H is not in Hong Kong

I’ve encountered more peculiarities with online tracking in the last day.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago I run off a VPN at home. Generally I connect through an Australian server for speeds sake, but I’ll mix it up. The last couple of days I’ve been connecting via a Hong Kong host.
In terms that you’ll understand that means that I’ve been getting Chinese and Hong Kong advertising on the websites I’m visiting, because they figure that’s where I’m from. Well and good.
So anyway at work I login to my Gmail and check my email, and I’ll browse other sites. Presumably the local host is Australia, which means in theory that any site I visit will presume that I’m an Aussie.
Now Gmail adds another factor in that equation because as soon as I login to that they know me specifically. I’m not just a dude from Melbourne, Australia (theoretically), but I’m also H.
So today I click on a link in an email from the NYT. It takes me to the NYT site and to the article I wish to read. It’s an interesting article and all that, but what is really fascinating is the advertising running down the side of the page. It’s all in Cantonese advertising Chinese sites I can’t begin to understand.
I stop to ponder this. How can it be? The only logical answer I can come up with is that Gmail had updated given my most recent login at home and discerned I was connecting through, and existent in, Hong Kong. When I click on that link it passes on that information – even though I’m logging in from work. Presumably it hasn’t yet updated with that info.
Now that is really fascinating. At least it is for someone like me with a bit of geek in him.
And yet on other sites I visit I get Australian ads – The Age, for which I am a subscriber, and therefore am ID’d, and on this site, Outlook, for which I am similarly ID’d. Would it have been different had I logged into those sites from home while connected through HK?
I doubt it is as simple as that, but there are some mind blowing algorithms at work here.

They’re watching you…

The last few weeks I’ve been making a call to a community organisation that isn’t in my phone address book. The other day scrolling through recent calls there was the number recorded, and underneath it Probably…followed by the specific name of the individual I’d been talking to. I’d never seen that before.

I puzzled over this, Fair enough had it recorded the name of the organisation, they’re in the phone book after all. But in an organisation containing dozens of people how does it know the specific person I’ve been speaking to?

Like many, I’m very aware of my online presence and identity. The idea that I’m being watched, that every move I make is tracked, is abhorrent to me, and more so since the Australian government legislated that ISPs must retain the metadata of its customers. It’s a privacy issue, but I also see it as an infringement on my civil liberties.

In my book you’re crazy if you’re not connecting online through a VPN, but even so that only limits the damage, it doesn’t eliminate it.

I read the other day about how Google is extending its online reach, to the point that they will soon know every site you visit. Like most people, I have a Gmail account. Foolishly, as it turns out, I use my Google ID (and occasionally my Facebook) to login into different online accounts. It doesn’t matter if I’m VPN if that’s the case. The solution is to browse incognito through a VPN, and don’t accept cookies, but that’s hard work. And even still…

We’ve all experienced targeting marketing whereby an ad will flash up on screen relevant to a recent search or your browsing history. Once they have that on one source it spreads to other online sources – I get those ads now on my phone, and even at work.

I compound the issue by having location services switched on my phone, as most people do, I’m sure. That adds another very precise layer of tracking which I could easily turn off, except I track my steps, and of course, use navigation and search for nearby handy locations. We are seduced into being tracked by the convenience of the functionality it offers.

At this point I’ve made a compromise – basically, I’m allowing them to view a lot of my activity, but not all. I wonder at the wisdom of that.

But how does that explain my phone entry?

The only explanation I have is that it’s cross-referenced my email by my call history. I’ve sent and received emails from that person, and my phone has put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4. That’s scary.

Flavours are colours

Watching a program in which an odd character wearing a strange piece of hardware embedded into his skull tells of how he hears colours. The varying colours worn by people in the audience produce a diversity of different sounds. They play music and he ascribes colours to the sounds.

It’s fascinating, but not altogether surprising to me. I can’t hear colour, but there are certain things in the world I find myself ascribing colour to, and which I could imagine by extension imagining the tune that might play to it.

This is particularly true of food. Often when I’m cooking and putting together an impromptu meal I think of it in terms of colour palate. Some colours go together, and some don’t. When I’m cooking, depending on where my appetite leads me, I’ll either try to put a variety of colours together, or else might choose to stick to the one shade.

Most meats, mushrooms, etc, are earthy colours, different shades, but related. Vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, etc, is red. Most spices are yellow to red. Then there are greens, which basically correspond to the leafy vegetables. And so on.

Australia’s Best Parody Twitter Account Shocks Everyone And Retires

Australia’s Best Parody Twitter Account Shocks Everyone And Retires.

The best thing on twitter for me over the last few months has been this, @Rudd2000. I don’t know how many times I retweeted or favourited a tweet of theirs, or even occasionally laughed out loud (LOL). It was just genius, very funny and often very incisive and it cut to the quick. Now the account has been retired, and that’s so sad.

Seems to me that Twitter is full of sycophants, trolls, jokers, the odd policy wonk, and genuine commentators. Then there are people like me, a bit of everything really, no real agenda other than to express the odd random thought, and occasionally to engage with others. For me the real value in Twitter is the diversity of views that pop-up in your newsfeed, curated by you, but still unpredictable.

I’m a cynic about a lot of things these days, but I enjoy the democracy of Twitter even as I deplore some of the shockers that take to it to air their toxic views or – more frequently – to victimise someone. Twitter is an expose of human nature, but on the whole I’ve found it entertaining and informative.

Accounts like Rudd2000 don’t come along much, and will be missed. Still, there are bound to be others who come along to take the piss. That is one of the great things about the medium – it can prick pretensions and reveal truth in 140 characters of well crafted satire. That’s a gift.

To tweet or not to tweet…

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Last night at a function I happened to bump into one of the guys behind Thing’s Bogans Like, which is one of the twitter feeds I follow. We had a brief chat and that was that. This morning I woke up to find that I had been invited to join yet another social media application, Oocal, and the whole thing got me thinking. Three years ago I had a Gmail account, a blog, and that was pretty well it; today I’m not just on Facebook, I’m a member of  myriad social applications, and must be one of the better connected people going around.

I remember a little while ago reading a post on my Twitter feed wondering what sort of people felt compelled to tweet. The general answer seemed to be extroverts, but my take at the time was a little different – I thought show-offs (and not in a negative sense – I was one, after all). Though that was only a couple of months ago my answer might be different now. I still think that early adopters may still be thought of as the showier edge of society, but social media has become so pervasive, and now been taken up so strongly by business, that Twitter and the like are just another form of everyday communication.

I’ve always been curious about pretty well everything, and at the same time working in industries and in areas heavily IT I’ve always been exposed to new technologies. I’ve made a lot of money in that area, and continue to work in that space, but there is also a genuine fascination. I love how things work. I love to wonder where things are heading: what comes next? More than anything I like applying that technology to worthwhile purposes, as if it is a competition to wring the most out of these things. That’s why I do what I do.

Social media is really just an extension of all that. While there are legitimate concerns about the spread and misuse of social media, at its base level it’s really just another enabler – in this case it enables communication, sharing, and collaboration.

I joined initially because everyone else was. I curious too, but I had a genuine interest in the possibilities it created. As we’ve seen since social media has revolutionised social interaction. It is one of the great stories of the last 50 years, and we’re not near the end of it. I do have some concerns about what it means for society, but at the same time I’m drawn to it – like just about everybody else.

What social media has done is given everyone a voice. I wrote a white paper on this earlier in the year for the business trying to explain the scale and significance of social media, and what it means. It means basically that some kid in Upper Combucta West can tweet something and have it picked up and spread across the world in the space of a few hours. Quite aside from the ability to exchange and share information, the media can leverage that information and those voices like never before. That’s why so many corporations have now joined the throng.

In time I got a Twitter account out of curiosity and because, yes, I was a show-off. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I was going to say it anyway. Ultimately I found a voice for my tweets very different to the voice you read here on my blog. As Pisstaker – my Twitter name – I post wry observations and sardonic asides. I’m rarely too serious, and try to live up to my moniker.

In tune with the times I now have a second twitter account for my business – EnManSolMan (I’m the E~nigmatic Management Solutions Man) – which is much more serious than my personal account.

I have Facebook, and I have a Facebook page for my business. Naturally I’m on LinkedIn, but I’m also an early adopter of Google+, am on FourSquare, and now on Oocal (just for the hell of it). I’m even on Klout.

I’m not an expert at these things, but I’m becoming one. For me social media has moved beyond the personal (though I maintain a strong presence), and become much more about the business. As a small business owner and entrepreneur I’m looking for every advantage I can get. Ultimately it’s about exposure, and building a brand presence. To do that I need to put a distinct voice out there that is heard consistently across different mediums. As I continue to do this I build content for others to reference and hopefully drag them to me and my business.

During the week I attended a short seminar on social media, concentrating largely on Twitter. I learned a lot from that, but the key thing really was that you must maintain a presence – and that you should give more than you take (which accords to my observations and general principles anyway).

It’s a lot of work, but I’m now a small social media cottage industry. I post 4-5 times a day on Twitter for my business using Buffer. I use HootSuite, and am checking out Tweet Adder and Postling (having also checked out Sendible). I post a couple of times a day as Pisstaker, I write this blog, I write, occasionally, for the business blog, I update and comment on Facebook, and contribute to groups on LinkedIn. Phew! It’s a lot, but these are the days we live in, and if I don’t , well, who knows what that will mean…

iPad dreams

ben ipad 3Image by Jennifer Maddrell via Flickr

So today's iPad 2 day. Like many have been waiting for this day. Like a lot I had every intention of finally joining the iPad in crowd with this release. I was champing at the bit in fact…but, methinks I'll now wait for the iPad 3.

No doubt the iPad 2 is an advance on the original. It's smaller and lighter, and probably cuter for all I know, and has some nice improvements, including the much discussed camera. On balance though, and judging only by what I've read, there's not enough for me to splash my hard earned knowing at some point a much enhanced iPad 3 is going to hit the market.

That's it really. This release seems interim, it's got enough to get the punters excited, but not enough really to justify someone like me – more discerning, a little more tech savvy – to jump in. I want an iPad. I crave an iPad – I already have the apps. I don't need one though, and for all my drooling I'm willing to wait for v3 to fulfill all my iPad dreams.

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The dark side of Apple

Is Apple going to the dark side?

In recent years Apple has gone from being a successful, but niche technology company to a powerful, mainstream entity. For many years Apple users were almost a geeky cult of slavishly devoted fans who sneered at the average Joe happy in his Windows environment. Apple was deadly cool – something that hasn’t changed – with a narrow user demographic – something that certainly has.

With the advent of the iPod, iTunes, the mega-cool Air notepads, the iPhone, and the soon to be iPad Apple is now very much a company front and square in mainstream society. I would think there are few individuals in the affluent west who do not own, or at least are exposed to, an Apple product. Whilst they retain much of their street cred and all of their sniffy attitude Apple is now raking in the dough and looking for world domination. Good for them.

It seems to me an inevitable part of the cycle that success breeds a certain amount of contempt. When everything you touch turns to gold it’s hard not to think that your shit doesn’t stink either. The greater the share of the market the more, it seems, is the urge to control and dominate the market. We saw it with one of Apple’s great rivals Microsoft, shopped for anti-competitive practices. It may yet happen to Google, perhaps their greatest rival going forward, who are becoming more ambitious with every passing month. For now though it’s Apple who rule the roost, and they know it – and it’s not something they’re going to let slip.

More and more often lately Apple have been flexing their recently acquired muscle. Not enough for them to rest on their pedigree, they’ve been pumping iron and they’re not going to take any shit from anyone.

Now I admire Apple in so many ways. By and large I think their products are great. They’re designed and engineered with an elegant simplicity and an eye towards creativity and quality. I think Steve Jobs is a visionary. If I don’t quite think he’s the messiah as so many Apple-philes do, I certainly think he’s a clever boy – and will be rightfully lauded one day as a pioneer in the building of the world we live in. His influence goes beyond technology, he has shaped society.

In recent times though they have looked to crowd others out of the marketplace, and heavied small operators looking for their cut. More and more their professional disdain for much of their rivals has become a high-handed and indiscriminate arrogance. They’re not a high-end cottage industry anymore and so have lost the quirky individualism that always seemed much of their appeal. In short, as they’ve become big they’ve lost their charm.

Unfortunately it is the common punter who has to face this charmless corporation. Apple is parading up and down the beach with its new muscles and kicking sand in the face of the average Joe. I went to download an app for my iPhone from the iTunes store before. The download was interrupted by a message saying that Apple had changed its iTunes agreement and I had to acknowledge it before the download could proceed.

I was surprised to find that Apple now restrict use of these apps outside the country of download. In other words if I pay for and download an app in Oz I’m not allowed to use it when I fly out of the country. It’s no idle demand either as Apple claim they may disable apps they find being used in contravention of this.

This strikes me as being unlawful. If I buy a book I own it. I have exchanged my money in order to own and do with it what I want, wherever I want. If I buy music in the iTunes store then I can play that wherever I want. Surely the same principle applies to iPhone applications I purchase – applications, by and large, built not by Apple but by third party developers and sold in the Apple store. By what law can Apple demand of me where I use what I own?

I agreed to the terms. I had no choice as my download would abort without it. I have no intention of honouring it. It is a contravention of my rights as a consumer, and if Apple choose to exercise the option to disable my apps when I go abroad then I’ll be fighting them all the way.

It’s a disappointing development, and pretty cheap. The Apple name is being tainted by such actions and you have to wonder if they are following the dark lead of Microsoft.

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After a lot of intrigue, gossip and anticipation details of the much awaited Apple ‘tablet’ was announced overnight. The iPad as they’re calling it, is a predictably gorgeous piece of hardware. It’s got the same touch screen functionality of the iPod and iPhone, and is clearly their big brother. Judging by what I've seen and read it's about the size of a trade paperback I figure, and about the thickness of a 80 page novella – it’s less than a centimetre thick. It’s got all the functionality and connectivity of the iPhone, except you can’t make a call on it (which, less face it, is the most boring of the iPhone functionality), and like the iPhone and iPod uses the iTunes store as the one stop shop for all manner of goodies, from the plethora of apps, to music and movies, and, I presume, soon to be ebooks.

In actual fact the iPad rides the crest of a fair to middling wave for ebook readers. Amazon’s Kindle has been out a few years and is a reasonably elegant if plain piece of work. Sony has been in the market for a while also, and by all reports there is about to be an explosion of ebook readers hitting the market.

It’s hard to believe that they haven’t missed their chance. The iPad is about to blow them all out of the water you would think, with only the low-cost models having a market. 

The iPad isn’t a PC, but it’s not far short of it. You can browse the web and read your email and listen to your music – and read ebooks – while taking advantage of the myriad apps you can download to it. Unlike the specialised ebook readers this is multi-functional, and therefore likely to be used more more widely and more often, making it better value for money in the long term. And it’s prettied up in that beautiful Apple way.

In terms of the ebook market,l you would have to think given their experience and expertise that iTunes will soon become the pre-eminent portal for ebooks across the web.  Seriously, I don’t know how the likes of Amazon can compete unless they corner the cheap end of the market, or they value-add somehow.

In actual fact this is the product I’ve been after for years. Yonks ago the Apple Newton came out – a very rough predecessor – and died in the arse in a big way. The time wasn’t right then, it is now. For years I’ve been travelling OS with a laptop in my bag. Even the lightest are towards 2 kilograms, and all that for a few basic functions I wanted to perform away. The iPad has all I need for my travel needs, and more, and is 0.7 of a kilo, with inbuilt connectivity. I want one, I want one bad, but I’m going to try and restrain myself from being first in. Won’t be long after though.
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Uncharted 2

I remember when I went to uni a mate and I would spend half our free time playing Galaga and other games at a nearby video arcade. He was an expert who took it very seriously, for me it was a bit of fun and a lot better than studying.

In later years I got into the odd computer game. Most I could take or leave, but I liked the strategy games, and in particular the various iterations of Sid Meier’s very famous Civilisation franchise. I’m not sure whether it spoke to the latent empire builder in me, or the gung-ho conqueror, but I recall many times playing well into the wee hours of the night, expanding my empire, conquering neighbouring countries and attempting to make life better for the happy citizens of H-Ville.

Last year I got myself a PS3. I bought a variety of games to go with it, Need For Speed, The Godfather, Tiger Woods Golf, a Boxing game, and a few others. I happily played them for a few hours here and there, a welcome distraction but not a real passion.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This is a mind-blowing game for people like me. For a start the graphics are great. It’s a far cry from the very raw and basic graphics of Civilisation and the Age of Empires and so on. That’s how much technology has pushed on with every passing year. Now it’s almost like watching a movie, and you’re part of it. It’s a pleasure simply to behold.

But then there is the gameplay. I became very quickly addicted to Uncharted 2 because it is my sort of game taken to an extreme of entertainment and challenge. For those who don’t know the game is pretty much about the adventures of Nate Drake, a kind of Indiana Jones figure out to make his fortune in a variety of cliff-hangar type adventures. It’s addictive stuff even if you’re not playing the game. I get caught up in it. The hours roll by. I sit on the edge of my couch manipulating the action and figuring out the best way forward. At the end of it I hope to get to the next level, and then the next level beyond that. 

Great stuff. Makes you wonder how far all this will go. When will it end?

The new Windows

I got Windows 7 delivered yesterday. Haven't installed it yet, and given I'm now running a Mac it'll be going into my laptop. Will report of anything interesting, but am quite keen to check it out.