still under review, and not rejected; an apparent subterfuge to ensure more time, and maybe hope that back-channel contacts ensure that the issue goes away.
At some time in the future however, Apple will find that the platform that it has built in the form of the iPhone and the app store will be broken open, that Apple will find that the rights it has to deny an application will need more openness. This could happen through a mix of consumer reaction and pressure from regulators.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter shuts down for some time due to attack

The fragile nature of many of the important destinations of the internet was visible once again. Social networkers of the world, suddenly found that they were not getting their fix from the highly popular Twitter site, and that the site had stopped responding on Thursday, the 6th of August. And it was not only Twitter that was affected, other sites such as Facebook were affected as well. However, Twitter was the site that was most affected.
When sites start going down to attacks, this is mostly due to something called a DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service), and is mostly done through the use of requests for service from many different machines (many could mean hundreds of thousands or millions). In general terms, DoS attacks are implemented by either forcing the targeted computer(s) to reset, or consuming its resources so that it can no longer provide its intended service or obstructing the communication media between the intended users and the victim so that they can no longer communicate adequately. One way to do these attacks is through the use of botnets (wikipedia), machines all over the internet that have been taken over.
However, this attack was somewhat different. This was carried out through the use of spams, and was actually part of an attack against the accounts of a person called Cyxymu (wikipedia), a blogger who supports the country of Georgia against Russia. People were sent spam messages with links to his accounts on different social networking sites, and a huge number of them clicked on these links (link to article):

The messages were designed to discredit Cyxymu by associating him with a spam run. Other security researchers, such as Patrik Runald at F-Secure (here) and Graham Cluley at Sophos, are sceptical about this Joe Job-style theory for the attack.
Twitter’s two NTT hosted address blocks were moved in response to the attack, Arbor adds. Twitter's reliance on just one service provider, and apparent lack of back up and redundancy, much less a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, goes a long way towards explaining why it was hit so badly.

One such attack normally causes the attacked entity to place a much higher emphasis on trying to prevent such attacks in the future, and one can expect Twitter to do the same.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fined a huge amount for downloading songs

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been fighting a battle against people indulging in music-sharing across the internet. For the past many years, the music industry has seen a reduction in the number of music sales through the physical medium (CD's, DVD's, etc.) and this reduction is being blamed on the amount of file swapping that happens (file swapping gained prominence with Napster, and when the RIAA shut down Napster through a court case, other, more difficult to control file sharing methods such as P2P and torrents have gained prominence).
The music industry and the RIAA have been fighting against these, although fighting against a much widely dispersed enemy in the form of torrent sites and servers is more difficult. The music industry also started attacking the actual users, getting their details from ISP's, and then serving them notices with huge amounts of damages. The RIAA also had some hugely embarrassing mistakes, suffering from targeting people such as single mothers, children, and so on, all of which were huge Public Relations disasters. In some cases, they have successes, with people settling with the RIAA out of court. However, in another case, they have won huge damages (link to articles):

A federal jury Thursday found a 32-year-old Minnesota woman guilty of illegally downloading music from the Internet and fined her $80,000 each -- a total of $1.9 million -- for 24 songs. Jammie Thomas-Rasset's case was the first such copyright infringement case to go to trial in the United States, her attorney said. Attorney Joe Sibley said that his client was shocked at fine, noting that the price tag on the songs she downloaded was 99 cents.
This was the second trial for Thomas-Rasset. The judge ordered a retrial in 2007 after there was an error in the wording of jury instructions. The fines jumped considerably from the first trial, which granted just $220,000 to the recording companies.

Not sure about whether this will be a success, given that the accused is a single mother who works for an Indian tribe. Also, the RIAA has mostly given up fighting these cases, so this would be one of the few such cases that are still existing.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Problems with depending on cloud computing

In recent years, we are being sold on the total promise of cloud computing, or to be on a much simpler level, storing our data on sites on the internet and depend on internet applications for a lot of their work. Some examples of these are using Google Mail, Hotmail, Google Docs, Online Maps, Online photo sharing and storage. Corporations also depend on applications running off the internet such as Salesforce, Google Apps, etc. In fact, the entire concept of Software as a Service (SAAS) depends on companies basing their primary business applications on 3rd party hosted apps. We are now at that stage when companies no longer have a backup for these services; consider your own case - when you save something on Google Docs, do you also have a local copy of that data ? Do you have a backup way of running your business when the internet app goes down for whatever reason ?
Most companies now depend on these hosted services / data storage being always available. After all, if you are a photo storage company and depend on customer photos being stored on Amazon's S3 service, the service better be always available. If the service even goes down for a couple of hours, that is a time when your customers can no longer access their photos, and would not be a pleasant experience. Now consider the recent case of Google services being unavailable for a few hours due to a traffic jam at one of its data centers. This means that services such as Google Analytics, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and so on were unavailable (link to article):

Google has apologized for yesterday's service outage that left 14 percent of its user base without Google's wide variety of online services for a few hours. Google said in a blog post the outage came down to a simple traffic jam at an Asian data center. Well, a quick look at this graph from the Web security company Arbor Networks shows a canyon-sized hole in North American Internet traffic during the G-outage. With a wide variety of practical services like Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, Calendar, and even Google search gone, online activities came to a standstill for many people during the Google blackout.
Just how smart is it to depend on a company to store all your data online? Some smaller storage companies have even gone under without giving users a chance to collect their precious bits and bytes. Canadian photographer Ryan Pyle told Spring how he lost more than 7000 edited and retouched images after the storage company Digital Railroad abruptly shut its doors last year.

Leads to 2 problems - with many companies operating on wafer thin margins and in a recession, there is a greater chance of many companies disappearing. If these companies were in the service of either data storage or app hosting, then customers will be hit when these companies go down. In some cases, when the disappearance is sudden, then customers may be hit with data loss.
In the second case, it may be possible that a company does not go down, but operations are hit for some time due to some technical issues, planned downtime, or even hacker attacks. Customers dependent on them will need to suspend activities during such a period.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Huge China based computer ring broke into computers worldwide

For the past several years, there has been an active discussion among researches about the impact that a sustained attack on the computer infrastructure of developed countries could achieve. With modern infrastructures such as electricity, water, transport, finance, etc all being controlled through computational technologies, there is a persisting fear that all of this infrastructure is under threat from any clever band of cyber attackers. Modern military games incorporate threats by hackers who are affiliated to sovereign countries, and in many cases, it is claimed that developing the ability to bring down the computer networks of other countries is part of the game plan for offensive action. In the past, it has been feared that countries such as China and Russia have developed capabilities for offensive cyber-warfare.
Consider this case where a computer network, based in China, and dubbed as the 'GhostNet' by a team of Canadian researches turned up a huge network based on computers located in China; these computers were the initiators of hacking attempts that broke into computers all over the world; this probe was based on a need by the Dalai Lama office in India to ensure that its own computers were not infected (link to article):

In "Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network," issued over the weekend, the Canadian researchers say that the GhostNet comprises 1,295 infected computers in 103 countries, almost one third of them being "high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs."
The breaches tended to stem from a so-called social-engineering exploit, in which targets in the Tibetan community were sent an e-mail that appeared to be from the address and that carried an attached Word document titled "Translation of Freedom Movement ID Book for Tibetans in Exile"--and that Word document was infected with the malicious code. The University of Cambridge report, "The snooping dragon: social-malware surveillance of the Tibetan movement," doesn't refrain from charging that the Chinese government was directing malware attacks: "(I)t was a targeted surveillance attack designed to collect actionable intelligence for use by the police and security services of a repressive state, with potentially fatal consequences for those exposed."

These incidents are also warnings to Governments about how their infrastructural systems are only as strong as their weakest links. One node in the system getting hacked can lead into other nodes also falling, and lead to a risk that the entire system is being compromised. In the current system, it was also found that the exploit had the powers to turn on the voice recording and the camera systems of the infected computer, leading to a spying of the proceedings happening in front of the computer.

Monday, March 30, 2009


PhoneGap is an open source development tool for building fast, easy mobile apps with JavaScript.

If you’re a web developer who wants to build mobile applications in HTML and JavaScript while still taking advantage of the core features in the iPhone, Android and Blackberry SDKs, PhoneGap is for you.

PhoneGap Creators
Rob Ellis, Creator, JavaScript Maintainer

Rob is a developer at Nitobi Inc. As one of the PhoneGap creators, Rob is focused on trying to make mobile device app development easy and open. At Nitobi, Rob is part of a team that makes web applications easier to use by building software that allows both developers and end-users be more effective.

Brock Whitten, Creator, iPhone Maintainer and Repo Maintainer

Brock is a software developer at Nitobi Inc. He is one of the brains behind PhoneGap and recently presented on PhoneGap at MobileCamp Vancouver. Brock wants to see developers get really creative now that the barrier of entry for developing on mobile devices is getting increasingly lower.

If you want to read more, click this link.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Satellites crashing in space - Russian and US satellites

One always thinks of space as a large open area, with plenty of space in all directions. You combine this space with the concept of satellites being well regulated and following controlled orbits, and then it is difficult to believe that satellites under the control of such countries such as the United States and Russia could actually collide, and yet that is exactly what seems to have happened:

The collision between a U.S. and a Russian satellite over Siberia may have been accidental and the first of its kind, but experts say more crashes will inevitably occur and could have geopolitical consequences. "This is an event that really makes us realize that things are not so straightforward as we originally thought," said Francisco Diego, a senior research fellow in physics and astronomy at University College London.
The collision, between a spacecraft operated by U.S. communications group Iridium Satellite LLC and a Russian Cosmos-2251 military satellite, happened 485 miles above the Russian Arctic on Tuesday afternoon. The crash sent at least 600 pieces of debris off into space, officials said, increasing the risk that other satellites, including the vast International Space Station, which orbits 220 miles up, could be struck and damaged.

This crash may have been accidental, but what is to prevent countries from investing in such technologies. For example, a couple of such crashes have the effect of impacting the GPS and communication technologies that are used by the US military to great affect.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Internet users reach 1 billion

This was a landmark that people have been waiting for some time. It has always be portrayed that internet usage is something that does not affect poor people in developing countries (and this may still be true), but the fact that the overall number of internet users the world over is now past 1 billion (as reported in December) is a big landmark by itself (link):

The key metric in the number of users is that most of them are from Asia, predominantly so: 41 percent, compared to 28 percent in North America and 18 percent in Europe. Although a sizeable percentage of Europe speaks English in some capacity (as does Asia), the numbers indicate that most of the world's Internet traffic will most likely be communicated using some non-English language. China, for example, had 179 million users, topping the list of wired countries; the U.S. was second, at 163 million. Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom rounded out the top five.

The growth areas are also significant. Slowly, the world is moving to incorporate more languages; however this is counter-balanced by the growing prevalence of English as a global language.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Valuing Twitter at $250 million

Remember those old style internet valuations, as when Google bought Youtube for 1.6 billion dollars. A lot of those valuations never made it much, such as the huge amount of money paid for AOL by CNN, something that killed the long term strength of the company. A offshoot of these kind of valuations was that other companies also started expecting the same sort of valuations, way out of their earning potentials (even if you were very optimisitic).
The standard model is simple, setup a site with something new or a better way of doing something that brings in the millions of users, and then poof!, the valuations start screaming upwards. In the midst of this, revenue and short-to-mid term potential cannot meet these valuations. And there are a number of companies who have done very well in terms of attracting users, especially social networking sites. So, a site like Facebook has a lot of heavy-usage users, including a lot who hunt for people to add to the network. However, very few people have been able to generate long term revenue generation plans. Twitter is one such network that has become extremely popular over the relatively short period of time of 2 years, although it has the same problems in trying to show an effective business model. Consider that this micro-blogging network gets a valuation of $250 million:

Rumor is Twitter hit up more than a few venture firms to pitch the $250 million valuation, and got more than one 'no,'" TechCrunch wrote Saturday. "But someone's bit, perhaps encouraged by Twitter's breakneck growth and the interest from Facebook. That means Twitter gets a new cash injection and time to figure out its business model at an even more leisurely pace."
That certainly would be a boon for Twitter, which until now has not shown signs of a viable business model. Though it is growing rapidly and has millions of users, no one knows how the company could support itself. Some have worried that while it is increasingly useful to the many people who rely on it, it might not be financially viable over time.

One can only hope that the world is saner now in terms of valuations, especially the considersation of revenue generation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Twitter hacked

Twitter is a service that has become tremendously popular, that too, within a very short period of time. The ability to post micro-blogging type messages (restricted to 140 characters) and for others being able to read them through a variety of means (SMS, RSS, via the Twitter site, email, or through specialist applications) made the usage of Twitter even more popular. With such a popular site, one can only imagine the number of attempts that would be made to hack into such a service, and it happened - the Twitter sites of many celebrities where hacked through the compromising of some internal Twitter administration tools:

Members of the online forum Digital Gangster may have been behind yesterday's Twitter hack. On Monday, hackers gained access to, and posted messages from, 33 Twitter accounts including those of Bill O'Reilly, Britney Spear and CNN's Rick Sanchez. According to this thread, a hacker named GMZ gained access to Twitter login information and then posted a different thread--that has since been removed--calling on other DG members to email him for credentials to individual accounts. At least another four members then claim to have been part of yesterday's Twitter hack.
The hack included several prank posts from Twitter users such as Fox News, Facebook and president-elect Barack Obama. The strange thing about some of these messages is that they included affiliate links--a common marketing program that pays the creator of the link for driving traffic to another Web site such as Amazon--according to reports. That may make finding the culprits easier as the affiliate programs in question should have a virtual paper trail leading back to the payee

No matter who did this, the hacking of Twitter (and not much apparent concern from users about this) is a reminder that security on the internet can be compromised; revealing personal details on the internet comes with a certain amount of risk.