Do Viruses Really Cost This Much?

Mi2g, the British-based security consultancy that seems to court controversy and a fair amount of ridicule, has issued a press release (it doesn’t seem to be up yet) that is likely to prompt similar reactions: “USD 166 billion malware damage in 2004”, the headline reads:

The total economic damage from malware – viruses, worms and trojans – in 2004 is estimated to lie between USD 169 billion and USD 204 billion, making 2004 the worst year on record by a wide margin according to the mi2g Intelligence Unit, the world leader in digital risk. 2003 did not log even half of the malware economic damage figures attributable to 2004. With an installed base of around 600 million Windows based computers worldwide, this works out roughly as average damage per installed machine of between USD 281 and USD 340.

Certainly viruses and worms are damaging computers, business and nerves but I’m not sure it stretches to $300 billion. That is the same as(from a quick search of recent news articles):

So I guess it’s not impossible. But it seems to be a bit over the top. Mi2g says it calculates damages “on the basis of helpdesk support costs, overtime payments, contingency outsourcing, loss of business, bandwidth clogging, productivity erosion, management time reallocation, cost of recovery and software upgrades. When available, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations as well as customer and supplier liability costs have also been included in the estimates.” You could pretty much throw any old figures in there.

I would agree with them, however, when they point to the recent “proliferation of Bagle malware variants worldwide” as a sign that, like last year, “there could be a choppy cyber-sea ahead, made all the more complex by new and more dangerous malware families that are yet to emerge.” It may not be costing quite the equivalent of a major war, eradicating global poverty or how much Americans spend on sneakers and baseball games, but a virus sure can muck up your day.

Photo Printing — Not The Scam We Thought It Was

This is all a bit late, I know, but it’s probably worth pointing folk to if they’re not habitual readers of the excellent British computer magazine PCPro. Their cover story on photo-printing (registration required to read full reviews) in the February issue is a very sound, thorough and and detailed piece which makes some surprising conclusions:

  • Getting your photos printed on the high street is not always cheaper than printing them yourself;
  • It’s also not always better, in terms of quality and durability;
  • Inkjet cartridges and their contents are not always complete rip-offs (and ink is only the fifth most expensive liquid on earth, not the most….)
  • Epson comes out of it looking remarkably good, particularly its Stylus Photo R800 which now sells for around $300 (pictured above).

The study was conducted with the help of Wilhelm Imaging Research, which has its own detailed results of testing the R800 and other models.

I must confess I’ve been very skeptical about home printing of photographs, given how cheap some Internet services are. I also reckon that unless you spend a lot of time and practice you’re not going to get the same results as professionals — and that time and practice can use up a lot of expensive ink and paper. But as PCPro point out, for larger pictures it may actually work out cheaper, and better.

Say Goodbye To The USB Flash Drive?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Trek 2000’s chief financial officer, Gurcharan Singh. Trek, a Singapore company, claim to be the originators of the USB drive, or thumb drive as they call it, and are currently sueing a company called M-Systems in a test case over who owns the patent for putting flash memory on a USB plug.

That’s all going through the courts, and has been for some time, but clearly Trek 2000 are playing a central role in the whole flash-drive-on-a-stick thing, since besides selling their own products, they are the OEM manufacturers of several dozen such USB drives, including folk like iomega. But what intrigued me, among several things, was a gadget he had in his display case that he hinted was the future of USB drives. I had asked him about concerns over the durability and reliability of flash memory (my own experience making me less than sanguine) and while he was careful not to play up such concerns, he pointed to a device that was barely larger than a USB drive, but which contained a 0.85 inch 10 gigabyte hard drive, manufactured by one of Trek 2000’s main strategic partners, Toshiba. “This will address the issues of flash that you’re talking about,” he said. At the moment flash drives get no larger than a 2 gigabytes.

Toshiba has promised to lauch the 0.85” drive early this year, according to The Register, who point out that these drives are about 80% smaller than the hard drives you’ll find in an iPod or similar device. If Gurcharan is correct it sounds like these hard drives will have a larger capacity than earlier expected and they’re likely to be as popular, if not more so, than the USB flash drive.

So will this cause a splash? Yes, I think, because they’re so small. They’ll wow us and make us do a lot more with our USB stick. Not that there aren’t options beyond flash out there already. Of a similar ilk, but using the older, larger drives, take a look at Sony’s new 2.0 GB Micro Vault Pro, which I saw in Singapore’s malls for about S$450 ($275, see illustration) or Z-Cyber’s 1 or 2 GB Zling Drives, which I’m guessing use the same hard drives, but seem to sell for a lot less: I saw the 2 GB version selling for S$200, and the 1 GB for S$129. Then there’s the Emprex range of Micro Storage, from 2.2 to 4.0 GB, selling for S$190 and S$275 respectively. All of these are basically small hard drives on a USB dongle. They’re nice, but they’re not nearly as small as what Trek 2000 are likely to unveil some time this year.  

(If you’re looking for larger storage you’ll have to go to iomega’s Mini Hard Drives, which come in 20GB and 40GB capacities. )

What I think we’re going to see are these microdrives really pushing out flash as folk come to rely on them more and more. It’s yet to be proven that these very small hard drives are as rugged as they claim to be, but I think we’re safe in saying that flash, while excellent, is not reliable enough to be anything other than a short-term means of storage. What’s more, with bigger capacities, micro drives are going to be able to do things, and go places, that flash drives just can’t do: Storing whole feature-length movies, an evening full of musical entertainment on a key-ring, a cellphone that doubles as your hard drive. There’ll be a role to play for USB flash but we may soon be looking back nostalgically at these devices as charmingly limited in what they could do for us.

A Directory Of Bookmark Managers

Here’s the beginnings of a directory of social bookmark manager/taglike storage facilities. That’s a mouthful, but the list isn’t:

  • furl: The blurb: Save a personal copy of any page on the Web with a single click. Search the full text of your entire archive in an instant. Share what you find through email, RSS or your own site, automatically. See what others are saving and discover new, useful information. Access your archive from any computer, anywhere. It’s free to sign up, and quick and easy to install
  • del.icio.us The blurb: del.icio.us is a social bookmarks manager. It allows you to easily add sites you like to your personal collection of links, to categorize those sites with keywords, and to share your collection not only between your own browsers and machines, but also with others.
  • Spurl The blurb: Spurl.net is a free on-line bookmarking service and search engine. It allows you to store and quickly access again all the interesting pages you find on the web from any Internet connected computer.
  • Spurlbar The blurb: The spurlbar is an extension for FireFox, which lets you to use spurl.net bookmarking service easily.
  • flickr The blurb: almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.
  • Simpy The blurb: social bookmarking and personal search engine
  • StumbleUpon The blurb: a network of people and pages. It is a free tool which helps you browse, review and share webpages while meeting new people.
  • Powermarks The blurb: Bookmark Manager and Personal Search Engine
  • Netvouz
  • FavoritesFinder

As ever, suggestions for more gratefully received.

Taiwan: First Off The Blocks With Dual Networks?

Taiwan has launched what it’s calling the “world’s first dual-network application service”, according to today’s Taipei Times (which charmingly, and perhaps accurately, calls it a Duel Network in its headline).

The network combines wireless local area networks (WLANs) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). In a demo set up in Taipei’s Nankang Science Park, workers have access to “various functions, including access to personal e-mails and instant messages or connection to any printer in the park through wireless transmission. Other services allow parents to view their children in the park’s daycare center through a surveillance system.” From what I can understand in the piece, the government plans to spend NT$7 billion to build the same thing across the whole country over seven years. Taiwan Cellular, the paper says, will roll out dual-network service packages after the Lunar New Year (early next month).

It’s not clear, and I’m not clear, about how exactly this works, and what it’s for. The point of dual-network devices makes sense — you can use them for VoIP on WLAN hotspots, and switch to cellular in cellular-only areas, but why have both technologies in the same place? I guess, as it implies above, the idea is to offer more options and services atop the existing structure. So you might prefer to have one data connection via GPRS, but print locally via Wi-Fi. Or is there more to it that I’m missing?

The Tag Report IV: A Chat With Joshua

Here’s a chat I had with Joshua Schachter, creator of del.icio.us:

JW: ok good. shouldn’t take long. i just wanted to find out a bit about you, your motivation for setting up delicious, and the evolution of the tagging thing…
Joshua: yes, it’s totally exploding recently
Joshua: The short version: I started a website in 1998 or so; that kind of thing would later get named a “blog”
Joshua: Anyway, in the running of this site, I collected a lot of links so I could hopefully organize and post them.
Joshua: So I started keeping them in a file, which grew and grew. To be able to quickly find things, I started leaving one-word notes at the end.
Joshua: Tags.
Joshua: I later built a system, around 2002, that was a web-based database for storing my bookmarks.
Joshua: It also had tags, but was not multiuser.
Joshua: I’m not sure if it was 2002 or 2001, anyway. It first shows up in archive.org at 2002 though.
Joshua: Then later, I rewrote it multiuser, as del.icio.us.
Joshua: That was 2003 or so.
JW: (any reason you chose the name and the punctuation?)
Joshua: So the motivation was mostly because I was solving a problem I had, and then I solved it for everyone.
Joshua: I chose the domain before I had the idea.
JW: ah right…
Joshua: When .us became available, I just registered a few funny items
Joshua: the previous system was called muxway. In retrospect, I should have kept that name.
JW: really? why do you prefer that?
Joshua: Easier to figure out where the dots go
Joshua: http://web.archive.org/web/20020525043925/http://muxway.org/
JW: true! the dots can be a problem 🙂
Joshua: up through about http://web.archive.org/web/20031212140024/http://www.muxway.org/
JW: how did delicious get to be so popular? was that a surprise?
Joshua: Not really. The concept is very attractive both to use, as it solves your problem, and it lets you discover lots of interesting things from other people.
JW: how many users do you have now? and how many tags?
Joshua: fifty thousand or so users. Lots and lots of tags
JW: what’s the growth like?
Joshua: Insane
JW: any figures?
Joshua: Oh, I haven’t looked at the numbers a lot. Not a good thing to focus on.
Joshua: Last I looked it was growing by 20-30% a month, but I haven’t looked in a bit.
Joshua: I assume it has tapered off a bit, just because of the growth pains.
Joshua: Call it 15% growth a month?
JW: is it a lot of work for you?
Joshua: 15% looks low, just back of the envelope
Joshua: It’s as much work as I let it be
Joshua: There’s always stuff to do, new features and ideas and so on.
Joshua: I’ve really only gotten started.
JW: is it a fulltime job for you? if not, what is your job?
JW: and age?
Joshua: I’m 30
Joshua: Definitely not a fulltime job
Joshua: I’m not too sure what to say about my day job. I work in an unrelated field
JW: do you intend to make some money out of it at some point? or are you already?
Joshua: I haven’t worried about it yet.
Joshua: I did it for fun and because it’s interesting.
JW: i see… what’s your view of the technorati move on delicious and flickr tags? is this an important step?
Joshua: flickr is much more like delicious. It’s a way to organize your data in a way that is very useful to the user.
Joshua: when i built delicious, i designed it so that it would be useful to me, even if not a single other person joined in.
Joshua: Flickr is similar.
Joshua: If nobody else was using it, I’d still find the site useful
Joshua: The challenge here is to understand how they are different from search, what motivates people to use them.
Joshua: Well, they’re sort of in opposite directions of each other. Mirrors
JW: could you elaborate?
Joshua: Hard to explain; I’m really still thinking about the problem.
Joshua: Basically, the way I think of the what I’m doing
Joshua: is taking the process of memory, and building prosthetics.
Joshua: I want to split storing and recalling into two separate actions with the help of the computer, so that when you tag things you store, you can recall them more easily
Joshua: In doing so, I have also made it easier for you to recall things that other people have stored.
Joshua: Tags facilitate and amplify this.
Joshua: Search is more associated with the recall, whereas tagging is more associated with the storage.
Joshua: Does that make sense?
JW: yes it does. v well put.

Thanks, Joshua.

The Tag Report I: A Chat With Gen Kanai

In today’s column (subscription required) for WSJ.com and The Asian Wall Street Journal‘s Personal Journal section I write about tags — the kind found on del.icio.us and Flickr. I spoke — or at least IMed — with some interesting people to research the story, and thought I’d post excerpts from some of the chats, with the permission of the source, in case anyone is interested in reading more.

Here’s the first one, from Japanese American Tokyo resident Gen Kanai who was very good at walking me through some of the ideas about tagging. He declined to let me identify his own current involvement, but it sounds interesting indeed. Hopefully we can talk more about that later.

JW: i was playing around with delicious and started reading stuff, including your posts on it, and was trying to see where it’s all going…
Gen Kanai: Its definitely been the hot topic of the past few weeks.
JW: from what i’ve read this is all about metadata, and making it so it’s not just personal categories, but sharing… is that anywhere near?
Gen Kanai: yes, the key is the sharing aspect.
Gen Kanai: as we all know, people are lazy,
Gen Kanai: so a little bit of investment up-front in tagging (photos, a url, etc.) means you can find a lot more related information afterwards
JW: ok…
Gen Kanai: especially when web services start sharing that data
JW: what’s in it for web services to share this stuff?
Gen Kanai: good question
Gen Kanai: More readership, a greater audience
JW: could you give an example?
Gen Kanai: sure.
Gen Kanai: if delicious was merely a bookmark saving service, it wouldnt be interesting.
Gen Kanai: delicious is compelling because the users save the bookmark but also associate metadata in the form of tags with each URL.
Gen Kanai: that “tag” is then automatically associated with other “tags” and so one can find other URLs related to “ferrari”
JW: how would that work exactly? if someone gave a tag ‘car’ and another ‘roadhog’ would they be matched? or lost?
Gen Kanai: or whatever keyword or phrase.
Gen Kanai: The other important part
Gen Kanai: is that both Flickr and Delicious have APIs for sharing.
Gen Kanai: Application programming interfaces.
Gen Kanai: a simple way for the data (Photos or URLs) to be shared on other websites.
Gen Kanai: Amazon also has an API for their system
JW: for sharing book lists etc?
Gen Kanai: its one important way Amazon is more successful than other Ecommerce sites
Gen Kanai: yes.
Gen Kanai: on sites OTHER than amazon.
Gen Kanai: but getting back to tags
JW: ok, i’m with you. still not sure how the tags work if they are just keywords assigned by individuals. how do they get matched up?
Gen Kanai: its all very serendipitous and chaotic
Gen Kanai: at the same time.
Gen Kanai: librarians would have a fit.
JW: heh…
Gen Kanai: anyway, the other key is that “tags” are user generated.
Gen Kanai: it doesnt sound like a big deal, but it is.
Gen Kanai: because in the past, with XML, for instance
Gen Kanai: there was a need to make agreements across industries to standardize
Gen Kanai: and that’s all thrown out the window with tags
JW: ok…
Gen Kanai: basically its a way to find other similar information
Gen Kanai: the user does a bit more work tagging, but it results in a wealth of information once the tagged information is cataloged and associated with other data that has the same tag.
Gen Kanai: I would say, however, that this is all VERY new, and no one is really sure what this means in the long run.
Gen Kanai: Whether it will scale.
Gen Kanai: etc.
JW: ok. i’m still a bit clueless how the serendipitous tagging works: if my idea of tagging and yours don’t gel, won’t that be duplicated effort?
Gen Kanai: that:s ok
Gen Kanai: it doesnt have to gel
Gen Kanai: it not a perfect system
Gen Kanai: but so far, when used, it works well enough that people are excited and more and more sites are implementing tags as a feature
Gen Kanai: the best sites have APIs so they can share that information with other sites…

Thanks, Gen, for walking me through it. I’ll post some more chats soon.

Lucian George, Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia

Into this debate about the reliability of Wikipedia leaps the 12–year old figure of Lucian George from north London, who found five errors in the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. BBC reports that

A schoolboy has uncovered several mistakes in the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica – regarded by readers as an authority on everything. Lucian George, 12, from north London, found five errors on two of his favourite subjects – central Europe and wildlife – and wrote to complain. The book’s editor wrote back thanking him for “pointing out several errors and misleading statements”.
A Britannica spokesman said the company was “grateful”.

His father, Gabriel George, told BBC News: “Lucian told me he had found a mistake. Then, a few days later, he found another. Then there was another. “By the time he had found five, I said to him that he should write to the editors to complain about it.”

So what did he find?

  • Chotyn, in which two battles between the Poles and the Ottoman Empire were fought, is said to lie in Moldova. (It’s not, it’s in Ukraine.)
  • The Polish part of the Belovezhskaya Forest, according to the encyclopaedia, lies in the Bialystok, Suwalki and Lomza provinces. (Suwalki and Lomza provinces have not existed since 1998. And, even when they did, the whole Polish section of the forest – which extends into Belarus – was in Bialystok, the BBC reports.)
  • The terrain of the European bison: Poland, according to the encylcopedia. (Actually it encompassed parts of Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Belarus – not just Poland.)

Of course, errors in the Britannica are nothing new (here’s a list from one guy alone). And I’m no Lucian George but (that’s what we’re going to say from now on, isn’t it? ‘I’m no Lucian George, but isn’t that use of the semi-colon incorrect?’) I’ve spotted a few errors in my time in both the Britannica and Encarta. (If one 12–year old can find five, how many more errors must there be in there?) But maybe we shouldn’t be so apologetic about Wikipedia’s eccentricities and errors when we realise that no single encyclopedia can get it right? The academics who do these entries are, after all, just academics, and probably don’t have time to have any peer review of their entries.

In a way Wikipedia is like having dozens of Lucian Georges looking over your shoulder when you amend or add an entry, which may end up being a better way of keeping out errors. Not least, of course, an error in Wikipedia will get fixed on the spot, but how many copies of EB are going to sit on shelves, riddled with mislocated East European data, for years to come, misleading the public and irritating the good burghers of Chotyn?

The Tag Report III: Bowen Dwelle

Here’s a chat I had with Bowen Dwelle on tagging.

JW: i just wanted to get my brain around your tag posting, and get your views on the broader tagging (r)evolution.

Bowen: I attempted some sort of explanation of this in this post:
Bowen: said again, there are several ways to classify information — human top down (Dewey, DMOZ, old Yahoo directory), machine “AI”, machine brute force (Google), etc. Brute force is great, but doesn’t allow the human value-add and the power to social networking to take effect…
JW: yeah, that’s well put…
Bowen: Top-down categorization breaks down almost immediately. I used to build search engines and such (HotBot), and I never thought that directories were very interesting at all. Think about how confusing the yellow pages is because you don’t know where to find Restaurant, Supplies, Retail – ugh.
Bowen: So even though there is some built-in level of “error” in tags (mis-spellings, synonyms, etc), in aggregate the social network adds more meaning than it costs in terms of effort.
JW: where do you see it going?
Bowen: As illustrated by my own crude efforts on my blog, I think that a “tag” centric view of one’s own online world is a useful one. The number of recent tools that have emerged that leverage the tag metaphor shows that people get it.
Bowen: Technorati, Flickr, delicious, etc
Bowen: Some are pointing to Google’s nofollow
Bowen: “nofollow” thing as a “tag” – although I don’t think it’s quite the same
JW: that’s just a way to cut comment spam from page rankings, no?
Bowen: right.
Bowen: but gmail does tags…
JW: that’s true.
Bowen: basically, the idea of having some mechanism to tie various axes of data (email, links, photos, etc) together, and then being able to pivot on those axes is very useful
Bowen: it gives people a comprehensible way to link things together
Bowen: and, most importantly, it gives people a way to link to other people, and — potentially — to be grouped together..

Thanks, Bowen.

The Tag Report II: Some Links

There’s lots to read on tagging, but here are some interesting places to start:

Here’s an interesting IM chat with Joshua Schachter, who amused me immensely by begging me not to give too much publicity to his deli.cio.us website because his servers couldn’t handle all the traffic following any media mention. My brief IM chat with him will follow soon. I also chatted with Bowen Welle — that chat will appear soon, I hope — but here’s one post that drew me to seek him out.

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of Folksonomy, which points out, inter alia, that “Folksonomies work best when a number of users all describe the same piece of information. For instance, on del.icio.us, many people have bookmarked wikipedia, each with a different set of words to describe it. Among the various tags used, del.icio.us shows that reference, wiki, and encyclopedia are the most popular.”

Talking of Wikipedia, the lively discussion on Many 2 Many has recently tackled the whole issue of Folksonomy, and of whether Wikipedia needs supervision. Louis Rosenfeld worries about folksonomies getting out of hand. Another, earlier, look at the same issues from Peter Merholz, and HeadShift, and Alex Wright, and the Laughing Meme.

I’ll try to keep adding links to my deli.cio.us taglist. Please do let me know of any other interesting links: This is really just a smattering of what is out there on what I hope is is a growing topic.