Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Amazing and cool site: Ninite.com

I am rarely impressed, but the function this site performs is one of the best things that have come along. How would you like to install all the programs you want in one go? Well that's what Ninite.com offers. It does something that we all need at one point or another. It certainly isn't used everyday, but Ninite.com is really handy when you set up a computer. Check it out here.

Basically Ninite lets you check off the programs you want to install on your computer. Programs like flash, firefox, vlc, aim, skype, and others are offered. It's an all in one function that bundles all the programs you wanted installed and does it all one in run. It downloads the latest programs from the original sites and installs every program one by one. So if you were to keep the program file, you can actually use it to also update those programs months or years down the line.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Bandwidth as a resource

There has been talk about the way cellphone companies have been limiting bandwidth through subscription plans. As of August 15, 2011 Sprint remains the only company left in the United States that offers an unlimited data plan. It looks like data is now recognized as a commodity; something similar to how electricity is treated.

In economics services and goods have a certain value because they are limited. The scarcity determines the price. Cellphone companies are now trying to create a market in cellphones where there is a scarcity. Whether they intended to or not, scarcity means money. This Nytimes.com article has laid out the story of how data was a unlimited resource that became limited. For years, people have been using a phone jack or high school cable to connect to the Internet without worrying about how much bandwidth they used up. The cellphone companies claim that in order to control the flux of data intensive applications that cellphones use, they are billing subscribers in order to keep these subscribers from overtaxing the entire network.

These assumptions about overtaxing the network is not unfounded. Subscription plans now charge a fee for 2GB's of data or more. Video apps and other data intensive applications on smartphones especially, could eat up an enormous amount of data in minutes.

What the cellphone companies don't explain is why they don't just upgrade their infrastructure in order to meet demand as they grow. Or why they don't enforce a bandwidth cap. They'd rather charge for the privilege of using more data.

Now think of how electricity is billed. You use this much electricity, you pay that much. Sound familiar? I don't know about other people, but for me, I generally don't pay attention to how much bandwidth I use. If the cellphone companies are really trying to reign in on over-consumption of data from cellphone users, then they should provide feedback for every cellphone. Why not show a meter for how much bandwidth you have used? On the front screen of your cellphone perhaps?

I was once part of a project called the Kukui Cup a dorm room competition in the University of Hawaii that with competing dorms trying to use the least amount of electricity. The main focus was the observe how people used electricity and whether providing a meter that showed near immediate feedback could change their behavior in energy usage. As I write this, they are on their way to initiating the competition in October of 2011. The idea is that if you get to see how much energy you are using, you'll not only see the results for each appliance, you'll understand the impact on your wallet each time you use a electronic device and look at the meter.

These kinds of feedback interfaces and devices could go a long way to not only providing feedback, but slow down consumption by letting people make a conscience decision to change their behavior in the name of conservation or just to save money. Energy and data has been the very source of technological advance in everything. Charging people for data usage in a limited way is not going to be effective against over consumption. Since when did people stop watching TV or stop turning on their Christmas lights just because it cost money?

photo from cloudcentrics.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

iPhone and other 'i' products changing the way we speak

Before the iMac and the iPhone can out, were there any words that sounded like it? Maybe isosceles or Ikea, but most of them were obscure or brand names. Most other words with an 'i' in the beginning usually start with an 'ee' sound like in cheese. In fact most people now pronounce countries like Iran and Iraq as iRan and iRaq.

This bothers me a lot. Granted English is a very flexible language, but when technology companies reshape the pronunciation for a type of word, it's a monumental event. In effect Apple has repackaged all i-starting words into their own brand of things. Mad TV a now defunct television show had a skit that parodied how a lot of things could be branded into the Apple line, and is a metaphor for the Iraq war.

Monday, July 25, 2011

State of the Internet Issue #05: Addictions

You can't do too much of anything, the old saying goes. The same can be said of the usage of the Internet. As computers and the web become an accepted part of everyday life, there are those who will overuse these devices to their detriment. In Korea for example the high speed Internet infrastructure has fostered a culture where the next generation of kids spend all of their time playing and absorbing the content of the world wide web. Not only do they spend time there, researchers say that their social and mental stability is damaged because of it. There are actually boot camps that try to rehabilitate kids. Over 30 percent of Koreans under 18 are now at risk for Internet Addiction. A NYTimes article details how the rehabilitation centers try to teach kids, how to be kids. Activities included horseback riding, pottery making and chores. The program literally tries to dispel the compulsion to use the Internet and activities associated with computers.

People have been saying for awhile now that computers could lure people away from everyday activities. In fact, science fiction stories have used this idea to create future scenarios where entire societies are composed of people plugged into the web and have all their needs fulfilled by technology. Albeit it hasn't gotten to this point, kids most certainly spend an enormous amount of time using this new medium. Studies have also shown that kids most of all, spend more than seven and a half hours on average computer and cellphone devices everyday. Aside from school and sleep, that is pretty much all of their time.

Another subject comes up when using the computer and that's virtual hoarding. Others call it file hoarding or computer hoarding. It's when you accumulate files on your computer similar to how a person hoards physical items in real life. Most people do it on an unconscious level by just letting files and programs pile up. Yet, when you actively download files to a cache in the terabytes, it is an excess. If you never delete anything on your computer, you may want to ask why.

But don't start looking at your own computer just yet. When the term virtual hoarder is used, it's usually applied to those that do it in the extreme. There are actually people that have downloaded entire websites. A story I heard awhile back is of a person who actually downloaded nearly all the music that has ever been released. Those are the types of hoarders that are in the extreme. That particular example is even more dramatic because certain hoarders revel in hoarding objects stolen. Downloading music illegally, the person in the story was arrested by the authorities shortly after.

Those kinds of stories then add to a bigger picture about what is happening when we use computers and go online. A professor of mine back in college, Professor Dennis J. Streveler, once said, "the computer is an intellectual amplifier." It can be very useful in increasing our productivity. The computer is capable of increasing everything about us. If we like to look at pictures of cute kittens, we can do it all day long at lolcats. If we need a recipe, google can search for them in a split second. On the other hand, if we want to learn about making weapons, that is available too.

Entire archives of information is at our hands. Archives of Youtube videos are available too. Which will it be? With so much to do, we can be overwhelmed. We are consumers at the end of the day, with limited time. If we devote so much time on one thing, such as acquiring files, it may become the only thing we do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


A lot of pop-ups, banners, tracking and advertisements can be avoided by using an add-on like adblocker. The add-on's are very useful and in some cases allow you to view media without those pesky advertisements.

Case in point, streaming sites like livestream.com or ustream.tv have video advertisements that appear periodically in their interface. If you install the adblocker for Firefox, it can be avoided.

1. Go to the site for Ad-block plus on the Firefox browser.
2. Click on the "Add to Firefox" button.
3. Click on the "Install" button after it finishes loading.
4. Then allow Firefox to restart.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Internet fail

While surfing the web I came across some pretty interesting sites that cater mostly to people bored (everyone). They seem to point the most ridiculous of the worlds people and their incongruities with what most people think as normal. A lot of what we see on these sites are so outrageous, they are the selling the point. Take for instance parentfail.com. This site has these pictures of parents doing things that are so heinous they have effectively failed as parents.

Another site however also provides comic insights into our everyday life. Cracked.com features articles that talk about things like "6 Things You Won’t Believe Got Banned By Modern Governments", "5 Shocking Ways You Overestimate Yourself", or "7 Basic things You Won't Believe You're All Doing Wrong."

This ridicule from from websites are very pronounced. Sites like cracked.com and parentfail.com have lot of evidence to show that people are pretty much idiots. I chuckle and laugh at some of these examples of stupidity, but at the same time feel sad for these people. Does this amount of ridicule actually accomplish anything?

Images were from parentfail.com.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

State of the Internet Issue #04: Internet Usage

How much time do we spend on the Internet these days? A look at the statistics will show developed nations are understandably the top Internet users. But what used to be a novelty is now a global dependence. The infrastructure providing internet access has ballooned as well. A look at the global internet usage will show the relationship of different countries and their connection to the Internet.

Electricity is key to the Internet. It's essential for the availability of the content and transfer of information from computer to computer. That is why the more developed countries are the top users of the Internet. They typically have the best electrical coverage.

Internetworldstats.com provided the information for the top users of the Internet; which is actually Asia with 825 million, and Europe with 475 million. North America used to be neck and neck with Asia back in 2000, with 108 million users to 114 million users.

Asian countries especially are showing strong Internet usage growth, because of their economic growth. For example Vietnam, now has over 27% of their population using the Internet. What that equates to is a population that is adapting to getting information from a different source than books.

The web is not only a way for people to get information, but it has become a way to organize and become connected to the rest of the world. As the usage has risen, countries like Egypt and Tunisia have used it to stage their political protests and to plea to the rest of the world for freedom. In fact, the Egyptian government had to disconnect the entire countries Internet access in order to prevent the civilians from disseminating their protest information to the rest of the world and organizing on facebook.

The way the people of Egypt has used the Internet for their revolution has changed the way people look at this powerful medium.

That is why the Internet usage increase globally has been a positive thing. Information dissemination now is important and also widely available to a lot of people. It's certainly a way for people to get access to all they might want to know and to stay in touch with other people in the world, making relationships that much more available.

State of the Internet Issue #03: BitTorrent

The word BitTorrent evokes a lot of cynicism and negativity. Over the course of this decade, BitTorrent has been associated with piracy and hackers. It has grown from an altruistic effort to provide efficient file transfer in the form of distributed networks, into this. People now believe the very act of using BitTorrent is illegal. Go to any casual internet user and they will provide you with their perspective of what BitTorrent is. And I can guarantee a majority of them will give you a story about how 'BitTorrent' is stealing movies. That is why I believe I need to give a very different perspective on what this program does and how the file sharing protocol behind it works. The News Media and other sources have provided only one use of BitTorrent. But it deserves more than that. Used properly, it is a very effective and egalitarian way of sharing files.

First you need to know is that, yes, BitTorrent is used to pirate films, music and any file that is of any demand to computer users. That is why the notoriety of BitTorrent is such as it is today.

The protocol behind BitTorrent is called the peer-to-peer protocol. This is how it works.

The peer-to-peer protocol uses networks made up of peers and seeders. Peers are the people requesting a certain file. They rely on people willing to share the files with them; those people are called seeders. The seeders leave their file open and the peer-to-peer program running, allowing others to access the file from the seeders computer.

Once a peer has successfully downloaded the file he/she requested, they too can become a seeder. So as the number of people who have the file increases., so does the availability of the file increase.

This is the whole idea behind peer-to-peer networking. Even if someone were to stop seeding, there would be others to take their place. Unlike a conventional server that can go down and be unavailable to users, the seeders are everywhere and are dependable.

The first users of peer-to-peer was Napster. Although the system they built still depended on a centralized list of addresses to relay to users where to download from, transactions were done between personal computer to personal computer. This was one of the most notorious programs during the late 90s to early 2000s. Napster had significant legal issues to deal with, and were brought down by a court order.

Kazaa was the second program to gain a massive following. It even had a CBS 60 minutes TV segment devoted to it. Kazaa was also vilified and the resulting media portrayal has snowballed into a negative portrayal of peer-to-peer programs.

It may surprise that Skype also uses peer-to-peer networking. Skype uses a peer-to-peer sharing method in order to run their processes on a users computer rather than on their servers. The creators of Kazaa also created Skype. They founded this Internet Telephony company and have garnered positive attention from the world community.

Although Bittorrent is being abused and used for illegal actions, it isn't a bad thing. The bad practices of its users are at fault. It isn't illegal to use Bittorrent.

Bittorent logo from bittorent.com

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

State of the Internet Issue #02: Internet Protocols

You may or may not know that the Internet is comprised of many different protocols. There are many protocols that handles things like, web pages, file transfer, email, and telephony over the internet. Here's an explanation of some basic protocols we all use everyday.

What we use for web browsing is just one of those called http, the hypertext transfer protocol. It transfers the data from a server and then the browser displays the data based on what the http tells your computer. It is probably the most known and used protocol.

Another protocol would be the email protocol. Email actually has a different way of handling data then the way webpages do. Email has to both serve and receive data. When you log in to a server, it displays the information for you. However, when you send messages the protocol actually handles the sending process as well. So there are big differences between the 'web' protocol and email, because http usually just sends you the data of web pages.

These Internet protocols are not only vital to keeping everything working, but some are relatively unknown compared to the more known like http. Why should you care about any of this?

The Internet is a place that is created by its users.

If no one were to produce content and contribute their time and efforts to maintaining it, then there would be no Internet. The IETF is the Internet Engineering Task Force, and they are made of volunteers and determine all the standard practices in the Internet. Yet don't mistake them for a governing body. There isn't any. The Internet is pretty much the wild west. Except for a few laws pertaining to child pornography, fraud, and identity theft, there isn't a lot of policing going on in the Internet.

The protocols that are used commonly today were first created by researchers and volunteers. That means anyone can contribute. Everyone can give their ideas. Just take a look on wikipedia of all the protocols there.

You would think that the something as vital as the Internet would need someone to govern it and provide protection, but there isn't. That's because this is the ultimate egalitarian construct. Leading back to my earlier article about Open Source, the Internet provides a medium for people to contribute their time and efforts in order to build interesting and wonderful things. Progress can be made here and not just for profit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

State of the Internet Issue #01: Open Source

If Google is good at anything, it's releasing products that are free. They and many others have supported open source for years. Open source stands for a methodology and philosophy that emphasizes sharing free content and distributing it for public use. Which I am all for!

Open source licenses like the GNU General Public License are attached to products released by entities that wish to release content for free. On the other hand, it protects them from plagiarism. A well known user of the GPL License includes Mozilla Firefox a browser given freely to users. In this case, Firefox under the GPL license allows others to modify that product as they see fit as well. This type of free distribution has allowed numerous benefits for people looking for software that doesn't cost a fortune to purchase.

Open source is a term for many things. What people don't know about is that it applies to any product you wish to distribute. Take for instance the OpenCola. It is a freely distributed recipe for a brand of cola made by individuals and companies alike. This was meant as a promotional project to explain the concept of open source to the public. What's ironic is that this brand of cola became more famous than the company that created it.

Open source distributions seems to be THE way people share content across the internet. It has always been a method for cooperation to be fostered. Copyright issues have been a great source of conflict due to people arguing over profits. Open source allows people to genuinely give and contribute to something without anything substantial in return for themselves. If anything it's better than donating money, because the results are seen by the people who contribute. Unlike monetary donations, people who contribute to open source projects know exactly how they are helping.

open source image from: weblogs.us
OpenCola image from: Wikipedia

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