Tag Archives: Beijing

Puppy Love, Army Trojans and Perfecting the Phone Call

I make an appearance on the excellent Breakfast Club show on Radio Australia each Friday at about 01:15 GMT and some listeners have asked me post links to the stuff I talk about, so here they are.

Love on the net

Teenage social networking isn’t so bad, according to the MacArthur Foundation. According to the lead researcher on the project, called the Digital Youth Project, “their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, part of a $50 million project on digital and media learning, used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours.

The bit I like in the NYT report is the shameless flirting that goes on, cleverly disguised:

First, the girl posted a message saying, “hey … hm. wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment … u sud feel SPECIAL haha.” A day later, the boy replied, “hello there … umm I don’t know what to say, but at least I wrote something …”

U.S. Military Under Attack

Spooked by the rapid spread of a worm called Agent.btz, the U.S. military has banned everything from external hard drives to “floppy disks.”

USBs are a problem: Lenovo this week offered a software package to XP users with a Trojan dropper called Meredrop, found in one of the drivers.

And Telstra earlier this year handed out USB drives at a security conference that were infected with malware.

Could it be China?  The conclusions reached in this year’s US-China Economic and Security Review are far more dramatic than before. In 2007, it says, about 5m computers in the US were the targets of 43,880 incidents of malicious activity — a rise of almost a third on the previous year.

Much of the activity is likely to emanate from groups of hackers, but the lines between private espionage and government-sponsored operations are blurred. Some 250 hacker groups are tolerated, and may even be encouraged, by Beijing to invade computer networks. Individual hackers are also being trained in cyber operations at Chinese military bases.

 

How to Make the Perfect Phone Call

According to the UK Post Office, the perfect phone call should last nine minutes, 36 seconds and contain a mix of chat about family news, current affairs, personal problems and the weather.

Three minutes of that should be spent catching up with news about family and friends, one minute on personal problems, a minute on work/school, 42 seconds on current affairs and 24 seconds on the weather. Chat about the opposite sex should last 24 seconds. 12 seconds of every call should be set aside for a little quiet contemplation.

One in five people said they spent most time on the phone to their mother. The research, by the Post Office, revealed that the phrase “I’ll get your mother” is common. Only three per cent of people named their father as the person they spent most time on the phone with.

Susan042764

“Please help!,” she writes. “I took my husband’s iPhone and found a raunchy picture of him attached to an email to a woman in his sent email file. When I approached him about this, he admitted that he took the picture, but says that he never sent it to anyone.

“He claims that he went to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and they told him it is an iPhone glitch – that photos sometimes automatically attach themselves to an email address and appear in the sent folder, even though no email was ever sent.

“Has anyone ever heard of this happening?,” she asks. “The future of my marriage depends on this answer!” Read more here.

Are We Too Obsessed With Our Cars?

More stuff from the observant and thought-provoking Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase: drivers protecting their cars in Beijing from urinating canines: 

Beijing, 2008

As Jan points out, lots of issues arise with this: how confused must dogs get that their choice of territory markers move around? (Or maybe that’s exactly what they want—expanding territory without them having to do anything.) But I guess for me is the weird thing that people have over their cars these days. Cars seem to be much clearner than they used to be.

Even in dusty, messy places like Jakarta you knew you could always beat the other guy to a spare corner of road just because you cared less about your car’s bodywork than he did. Here in Singapore people’s cars are so shiny you could eat off them. Apartments may look a mess but the car—the most visible reflection of people’s affluence—is glittering.

Then there’s the thing about hotels, restaurants and clubs allowing the owners of fancy cars to park right outside the lobby. Never quite understood how that works in practice. How do you know whether your car is fancy enough to merit this treatment? Would my Kijang KF42 cut it? It had a chrome trim thing going on which I thought was quite fancy.

Jan Chipchase – Future Perfect: Ownership = Target

The Commuter Factor

Watching the commuters of Beijing and Hong Kong brings home how usage of the cellphone is dictated by circumstance – in this case about how you get to work. This may be something that has been studied at length, but reading discussions about the difference in adoption rates and usage among countries and regions, to me it’s comes down largely to environment, once issues such as income etc are taken into account. Chinese, Singapore, Hong Kongese, Japanese, Korean commuters spend a good portion of their commute in air conditioned buses, trains and subeway cars — the perfect environment for cellphone features such as SMS, browsing, playing games, reading, listening to music and viewing video and TV. They also happen to be young, with some disposable income and keen to adopt whatever technologies define them as trendy and modern. This isn’t the only factor, of course, but it must go a long way to explaining why cellphones there are so prevalent and so advanced.
Of course, there are other issues. It’s not enough to commute by public transport. In places like Indonesia, public transport is a crowded, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous experience, so whisking out a cellphone is more likely to attract a mugger than admiring looks from fellow passengers (even if you can find the space.)
Given all this, why don’t cellphone manufacturers and cellular operators buy stakes in transportation systems to raise the number of people using these forms of transport? In Jakarta, as with Bangok a decade ago, there’s a slow move towards skytrains and other transportation systems aimed at the wooing the middle and lower-middle classes away from their cars. So far the busway system has had only modest success. Part of this is to do with the awful infrastructure surrounding the stations, where commuters have to plough through sewers and potholes to get to their bus. And the buses themselves are rapidly deteriorating, making them targets for pickpockets and muggers. But if companies stopped thinking about these places as modes of transport and instead as captive audiences for content and services, maybe everyone could win. Some Hong Kong buses have rudimentary TV channels aboard their buses, blasting ads in short loops touting weight loss clinics that commuters quickly tire of and ignore . This is an unimaginative approach, and offers only a glimpse of what could be possible. Given the amount of time most commuters spend sitting or standing on transport staring at boring ads I would have thought cellular providers, handset manufacturers and content developers would be buying up bus companies in droves to ensure this market of strap hangers were better exploited.
(aboard CX719)

How To Stop Noisy Phone Calls

Perhaps it exists already, in which case please let me know why everyone doesn’t have one. But as I was listening to a guy answering his cellphone earlier today in a Beijing coffee shop and then, as everyone seems to do, automatically raising his voice to a shout, I thought: Why don’t I shoot him now? It’s what everyone around him wants. No that’s not what I thought. I thought: Why do we do this? Why is it so hard for us to be aware that when we speak on cellphones we tend to speak louder than we would when we’re not on the phone? And why don’t we realise this, and tone down our voice accordingly? (And, come to think of it, why don’t the people around us make us painfully aware of how loud we’re being?)

There must be an answer to this. I would have thought this would be quite simple: a sensor built into our cellphones that tells us when our voice is too loud, and informs us accordingly. So when we start yelling, a voice says into the earpiece “Your voice is louder than those around you. Your voice is louder than those around you” in an endless loop until our voice has returned to socially acceptable levels. Ignoring it would result in the person on the other end being informed politely that their interlocutor has failed to lower his voice and the call is being terminated. Efforts to disable this function would be met by a polite voice saying “deactivating this feature is not possible” along with a mild but noticeable electric shock administered to the user.

That should do it.

Mobilizing the Bird Watchers

It sounds more like the storyline for a movie, but this piece in the International Herald Tribune by Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “The Coming Plague”, highlights an area where technology might be able help stem the tide of bird flu:

One of the best untapped resources in this epic battle against influenza is bird-watchers, who are among the most fanatic hobbyists in the world. The major bird-watching organizations and safari clubs ought to work with the World Health Organization and OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, to set up Web-based notification sites, where birders could report sightings of groups of dead birds, and the movements of key migrating species.

This information would then lead to issuing alerts, and, when “carrier species are sighted in a region, swift action should be taken to minimize contact between the wild birds and their domestic kin. In such a way, it might be possible to limit avian deaths to susceptible wild birds, such as the dying swans of Europe.” The picture Garrett paints is a scary one (her book title perhaps reveals her optimism, or lack of it, about what could happen.) So could the bird watcher brigade save the human race?

In some places it’s already happening. Organisations in the UK, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, have asked their members to report dead birds, but unless I’m not looking in the right place their websites don’t make much of it. The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust had one link to avian influenza but buried the contact number for the public at the bottom of the page (and no email link).

China, too, is mobilizing bird lovers, according to the China Daily but candidly admits its numbers aren’t enough:  “There are more than 100 frequent birdwatchers in Beijing, but the number proves to be far from enough when the people are scattered at wild bird habitats around the city,” [Li Haitao, a birdwatcher in the capital,] said.

It would seem to me that the Internet is perfectly suited to this kind of coordinated “citizen reporting” of migratory patterns and bird deaths. Why hasn’t it happened yet? Plus, it would make a great movie. Leonardo di Caprio as an anorak-wearing bird watcher saving the planet?

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China’s Facial Recognition System

China is about to launch a new facial recognition system “which will be used in public places, such as airports, post offices, customs entrances and even residential communities”, according to today’s China Daily (no URL available yet.)

The invention, developed by Su Guangda, an Electronic Engineering Department professor with Beijing-based Tsinghua University, has been approved by a panel of experts from the Ministry of Public Security, the paper says. The system “excels at capturing moving facial images and features a multi-camera technology to lower the error for mismatching.”

Of course this is a sensitive area, particularly in China. The paper says the technology is already in place, but “limited to police use. The technology has helped the police in Beijing solve a few criminal cases involving child abduction and supermarket blackmail in the past few years.” But its creator is quoted as pushing for broader use, saying residential communities, airports and banks could use it. Since China has no fingerprint database for the general public, instead the photo on the national ID card “might help establish a facial database easily.”

Su said one feature of the system is the use of multiple cameras to limit errors, although it’s not clear from the report whether we’re talking multple cameras at an entry point to capture different profiles of the face, or millions of cameras all over the place to capture everyone everywhere.

The professor does acknowledge privacy concerns. His solution: “As long as you don’t save the picture in the computer and just scan individual faces quickly, the privacy violation is not an issue,” Su said. “And we could realize that by avoiding adding a picture saving function to the technology,” he said.

I’m no expert, but I don’t really see how that is a solution. Surely that could easily be circumvented by an over-eager security team, and in any case, it doesn’t really address the underlying concerns about use of facial recognition, although maybe that horse has already bolted. An earlier piece in the China Daily said the database already has 2.56 million faces and can make a face match within a second and has been in use for a year to catch suspects on the run.

Conspiracy Theories And The Weird Variable In History

I’m quite prepared to believe in conspiracies. Hell, anyone who reads history would be a fool to ignore their importance. Think Pearl Harbor. Think Rudolph Hess (yes, Churchill et al knew there was a plane coming and yes, they were hoodwinking the Germans, the French and the Americans to save the Empire). Think Cuban Missile Crisis. Think Tonkin Gulf. Think Supersemar (OK, not many of you will know that one, but trust me: It was a set-up). Pretty much every significant event of the past century has a conspiracy in it somewhere that tarnishes the folk we thought were heroes. I’m quite prepared to believe some of the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11, just because the law of averages must mean some of them are right. But what about the Weird Variable View of History?

Yesterday I pointed to Natalia Dmytruk and her subversive interpretation of the news on Ukrainian TV. As I was taking the tram past what was China’s defacto embassy in Hong Kong, the Xinhua News Agency (NCNA) building in Causeway Bay (now a hotel, the Cosmopolitan, for those of you who hadn’t heard), I was reminded of a tale going back 15 years which illustrates another Weird Variable. Here’s how Xinhua reported the event at the time (June 1990):

Foreign Ministry makes representations to British Embassy over Hong Kong shooting incident.
Beijing, June 8 (Xinhua) – The Chinese Foreign Ministry has made serious representations to the British Embassy in China over an incident in which a shot was fired at the new office building of the Hong Kong branch of the Xinhua News Agency early this month. The incident occurred at sometime between June 3 and 4 during a demonstration staged by the “Hong Kong alliance in support of the patriotic democratic movement in China”, which has held in the vicinity of the building. The demonstration had the approval of the Hong Kong British authorities. A hole about three to four inches in diameter was found in a window on the 11th floor of the building. After the incident, local police arrived and found a powerful bullet inside the building. The branch also made representations to the Hong Kong British authorities soon after the attack. The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed deep regret over the incident in its representations to the British Embassy. The Ministry pointed out that the Hong Kong British authorities bear responsibility for the incident and demanded that they make a thorough investigation into the matter. The Hong Kong British authorities were also urged to take effective steps to ensure the safety of the personnel and property of Xinhua’s Hong Kong branch and other mainland agencies in Hong Kong. The Chinese government is closely following developments, the Foreign Ministry stated.

This was at a difficult time in British-China relations, with the handover seven years away, and tensions in the colony were high. The Chinese clearly thought the Brits were to blame, either through some sort of subtle provocation, or by not containing the Hong Kong Alliance, a constant thorn in the flesh of the Chinese. Demonstrations were a daily occurrence outside the Xinhua building, but this was an important occasion; the year before Tiananmen Square had galvanised Hong Kong like never before. I happened to be in the colony at the time and followed the march as it filled the streets and gathered outside the Xinhua building. The Chinese were nervous and clearly assumed the bullet was an attempt to provoke.

Here’s a story I wrote more than two years later (I’m claiming no credit here; I seem to recall the meat of the story was already published in local papers. I just tried to give it a bit of context):

Gun freak jailed for mystery bullet-hole.
HONG KONG, Sept 18, Reuter – Chan Yu-tat’s obsession with guns upset the neighbours, caused an international incident and baffled Hong Kong detectives. But now he’s in jail and one of the British colony’s odder mysteries is finally solved.
On June 3, 1990, Chan was test-firing his Dan Wesson pistol on the rooftop of his apartment block when one bullet went astray, whistling over half a mile (one km) before smashing through a window of the New China News Agency (NCNA). It was a bad time and a bad target. Outside the building, which serves as Beijing’s de facto embassy in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of demonstrators were marking the first anniversary of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests. When a cleaner discovered the bullet-hole the next morning, China, fearing political motives behind the incident, called it “very serious” and demanded an investigation.
Hong Kong obliged, launching harried detectives on a house-to-house search, ballistic experiments and fingerprint tests but drew a blank. Streets away one old man who had complained six months earlier of a bullet flying through his window on Christmas Eve while he was in bed with his wife was bemused to find the police suddenly taking an interest in his case. There were at least three claims of responsibility for the NCNA shooting, including one Chinese stowaway to Seattle who demanded political asylum on the strength of it. Chan, 26, a delivery man for a pharmaceutical firm who lived with his mother, read in the newspapers about the commotion his stray bullet had caused. But police only discovered the truth of the incident when he mailed some ammunition to a friend in Canada last year. Tipped off by their Canadian counterparts, police questioned Chan, who revealed a cache of firearms and admitted to the officers that he was behind the mystery bullet-holes. The High Court on Thursday jailed him for 7-1/2 years, the minimum sentence allowable under tough anti-gun laws introduced after a spate of armed robberies last year. “The Crown accepts that the fact the bullet happened to strike the building of the NCNA was an accident and not a political motive. It was purely by chance,” counsel Gary Alderdace told the court.

I don’t know what happened after that. I suspect the whole thing was forgotten. By then Chris Patten, Britain’s last governor, was in Hong Kong stirring things up. But I suspect — I have no proof of this — that single bullet nearly caused a serious rupture in the handover process.

Historians and conspiracy theorists ignore the Weird Variable at their peril.

Column: Under the Wire

UNDER THE WIRE

The Latest Software and Hardware Upgrades, Plug-Ins and Add-Ons

from the 5 June 2003 of edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review , (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

History Scanned

The past is being digitized — fast. The ProQuest Historical Newspapers program has just finished scanning more than a century of copies of The Washington Post to its existing database. The database includes each page from every issue, in PDF files, from 1877-1987. The program has already done The New York Times (1851-1999), The Wall Street Journal (1889-1985) and The Christian Science Monitor (1908-1990).

Cellphone with Character

Somewhat belatedly, Nokia is getting into the handwriting phone thing, aiming itself squarely at the huge Chinese market. On May 20, it unveiled the 6108, created in the firm’s product-design centre in Beijing. The keypad flips open to reveal a small area on which Chinese words can be handwritten with a stylus. A character-recognition engine will convert the scrawls into text, which can then be sent as a message. The phone will be available in the third quarter.

Security Compromised

A new survey reckons “security breaches across the Asia-Pacific region have reached epidemic levels.” In a report released last week, Evans Data Corp. said that 75% of developers reported at least one security breach — basically any kind of successful attack on their computer systems — in the past year. China is worst off, from 59% of developers reporting at least one security breach last year to 84% this year. It doesn’t help that most of the software is compromised: Tech consultant Gartner has recommended its clients drop Passport, the Microsoft service that allows users to store all their passwords, account details and other valuable stuff on-line, saying Passport identities could be easily compromised. This follows a flaw revealed earlier this month by Microsoft after an independent researcher in Pakistan noticed he could get access to any of the more than 200 million Passport accounts used to authenticate e-mail, e-commerce and other transactions. Microsoft says it has resolved the problem and does not know of any accounts that were breached. Gartner’s not impressed: “Microsoft failed to thoroughly test Passport’s security architecture, and this flaw — uncovered more than six months after Microsoft added the vulnerable feature to the system — raises serious doubts about the reliability of every Passport identity issued to date.”

Son of Napster

Apple’s apparent success with iTunes seems to have prodded some action in the on-line music market. Roxio, maker of CD recording software among other things, said last week it would buy PressPlay from Universal Music and Sony Music Entertainment for about $40 million in cash and rename the whole caboodle Napster, which it earlier bought for $5.3 million. Pressplay offers radio stations and unlimited tethered downloads for $9.95 a month in addition to song downloads that allow for CD burning. My tuppennies? None of this will work unless companies put no restrictions on the files downloaded. Emusic does it that way and it’s why a lot of people keep coming back.