Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Gaming the System

6

olpcoxWhat will millions of poor children do with cheap laptop computers? Play games, of course. But not just any games.

The vaunted “$100 laptop” already being distributed in some countries by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child program lacks the horsepower to run flashy 3-D games like Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft. Besides, the idea of the nonprofit is to educate as well as entertain.

Game jam coordinator Mel Chua said it’s just the first of several such gatherings to produce useful software and content for the XO laptop. “We’re hoping to have music jams, movie jams, curriculum jams,” Chua said.

The software jams won’t be confined to the United States. SJ Klein One Laptop Per Child’s director of content, hopes the Needham game jam will serve as a model for software developers around the world. “We’re trying to formalize this as an idea that anybody else can easily run,” said Klein.

from the Boston Globe

If we know SJ, he’s going to make sure that these babies come loaded with the capacity to allow a group of 12-year-olds, transported to a virgin planet with nothing but natural resources, to completely recreate modern civilization, only better, and to have a blast doing it.

We are particularly encouraged by the fleeting mention of “Curriculum Jams”. All over the world, every day, creative tech-savvy teachers are creating content, on line and off, which they would be more than willing to share, given a channel and a chance to contribute.

We will be on the lookout for further updates.

Berkman Denizens Take Home the Gelt

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liwilliams.jpg Three of the top Berkman denizens were rewarded for their brilliant ideas, but more than that, for their ability to transform their ideas into concrete programs that actually improve people’s lives in the real world…

The future of journalism is in your hands.

That was the message yesterday as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation handed out more than $11 million in prize money to various bloggers and computer programmers, and organizations ranging from MIT to MTV, for proposals that will empower ordinary people to participate in digital media.

Lisa Williams , founder of Placeblogger, [and H2otown-db note] won $222,000 towards further developing the website — basically “the blogosphere’s answer to the AP.” Placeblogger runs a streaming digest from blogs across the world, and ultimately Watertown resident Williams would like to be able to create feeds of local information for cellphones, blogs, and e-mail.

Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School created a website in 2004 that aggregates blogs from across the world. Yesterday, he won $244,000 to help train bloggers in developing countries and rural areas.

David Ardia , also of the Berkman Center, won $250,000 to support the Citizen Media Law Project , an online legal resource for citizen journalists.

from the Boston Globe

Congratulations, to the three of them. Lisa and Ethan are two of the smartest and nicest people we know, and are sure to use the money to make a positive impact on-line and off in other people’s lives. David we don’t know, but his project sounds like something we should check out, especially as we have been working more and more in the field of legal English, now a must for lawyers all over the world.

Meanwhile, our online staff feel that the Dowbrigade News deserves a piece of that action. We have to get back on the magic mailing list for grant and prize money. With an award like that, we wouldn’t have to teach so many hours we’re too tired to blog when we get home! Of course, we would have to come up with some grant-worthy project. Something to empower a downtrodden and neglected constituency. The best we’ve come up with so far is a clearinghouse for information related to the mysterious mass disappearance of America’s bees. Bees seem downtrodden and neglected, and the big cell phone companies constitute a suitable corporate culprit.

But any other suggestions from the constituency would be appreciated.

Notes from the Spamorama

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The Dowbrigade is getting to be a regular over at MIT’s Stata Center, attending events which are completely over our head but somehow more entertaining than staying home and watching Roswell reruns on the SciFi Channel. It’s twisted exterior and only slightly more subtle interior askewedness are starting to grow on us.

On Friday it was the 2007 Spam Conference, billed as a smorgasbord of "Spam, Phishing and Other Cybercrimes". Nestled among cryptic sessions on SMTP Multiplex throttling and SPF and Symmetric DNS, we were surprised to find on the agenda a couple of speakers who we knew and who, despite being very, very smart spoke a dialect of English we could understand, most of the time.

First, Jessica Baumgart spoke on Blog Spam, a topic the Dowbrigade has become somewhat familiar with lately. As readers will discover shortly, the Dowbrigade is about to be ignominiously uprooted from our squatter’s perch on an obscure branch of Harvard’s Manila Blog Server, because said server has been rendered inoperable, unreliable and unprotectable from pernicious blog spam.

We hope to be back online with a new and improved Dowbrigade News at this same internet address, but composed on a new blogging platform (WordPress) within a matter of hours after the migration, but early reports from early migrators are mixed. Some report few problems and are happily blogging away on their new platforms. Others have disappeared down digital black holes, never to be heard from again. A future posting will explain the migration more fully.

But back to j! She explained that blog spam takes two main forms, comment spam and trackback spam. Both are designed to create links back to a clients web site, boosting it in search engine results and other rankings. We learned that the far majority of this spam is generated by robots or automated programs, and that spammers have grown adept in creating multiple new blogs on free blogging servers for the express purpose of collecting these artificial links by the thousands.

These spam blogs are called, somewhat inevitably, "splogs". According to j, these had begun to spring up on the Harvard Manila Server, on which one needs not only a password but an email address in the harvard.edu in order to activate a new blog!

video of Jessica’s session

The next session featured Amanda Watlington, the search marketing guru. We enjoy listening to Amanda because she always makes us think of things we hadn’t considered before, even about topics we have been spending quite a lot of time trying to figure out.

She started her presentation by giving us the historical perspective, going back to the birth of spam in the 80’s. She spoke about the false dichotomy between black hats and white hats, and the nascent field of search marketing. It is a fine line between legitimate efforts on behalf of clients to increase their internet visibility and searchability, and a slew of questionable practices which fall under the pox-infested blanket of "spamming" . Extremely elucidating.

video of Amanda’s presentation

Most of those attending, of course, were avowedly of the "White Hat" camp, that is, they were looking for better ways to combat spam. However, it would be naive to think that an open conference of that nature would not be infiltrated by a few representatives of the other side.

One slightly shady individual, simultaneously a bit slicker and a bit seedier that the run-of-the-mill geeks in attendance, noting that statistics show that 98% of search engine users never look further than as far down the first screen of search results they can see without scrolling, asked the profound in unanswerable question, "What right does Google have to decide what people find when they are looking for absolutely anything?"

Spam Conference web page with video of the presentations

CNET article about the Spam Conference

Geek Conference Head Denies Terror List Link

1

As previously reported, the Dowbrigade spent the past weekend at BarCamp Boston 2, the "unconference" for tech types this time held at MIT’s Stata Center. The GQ (Geek Quotient) was off the chart, and we stood little chance of understanding most of the presentations or even the hallway chatter.

However, we have never let ignorance or lack of credentials stand in our way of making a fool of ourselves, so we donned our Cultural Anthropologists cap and set out on a field expedition to study the grooming and mating habits of the American Geek in his natural habitat.

First of all, we must say we were a bit disappointed in the interior of the polemic Stata Building itself. After the mind-bending lines and reflective surfaces of the exterior, we expected the interior to be positively Daliesque, with melting plastic drips and drabs creating a phantasmagoric work environment. Actually, aside from a few off-kilter beams and acutely angled windows, the inside is pretty normal. Or so it seemed.

As to the presentations themselves, we did a pretty good job of selecting sessions where at least the participants and presenters were using English. Amanda Watlington’s session on attracting traffic to embedded audio and video files, and Adam Weiss’s session on Podcasting stand out.

Kudos to everyone involved in organizing this gig, especially Mike Walsh, Sooz (of Exploit-Boston) and Shimon Rura, featured in the accompanying video trying to explain why he was late for his own conference. Thanks to sponsors and participants the damn thing nearly broke even. Our only complaint; we’ve been to two of these things now, and we still haven’t found the BarCamp Bar.

Bar Camp Boston Web site

Shimon Rura interview

Blogjacking Storm Clouds

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Dark clouds are gathering over the local blogosphere.

First there were "splog" attacks, pieces of spam left in the comments area of local blogs. That was kids’ stuff. Now it appears that at least two blogs in the western suburbs have become victims of a new, scarier menace: blogjacking.

As I went digging for more information, it became clear that this problem is just appearing on the outer edge of the blogosphere radar screen.

Stories of blogjackings are just now appearing on sites like Blogger Tips and Tricks (blogger-tricks.blogspot.com) and The Real Blogger Status (bloggerstatusforreal.blogspot.com), and they’re not pretty. Bloggers are saying that not only have their blogs been hijacked, but that they are having a tough time getting them restored. Blog gurus are issuing advice like strengthening passwords to 15 mixed characters, but are also saying that they’re not sure exactly how the blogjackers are doing it, although password hacking seems to be a strong possibility.

What’s more, the attacks seem to be focused on Blogger, the nation’s largest blog network, which was bought by search giant Google a while ago and which has been a focus of splog attacks as well.

from the Boston Globe

Any other reports out there about this ugly development? Anyone have any idea how they are doing it?

The Brigademobile

3

The L.A. Auto Show competition asked designers to dream up the ultimate environmentally friendly car. This the the entry dreamed up by the Bug Boys. Witness the Volkswagen Nanospyder – Designers: Patrick Faulwetter, Daniel Simon, Ian Hilton

Using nanotechnology, the Nanospyder could be assembled, disassembled and reassembled on a microscopic level. To create the car, billions of tiny nano-machines, each no more than a half-millimeter in diameter, would attach themselves to one another in a large tank.

With this technique, engineers could vary the density of the vehicle’s frame to create impact-absorbing crumple zones as needed. Sensors would forewarn of an impending collision, enabling the nano-machines to strengthen or weaken their bonds in different areas, creating soft spots in the frame that would bend to absorb the impact.

from CNN Money

Our Next Watch

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It looks like a slightly oversized wristwatch
and it keeps time with great accuracy – but it is much more than a
watch. It is a wrist computer that includes among its many functions
a global positioning system receiver.

He can check his watch to see if he’s near the right tree: he recorded
the coordinates the year before. And his hands, meanwhile, are free to
carry other things like notebooks and pens.

The watch, which costs about $500, is made by the Finnish company Suunto.
Inside its highly engineered 2.7 ounces are a multitude of functions
for the thoughtful navigator, including an altimeter, electronic compass,
thermometer and barometer, all meant for people who want to know not
only their exact place in the world, but also the prospects of any sudden
change in the weather.

Students take note…

from the
New York Times

Virtually the Same

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A
California company owned by the data storage giant EMC Corp. has unveiled
software that lets Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh machines run Microsoft
Corp.’s Windows software, side-by-side with Mac programs.

VMware Inc., of Palo Alto, is demonstrating
the software at Apple’s annual developers conference in San Francisco. VMware
hasn’t given the product a name, or decided on a price. But it plans to offer
a beta
version, available for downloading from the Internet, before year’s end.

from the
Boston Globe

The usually reliable
Hiawatha Bray reports on atrailbreaking new product to allow owners
of the new Intel Macs to run OSX, Windows and Linux at the same
time!

But wait a minute…..this sounds familiar.
Our memory is slightly short of
photographic, but we seem to remember….

Personal Technology column looks at Parallels
Desktop for Ma
c, which allows users of Apple Macintosh computers to run the
Windows and OS X operating systems at the same time; finds that the product works
very well, despite some drawbacks; Parallels Desktop goes on sale June 15 for
$79 at the developer’s Web site, parallels.com.

from the Washington Post, June 15,
2006

Actually, InfoWorld already has a nice article
comparing the two products….

Parallels already has a huge head start as it already has a product out and in
the field. They also have their product in brick and mortar store locations,
such as the Apple Store. And they went through a very impressive beta cycle with
Mac owners, asking for input and feedback as to what features should be in the
product. Is their headstart enough? Or will people wait for VMware’s product
to come out of beta?

Ladies and Gentlemen, You are Floating in Space

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A young Dutch architect has
created a floating bed which hovers above the ground through magnetic
force and comes with a price tag of 1.2 million euros ($1.54 million).

Janjaap Ruijssenaars took inspiration for the bed — a sleek
black platform, which took six years to develop and can double as a dining
table or a plinth — from the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s
1968 cult film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

"No matter where you live all architecture is dictated by gravity.
I wondered whether you could make an object, a building or a piece of
furniture
where this is not the case — where another power actually dictates the
image," Ruijssenaars said.

"Magnets built into the floor and into the
bed itself repel each other, pushing the bed up into the air. Thin
steel cables tether the bed in
place.

"It is not comfortable at the moment," admits Ruijssenaars,
adding it needs cushions and bedclothes before use.

Although people with piercings should have no problem sleeping on the
bed, Ruijssenaars advises them against entering the magnetic field between
the bed and the floor.
They could find their piercing suddenly tugged toward one of the magnets.

from Reuters

India Calls Negroponte Immature

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India has decided against getting involved in Nicholas
Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child scheme – which aims to provide kids
in developing countries with a simple $100 machine.

The success of the project depends on support, and big orders, from governments.
The loss of such a potentially huge, and relatively technically sophisticated
market, will be a serious blow.

The Indian Ministry of Education dismissed the laptop as "paedagogically
suspect". Education Secretary Sudeep Banerjee said: "We cannot
visualise a situation for decades when we can go beyone the pilot stage.
We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools."

Banerjee said if money were available it would be better spent on existing
education plans.
Banerjee told the Hindu: "We do not think that the idea of Prof
Negroponte is mature enough to be taken seriously at this stage and no
major country is presently following this. Even inside America, there
is not much enthusiasm about this."

OLPC’s original schedule was to deliver machines by the end of 2006,
but it will not start production until it has received orders, and payment,
for between five and ten million machines.

But in better news it also emerged earlier this month that Nigeria is
ordering one million machines. Allafrica.com has the story here.

Sources say the Nigerians will pay for their laptops
with $100 million in US Postal Money Orders, contributed by Dr. Rev.
Jefferson Ezekiel Lumbago, ex-Minister of Finance.

from The Register

Spanish Company Want to Unwire the World

4

A Spanish Internet company is selling a million
wireless Internet routers for just $5 each. But there’s a catch: Buyers
must share their wireless Internet connections with their friends,
neighbors, or even total strangers. It’s all part of a daring plan
to create a nationwide WiFi network on the cheap.

People who join FON (pronounced “phone") are
eligible to purchase a new wireless router for $5, plus an $8 shipping
fee. This router is programmed with software that lets other FON members
connect to the router for free Internet access. The router also protects
the owner’s privacy by blocking access to any other data on his home
computer network. If enough people join FON, they’ll create a nationwide
WiFi network, with free service to all FON members. The FON
website
features frequently updated maps showing where FON service is available.

FON has already signed up over 60,000 users, including
about 10,000 in the United States. But since standard WiFi routers
have a very short range — less than 300 feet — the company must deploy
millions of routers to create a truly comprehensive network.

from the Boston Globe

FON homepage (you can sign up NOW!)

Could this possibly work? It would be a paradigm
busting bucket of cold water in the faces of the desperate telecom
giants who are feverishly selling our collective communicative souls
to Homeland Security for the right to be
the
Gatekeepers
of the Internet of the Future.

Obviously, there will be problems with the FON
plan. Most WIFI users recognize that without some McGyvered antenna,
or
in a
cluttered
urban
landscape, effective reception is considerably less than a football
field (300 ft.) User density would have to be pretty high to create
any kind of contiguous coverage, even in high-tech cities.

But imagine if it works! Within our limited understanding
of the technical aspects of, well, anything technological, we imagine
it would work like the Media Lab’s much hyped $100 laptops, except
instead of unwiring a third world village, FON is attempting to unwire
the
entire global village, at $5 a pop.

If nothing else, give these guys points for chutzpah.
And stay tuned…..

Spanish Company Want to Unwire the World

ø

A Spanish Internet company is selling a million
wireless Internet routers for just $5 each. But there’s a catch: Buyers
must share their wireless Internet connections with their friends,
neighbors, or even total strangers. It’s all part of a daring plan
to create a nationwide WiFi network on the cheap.

People who join FON (pronounced “phone") are
eligible to purchase a new wireless router for $5, plus an $8 shipping
fee. This router is programmed with software that lets other FON members
connect to the router for free Internet access. The router also protects
the owner’s privacy by blocking access to any other data on his home
computer network. If enough people join FON, they’ll create a nationwide
WiFi network, with free service to all FON members. The FON
website
features frequently updated maps showing where FON service is available.

FON has already signed up over 60,000 users, including
about 10,000 in the United States. But since standard WiFi routers
have a very short range — less than 300 feet — the company must deploy
millions of routers to create a truly comprehensive network.

from the Boston Globe

FON homepage (you can sign up NOW!)

Could this possibly work? It would be a paradigm
busting bucket of cold water in the faces of the desperate telecom
giants who are feverishly selling our collective communicative souls
to Homeland Security for the right to be
the
Gatekeepers
of the Internet of the Future.

Obviously, there will be problems with the FON
plan. Most WIFI users recognize that without some McGyvered antenna,
or
in a
cluttered
urban
landscape, effective reception is considerably less than a football
field (300 ft.) User density would have to be pretty high to create
any kind of contiguous coverage, even in high-tech cities.

But imagine if it works! Within our limited understanding
of the technical aspects of, well, anything technological, we imagine
it would work like the Media Lab’s much hyped $100 laptops, except
instead of unwiring a third world village, FON is attempting to unwire
the
entire global village, at $5 a pop.

If nothing else, give these guys points for chutzpah.
And stay tuned…..