Politics Technology

Your crazy aunt with the chain emails now joins 50% of seniors online

President Obama is a socialist Nigerian who wants to give you M&Ms for life if you fill out this survey about the girl who needs a kidney that was stolen from a dude left on ice in a bathtub. Its true. And watch for spiders on the toilet seat, while you’re at it.

And if you think these emails are going away any time soon, guess again. Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project reports that for the first time, a majority of seniors over the age of 65 – 53% – now regularly use the Internet. Or email, which by leaps and bounds continues to be the aged set’s weapon of choice in the information wars.

While about a third of seniors use social networks, a whopping 86% use email.

Meanwhile, the growth trend for seniors continues with gadgets, as well. 69% of seniors report having a mobile phone, up from 57% two years ago.

Elsewhere in the land of magical thinking known as Opinion Poll Land, a sizable majority of Americans polled by Pew think the government has a role to play in curbing childhood obesity. But on the same day and without an apparent trace of irony, Zogby releases a poll saying three-quarters of Americans oppose the Bloomberg plan to limit the size of sodas sold in public spaces.

Its worth noting that “bans” never sell well with Americans. And what Bloomberg proposes is not so much a “ban on large drinks” as it is a “limit to the size of drinks,” which might have polled better. But it begs the question: if this plan is so unpalatable (pardon the pun) to Americans, what exactly does the “role of government” in curbing obesity look like, exactly?

Media Technology

Richer, better-educated and connected: the Digital Divide continues to languish

While the explosive growth of mobile technologies appears to span all income levels fairly equally, Pew Research’s Director Lee Rainie demonstrates in a recent presentation that not much at all has changed in terms of home access and the Digital Divide.

The numbers are shocking in their uniformity. For nearly every category of Internet access – from simply being on the Internet to broadband access – the same proportion of higher-income and better-educated respondents report high adoption rates while the lower-income and less-educated respondents report very low adoption rates. 97% of college-educated and 98% earners of incomes in excess of $75k are on the Internet, compared to 45% of those with no high school diploma and 65% of those earning less than $30k.

To some extent this is certainly a product of our upwardly-mobile society: because you don’t have a degree now does not mean you won’t in the future, at which point with a higher income, you will likely invest in broadband Internet access. However, for those whose incomes do not change or do not change much, this is a real trap. And as our society becomes increasingly dependent on the Internet, there is always the threat that this disparity could become self-perpetuating, with low-education consumers barred from access to the information store of the world.

That mobile adoption has increase at a rapid rate may or may not be a comfort to those concerned with Internet access disparity. While mobile apps and Internet have increased in their proliferation and usefulness, a phone or tablet simply does not offer the range of potential uses that a desktop or laptop does. Not to mention the bandwidth restrictions that come with using wireless broadband.

Digital Differences and Money | Pew Research Centers Internet & American Life Project.

LATE UPDATE:  Interestingly, Pew Internet just put out a poll today that says, of the one in five Americans who do not use the Internet, about half of them say they’re just not interested. How does this reflect on what we know so far about income and education disparity? I wonder what these numbers look like if you break them down by similar demographics?

Science Technology

Is Space Age technology promoting Stone Age thinking?

Nick Carr delivers keynote at the Roberts Wesleyan 2012 Biennial Academic Conference, reflects on how society has adapted to ubiquitous information.


All Social Nets is local: friending on #Facebook is a very provincial affair

Remember when you were told that there was this thing, called the Internet, that allows you to speak to anyone, anywhere in the world any time you like? Remember wondering what it would be like to have friends in China, which would surely happen, because of course, it was possible?

I’ll bet you’re still wondering that. Unless of course you already had friends in exotic locations.

Because as Nielson reports today, despite the global reach of the Internet, Facebook users are extremely provincial when it comes to their choice of friends. Rather than the uber-national conclave envisioned decades ago, it turns out that when faced with genuinely social relationships online, we all trend to what we’ve always done in the past: stick to what we know.

82% of respondents to the Nielson poll said that pre-existing meat-based relationships are the primary motivator for friending on Facebook. And of course, friend-of-a-friend relationships also play a big part in finding new friends online, just as they do in reality.

None of this is terribly surprising: trust is a big part of building friendships and its hard to imagine building genuine trust in the absence of at least some connection between you and whatever total stranger is on the other end of the cable. And the social nature of the modern web actually makes trust more important, not less.

For the rest of Nielson’s revelations, have a look at their press release below:

Friends & Frenemies: Why We Add and Remove Facebook Friends | Nielsen Wire.

Blogging Media Technology

Your Social Media influence extends well beyond your network

The Nielson company – that agency famous for their ratings boxes back in the Eighties – has compiled a fantastic study of social media users and web use in general. The study is full of useful insights, some more obvious than others, on the way in which we use Social Media.

But the really interesting point is that, contrary to popular belief, Social Media users tend to be much more involved outside of their SM networks than most. Of course this makes some sense, because if you’re not doing anything interesting, you’re not likely to have much to say.

Social Networkers, the report suggests, are more influential because the personal recommendation of someone you know is more powerful than other forms of recommendation. And SM users are more likely to voice an opinion on television, music, cloths, and of course political issues of the day.

So the million-dollar question is: does the use of Social Media make you more influential, or does your presence on Social Networks make them more influential? I don’t think this is necessarily a question that can be answered in the aggregate. But for those of us trying to make the most of SN, its worth taking the time to contemplate how much is coming from Column A and how much is coming from Column B.


Trust, Internet Style: Security, Certificates and Vulnerability

Do you trust this certificate? Well, do ya, punk?

The news circulating about the IT industry is about a Man in the Middle attack against Google users in Iran. Mainstream media has not yet touched this issue, probably because its confusing, as indeed Internet security is wont to be.

#Google users in that country who used SSL (HTTPS) connections to access their email and other sensitive data got spoofed by unknown hackers with bogus Certificates that allowed them to view decrypted data as it passed between the victims and Google. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

What is a Man in the Middle attack? Basically, its a hacker insinuating himself into the conversation between you and a trusted server, in this case, Google. By fooling your computer into thinking that they’re Google – and by fooling Google into thinking they’re you – the hacker can observe as messages pass back and forth, sending them along to their intended targets so that neither you nor Google is the wiser. Basically, its the digital equivalent of eavesdropping.

MITM attacks are a very serious type of attack – and one which this blog has warned its readers about in the past. Far more worrisome in this case is the fact that the MITM attacks took place on secure, SSL-encrypted connections. The hacker is in this case privy to otherwise private information such as reading your email, accessing your friends list on Google+ or seeing the documents you marked private on Google Documents.

“But wait,” you say, “doesn’t using SSL connections prevent this type of attack? Isn’t that why you told us to use SSL for our social networking sites?” Well, the simple answer is “yes.” But as you might have expected, there are exceptions to every rule. In particular, as our world becomes more and more networked, the particularly-dangerous exception is that powerful entities like governments or service providers can short-circuit the security that SSL is meant to provide. While no one is claiming responsibility for the Iranian attack, security experts seem to agree that such a scheme is only possible for a government or “rogue” ISP.

How does any of this happen, you may wonder? Here is what I hope will be a readable Cliff’s Notes version of my Security+ Certification training for you on the subject. Its not an exhaustive discussion of the topic by any means, just what a person with a toe in the water of Security can tell you:

Secure Sockets Layers use Certificates

What makes browsing your bank account any safer than browsing If it is possible for someone to intercept traffic between you and any other server, why do banks and other institutions with sensitive information allow you to access it online?

The answer is that Secure Sockets Layers (SSL) create an encrypted “tunnel” of information passing back and forth. Someone absolutely could intercept this information as its passed. But the trouble (for them) is that the information is not readable without access to the “key” used to encrypt the data. Its sort of like the old Scantron sheets you used in high school to take tests: someone grabbing one of these sheets would have all the right answers to the test, but without a key to tell them what those answers are and what test they belong to, its just a card with pencil marks on it.

In the case of communications encrypted with SSL, the interceptor has even less information than that. They just have a scramble of code. But in the seemingly-paranoid world of computer security, there remains a question: how does one go about getting a secure key with which to encrypt data? And how do we know that the entity handing us a key is legitimate? That they’re not a hacker, too?


NYT’s New Paywall: Its About Value

I’ve never worked for a newspaper or any conventional news organization in my life. So I’m perfectly willing to accept that there may be considerations I’m not aware of in the New York Times’ decision to go paywall.

But this isn’t about journalism at all, its about marketing. As a web developer who has worked in a few large and small companies over the years, primarily working on those businesses’ marketing strategies, I do know more than a little something about marketing and sales. The first rule is: you have to sell value, not a product.

The iPad you bought nearly a year ago is now the discount model; the records I detested as a child are now worth a small fortune. Value changes over time and based on circumstance because there is no inherent value in anything. Value is a product of human interest.

The value of a news article as a single object has gone down dramatically over the last ten years. That’s in large part due to the fact that most news orgs give their stuff away for free online, but even if we were expected to pay for every article, the sheer volume of news available to us at any one time would also reduce the value. This is basic Supply and Demand economics like you learned in the sixth grade.

Another rule of marketing: value is about exclusivity. Tell me why I should buy something from you that I could go buy anywhere and you have yourself a sale. The trouble for the news biz is simple: nothing is exclusive anymore, or at least, very little. News orgs have always piggy-backed on one another’s articles, with a piece in the NYT sparking a local story in the D&C and so on. That’s not only good journalism, its good intellectualism across the board. But its not exclusive, and that’s what sells.

Which is why the idea of “20 free articles a month” is just so unthinkably silly: those articles already practically free in the minds of most Americans anyway. And if any twenty random articles count towards your tally, then no article has more value than the next. By definition, the paywall removes even the most modest veneer of value from the content the New York Times is putting out. It is self-defeating.

What the New York Times has to hope for is that they are able to produce twenty one or more articles per month that are simultaneously entirely exclusive and interesting enough to readers that they’re willing to pay a $20 premium for that twenty first article. Because otherwise, they’re just giving away twenty good articles.

The Times would be better-served by reorganizing their content structure. Consider a major article to be like a category, with many other articles filed under that category. Anybody and their brother can check out the main article – which is factual, in-depth and satisfying as its own thing. But to see the additional content, you have to pay the premium.

Commentary by famous people, infographics, archives, raw data. These are just a few things to which people do not have access – hey, we’re talking about the Grey Lady, here! Can you imagine what things they have to offer? – that many people would be more than willing to pay for. Even if loser bloggers like me yap about it, that’s not the same as actually reading the content.

Because of course, the two most important rules of marketing are these: you sell yourself, instead of the product and you sell the experience, not the item. New York Times has a tremendous level of trust, which is the primary vector of all sales: you sell yourself, not the product. And they have a reputation for hugely insightful reportage and wide coverage of topics: you sell the experience, not the item.

But the Times? Well, they’re trying to sell product. Good luck with that.


Look Who’s Blogging

Some of you may have already heard that there is an allegation running around – started by a FaceBook security person, so its fairly high-profile – that yesterday’s FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, LiveJournal and others DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service, see a decent review here) attack might have been perpetrated to silence a man whose been blogging about the Georgia / Russia conflict. Well, it now seems that Live Journal has taken down the man’s blog.

But you can still see a cached version of it on Google’s Translate service here.


Don’t Mind the Redness in My iPhone…

The latest in Location Based Services for the iPhone: an app that will find you the nearest marijuana dispensary.


IPs as Personal Information

Via TL on FaceBook, a federal judge rules in a case vs Microsoft that IP addresses are not personal information… because they identify a computer, not a person.

So, to be clear: your car’s VIN number is not personal information; your address is not personal information; your place of employment is not personal information. Because none of it specifically identifies you, merely things associated with you. That’s good to know, because I’ll bet a lot of us thought differently up till now….

One might make the argument that, since IP addresses are leased by your cable or phone company – and since one IP address could actually be used for a number of different computers over time – IP addresses are therefore not your property. But if by using your IP address, an entity can narrow your location down to a few houses, that’s close enough to private information in my book.


OMG! ur so snatryl 4 reel

Let this be a lesson to all who come after: 144 character limits are no excuse for bad grammar:

Chuck Grassley On Twitter: Inside The Senatorial Id | TPMDC

Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us”time to deliver” on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.


Introduction to Wolfram

OK, I’m just going to say I’m fairly impressed with this. I wonder though about source material. How can we trust this thing to compute from credible sources and even if it does, how can we use it without knowing to whom we should attribute the original work?

I’m not half so concerned with copyright as I am with credibility. But it’s worth considering what the legal ramifications might be for this product and where it gets source material from.