Tag Archives: Internet connection

AboutFacebook

This is a copy of my weekly Loose Wire Service column for newspapers, hence the lack of links.

By Jeremy Wagstaff

A few weeks ago I talked about Facebook’s brave new world of connecting your profile to all the other bits and pieces you leave on websites. I erred, and I apologize.

I thought that people wouldn’t mind the reduction in privacy that this would involve. At least I didn’t think they’d mind as much as a couple of years ago, when Facebook tried something similar.

But people did. And Facebook has been forced to respond, simplifying the procedures that allow users to control who can see what of the stuff they put on Facebook.

So was I really wrong? Do people still care so deeply about privacy?

Hard to say. Back then I said that we have gone through something of a revolution in our attitudes to privacy, and I think I’m still right about that. But I hadn’t taken into account that just because our attitudes have gone through wrenching changes doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with them.

Social networking—itself only a few years old—has forced us to shift our approach. When the Internet was just about email, that was pretty simple. We might balk at giving our email address out to weirdoes at parties with hair growing out of their ears, but that was no different than handing out our phone numbers, or home address.

But social networking is different. By definition the barriers are down, at least partially, because the network demands it. Networks require nodes, and that means that Facebook and every network like it needs to make it easy for people to find other people—including your folically resplendent stalker.

So already we’re talking a question of degree of privacy. And of course, we insist on these services being free, so the relationship we have with the purveyor of the social network is an odd one: Our investment in it is one of time, not money.

But nowadays many of us value time more highly than money, so we feel oddly possessive about our social networks. It’s not, I hasten to add, that we wouldn’t take our business elsewhere, as we did with MySpace and Friendster, but Facebook is somewhat different.

For one thing, the numbers are astonishing. Facebook has more than 400,000 active users—half of them logging on at least once a day. In other words, for many people Facebook has become email.

This has forced changes in privacy, because it’s impossible not to be private and be an active Facebook user. Unlike email, most Facebook activity is visible to other people. So I can, if I want (and I don’t, but can’t really help it), find photos of my nephew caressing a female friend, something I would have been horrified to allow my uncle to see when I was his age.

In part it’s a generational thing. We adults have no idea what it must be like to surrounded by cameras, transmission devices, mass media—an all-embracing Net–from our early years.

But does that mean that younger people are just more relaxed about privacy, or that they just haven’t learned its value? Much of us older folks’ understanding of privacy comes from having lived under snooping governments, or knowing they exist on the other side of iron or bamboo curtains. Or we read and could imagine 1984.

Or, simply, that we’ve had something private exposed to the public. I once had some love poems I had written at school to two sisters read out in front of the school when I foolishly left them behind on a desk. Since then I lock up all my love poems to people related to each other under lock and key.

Younger people, it’s thought, don’t care so much about this. They grow up in a world of SMS, of camera phones recording every incident, of having one’s popularity, or lack of it, measured publicly via the number of friends one has on Facebook.

This is all true, of course. And while employers may still be Googling potential employees, and looking askance at images of them frolicking, this is going to get harder to do when all their potential employees are on Facebook, and all sport photos of them frolicking.

This is part of a new world where the notion of privacy is balanced by transparency: Online is no longer a mirror image of offline, in the way email was just a more efficient postal service.  It’s now a place that one shares with lots of other people, and to play a role in it entails a certain visibility.

This is both the price and the reward of being online. There are bound to be things we’d rather keep to ourselves but we also recognize an advantage in such public access. Just as people can discover things about us, so can we discover things about them. A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats. If you have an Internet connection.

In some ways this is deeply subversive, since it undermines the traditional structures of society. A teacher or speaker can be subverted by a back channel of comments among the class or audience to which he is not privy. Reality gets distorted, and traditional dominance undermined.

I was sitting in a hearing the other day where those being grilled by the legislators were maintaining a quite noisy twitter presence that stood in contrast to their respectful tone in the session. Two channels, both of them public, but both of them trains running on parallel tracks. Which of them is real?

Technology is moving ahead, and we’re catching up. But we’re catching up at different rates.

If an employer can’t make a distinction between an employee’s office persona and their, for want of a better expression, their personal persona, then they’re probably not very good employers.

Still, there are limits. The British man who joined a rampaging mob in Thailand and yelled at a passing citizen journalist hadn’t considered the consequences should that video clip end up on YouTube. Which it did and he now faces a lengthy time in jail.

Adolescents who share racy photos of themselves by cellphone are discovering the limits to transparency when those photos spread like wildfire. And one can’t help but suspect that not all school kids feel comfortable with the intensity of digital interactivity.

Which brings us back to Facebook.

Facebook is the thin end of a big wedge. We’ll probably look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, but that doesn’t mean we’re wrong in questioning Facebook’s actions or its motives.

But we’d be smarter if instead of putting Mark Zuckerburg in the stocks, we took stock of what we really want out of these services, and what we really want to share and what we don’t. I suspect that we simply haven’t done that yet, and so we lash out when such moves force us to confront the new reality: that definitions of privacy and openness have changed, are changing, very radically and very quickly.

How to Not Sweat the Mobile Office

(This is a copy of my Loose Wire Sevice column, produced for newspapers and other print publications. Hence the lack of links.)

By Jeremy Wagstaff

I do a lot of work on the road, including setting up offices from scratch. What I’ve learnt—and the mistakes I’ve made—could fill a book, so maybe I’ll write one.

But here, for now, are some tips I’ve found useful about working on the road—especially if you’re on the road for any length of time, or setting up your stall in a new place, temporarily or permanently.

The first thing to do is to get a local SIM card asap. Roaming fees remain ruinous. More of that in a later column.

The other is to get a dongle. Nowadays, it’s really easy to get your laptop connected to something approaching a broadband Internet connection.

HSDPA is the prevailing technology for this—you don’t need to know what it stands for, because it’s already on the way out—via a SIM card inserted in a little thumb drive that slots into your USB port. More commonly known as a dongle.

Nowadays you can get these for very little, along with a prepaid account. You often have to buy the dongle, which might or might not be usable in a new country.

Either way, you’ve got connected.

If you’re setting up a whole new office then get your staff onto Google Apps.

This is a suit of online programs that is basically Microsoft Office–for free, and open to real time collaboration. (Recently Google souped it up a bit and added a tool for drawing.)

All you need is an Internet connection. (Google Apps can be used offline, but this is in the process of being changed, so it might not be working for a while.)

If you want to do it with a bit of style, install Google Apps on your own domain (cooldudes.com) so all your new staff have email addresses that end in that domain; they can also then share all their contacts etc.

The non-domain version is called Google Docs and works fine. If you’ve all got Gmail accounts then it makes sense to stick with that.

Google have done a good job with this suite, but it’s not perfect. Don’t expect all the bells and whistles you’d usually get for spreadsheets and documents. But it’s fine for most needs.

Make sure staff get into the habit of saving documents with useful, consistent names and putting them in shared folders that others can find. Maintain a policy of limited documents and constant weeding so things don’t get lost or forgotten.

Hardware-wise, get people netbooks. They should be more than enough and this allows them to take them home to work/play on there. (Ensure they’ve all got antivirus on them, and tell them you’ll punish them severely if they install rubbish on them.)

And then wow them by buying an external monitor—Samsung, Philips and others do relatively small screens for about $100.

That doubles the amount of screen they’ve got to play with and wins you grateful looks from staff who’ve either never had two screens before or have them but never expected such an enlightened boss.

A tip: check the weight of the screen, as they vary widely. Some are light enough to carry with you between assignments. If not, you can always get a small 7” Mimo Monitor which gives you that extra bit of desktop. Mimo tell me they’re coming out with a larger one this month or next.

Printers are not an easy problem to resolve, but you should be able to get a scanner, printer, fax and copy machine, all in one, for about $120. You can either thread USB cables around your office or splash out on a wireless router that has a USB slot in the back.

(Wireless routers let you connect all your computers together via WiFi.)

This should, in theory, allow you to connect said scanner/printer/fax/copier into your network meaning anyone can use it. Expect a bit of pain here.

Other things I would buy to make your new mini-office more productive: decent mouse pads—nothing worse, or less productive, than staff sliding their mice across overly reflective desktops or books.

If they’re taking their netbooks home, then buy them the mains cable that sits between the netbook’s power adapter and the wall. This means they don’t have to dive under the desk to remove the power cable, and instead can just unplug the adapter as it sits behind their netbook.

Cost of cable: about $1.

I also buy headsets for landlines. These are cheap and save your staff’s necks.

And a non-stapler clipper, which uses reusable clips, saves you pulling staples out of paper and makes every document look snazzy. Cost: $1.50.

Lastly, buy a label printer. They may be a bit pricey—well, the labels are—but they make everything look so much better, and give your office a professional shine that will make your staff work harder and not want to go home in the evening.

Good for them. Now I’m off to the hotel pool.

Meet Veronica, Sexy Skype Spammer

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Maybe this is commonplace for others, but I’ve just got my first sex-chat-spam on Skype. It’s from someone called Veronica Sexy, whose profile indicates that it’s unlikely to be someone I’ve met and just forgotten about (as if I would):

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Just in case you can’t read that last bit, it reads:

can’t wait to get real nasty and show off 🙂 IM REAL MISS WEB CAM!

Reply to the message and immediately you’re asked to share your contact details (a la Skype.) I didn’t risk having Veronica spam all my friends (not sure how that would work, but I’ve got some nice people on my list, and I’d hate for them to be upset.) But I did reply to her message, and her responses were quick, and, dare I say it, felt a trifle automated:

[8:53:55 AM] Veronica sexy says: Hi are U busy?
[9:03:43 AM] Jeremy Wagstaff says: hi
[9:03:50 AM] Veronica sexy says: How are u ?
[9:04:30 AM] Jeremy Wagstaff says: i’m great. who are you?
[9:04:31 AM] Veronica sexy says: I would love to chat with you, come on http://www.SkyperSex.com !!!

[9:04:36 AM] Jeremy Wagstaff says: no thanks
[9:04:37 AM] Veronica sexy says: I would love to chat with you, come on http://www.SkyperSex.com !!!

[9:04:45 AM] Jeremy Wagstaff says: i’m a bit busy. really
[9:04:47 AM] Veronica sexy says: My internet connection  is very bad come on http://www.SkyperSex.com !!!

[9:04:54 AM] Jeremy Wagstaff says: my internet connection is great!

That was the last I head of Veronica, although her scent lingers on.

The web address, by the way, is pretty much what you expect it will be — lots of alleged clips of ladies cavorting. The administrator of the website is one Alexandrof Tiberiu in Moscow, who also owns www.yourlivecams.com.

I guess what’s interesting here is that Skype don’t seem to do much policing of this kind of thing. This could be a sex site spam, or it could be something worse.

(If you want to prevent Veronica getting in touch with you, go into Skype options, Privacy settings, and click on the Show Advanced Options button. Make sure the Allow chats from… option is only people in my Contact List:

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Chances are Veronica won’t come calling. Frankly, your life won’t be the poorer for it.

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Technology Makes You Fit, Not Smart

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I’m trying to use technology as much as possible in my new environment (Singapore), and it’s not working well out that well for me. I have no useful Internet connection, my Nokia N95’s GPS locks in just in time for the journey to finish, and I’m eating off the tops of plastic containers.

Otherwise everything is going well. I’ve just been trying Streetdirectory.com’s useful tool, for example, for arranging trips by public transport. I know I’m not in tiptop condition, but I was slightly unnerved by this step in the nine-step process of going from one part of the island to the other:

You need to walk to Simei Avenue – blk 3012, (Stop Number: 96101) which is 54250m away.
View: Map

By my calculations, that’s a more than 33 mile walk. And I thought Singapore was only 30 miles wide. No wonder everyone here looks fit. And slightly wet.

I think I might take a cab.

Streetdirectory.com Travel: All about Singapore – Travel, Hotels, Vacations

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Backing up hard to do, but worth it

This is an edited version of my weekly column for Loose Wire Service, a service providing print publications with technology writing designed for the general reader. Email me if you’re interested in learning more.

Sometimes it takes something like an earthquake to realize that you’re vulnerable.

Once the ground stops shaking and you’ve begun to sense that your life — and those of your loved one(s) — are not in imminent danger, your thoughts turn to the next most important thing in your world: Your data.

Well, of course, that may not be your exact train of thought, but it’s the general direction. So much of our lives are digital these days — e-mails, music, photos, social lives — the first thing we tend to clutch when we’re in trouble is our cell phone/laptop/external disk drive.

Or at least it should be. So what should you prepare for when things go wrong and you need to evacuate, pronto?

Here, in brief, is how to do it:

Whatever can be online, should be. E-mails, for example, should be on something like Google’s Gmail (or Yahoo!, who have launched a new e-mail service that’s at least as generous in terms of storage as Google’s.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t also keep your e-mails on your own computer, but make sure they are also online. Get in the habit of e-mailing important documents to yourself, as well, so you’ve got an extra copy online.

This means you can evacuate in a relaxed state of mind. Well, as relaxed as you can be fleeing a building that is burning/falling/swaying/no longer strictly speaking a building.

Same goes with photos: Get in the habit of uploading your favorite photos to an online photo album service like Flickr (www.flickr.com), because if there’s one thing you don’t want to lose it’s family snaps.

Sign up for the Pro edition if you’ve got the cash and a fast(ish) Internet connection, since at US$25 a year for unlimited storage it’s a reasonably cheap way of backing up.

Add photos incrementally: Just get into the habit of uploading photos to your Flickr account when you upload them from your camera/cellphone to the computer (I’m assuming you do this; you do do this, right?)

Of course, online options are only good if you’re online. And, tellingly, I’m not right now because there’s a problem with the Internet — and quite a big problem, since even my trusty backup connection is down — so you shouldn’t rely exclusively on connectivity.

(The other problem is that as more of us go digital, we can’t hope to store everything online, because there’s so much of it. Our iPods store 60 GB or more these days, which is still impractical to back up online.)

In which case you need to have a hard drive backup. There are several ways of doing this, but here’s the best one: Back up everything on all the PCs and laptops in your house to one big external drive the size of hardback book, which you can then grab as you exit the building in an orderly manner.

Here’s how to do that:

Maxtor offer a pretty reasonable range of backup hard drives — the cheapest are really just hard drives in a plastic casing (good to prevent damage: hard drives are not as tough as they pretend to be.)

Expect a whopping 500 gigabyte drive to cost you less than $200. Attach the drive to a USB port and you’ve now got a seriously large drive attached to your computer.

Then buy a program called Acronis True Image ($50 from here) and make a backup image of all the computers in your house.

(An image is a sort of snapshot of your computer. It’s faster than backing up individual files, but will still allow you to restore individual files or folders if you need to.)

It’s a little tricky to set up but you’ll get the hang of it, since you’re going to be backing up once a week. (Yes, you are.)

If you think this is too much for you and that the only data you really need to save are a few documents, then get a USB flash drive (those little sticks you can put on a key ring.)

Prices have fallen to the point where they’re a cheap option now for up to four gigabytes. I would recommend the SanDisk Cruzer micro, not only because they don’t have removable caps (which always get lost) but because they include software that make backing up important files easy. (Stick the drive in a USB slot and follow the instructions.)

A word of warning: Think hard about what data you’ve got and what you want to save. It’s easy to forget stuff hidden in an obscure folder.

Get into the habit of saving important files — whether they’re attachments, photos, spreadsheets or whatever — into the same folder. It’ll make finding them to back them up much easier and quicker.

Oh, and try not to wait until the building is swaying/filled with smoke/has moved down the street before actually doing the backing up.

Trust me: You can’t count on thinking as clearly as you might expect.

The Jakarta Post – The Journal of Indonesia Today

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Digital Deliverance

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Last Friday’s Asian WSJ, and the online edition (subscription only, I’m afraid), published a feature I’d been working on for a while: The digital divide. I focused on Newmont’s mine in Sumbawa, in eastern Indonesia, and the company’s limited success in introducing e-business to the locals:

Newmont’s supply-system project is typical of many around Asia — by the private sector, by governments, by grass-roots organizations and international agencies — that attempt to improve the lot of ordinary people by giving them access to technology. But some people are skeptical that top-down projects like this give the people what they really need. In particular, can the dreams of big organizations really match the needs of ordinary individuals, especially when, as is often the case, those individuals aren’t asked what it is that they actually want? The digital divide often reflects wider social issues, and bridging it may represent little more than applying a Band-Aid to a deep-rooted problem.

Of course, Newmont and the company that is responsible for the technical side of the project feel it is a success, which is why they pointed me to it. But it was clear from what I saw on the ground that it has a long way to go to achieving the goals I had been told it had already achieved. A great example of not believing a press release. You have to see it with your own eyes. But not everyone can afford the airfare. Luckily the Journal shelled out for me to go down there and see for myself.

The story took me in all sorts of different directions, though far too few to get a real picture of things. I was quizzing one guy and being somewhat skeptical, I suppose, of the claims made by what I’ve heard call “photo opportunity projects” — big money spent by companies on telecentres in the bush — usually a room with lots of new PCs, the air-conditioning to keep them cool, a big mast to carry a fast Internet connection to a village that doesn’t even have water or basic sanitation. The guy’s answer surprised me.

He said I was the first journalist to ask him more critical questions: “It’s interesting you called us,” he said. “In the past a lot of calls from reporters who are very excited about the technology and want to write about ‘technology saved the world’ type articles, you’re the first to come to us with [questions like] “Are these projects really working”?’

He went on:

In the past you saw a lot of hype about the potential for technology. It’s  a very seductive story – the idea that technology like the Internet can fundamentally change the lives of people who are bringing in a $1 a day. But that needs to be mediated with a certain amount of realism… There might be a sudden kind of backlash against these projects. Although I do think there’s lot of potential for technology, it just needs to be done in a very careful realistic way.

(He was speaking on the record but I’ve not done a detailed check on my notes so these words may not be a verbatim quote, so I won’t name him.)

He concluded that my questions were “an indication the worldwide community is becoming more mature about these kinds of projects.” I would be flattered to think so, but I’m not so sure. Most of these projects are in faraway places — even ones in Indonesia I wanted to check up on I couldn’t reach, either because of cost or time. When they’re opened, with great fanfare, journalists are flown in at great expense and everyone involved gets the press they want. But who goes back to check?

One conclusion I reached from doing the story is that not enough people write about what is a huge topic. Technology permeates our developed (and developed pockets of the developing) world lives in ways we rarely stop to count or critically evaluate. Another is that when we do cover it we journalists tend to assume it’s all good — as if any kind of new technology is better for everyone than no technology, and that the intentions, the motives, behind any such introduction are good.

Well, frankly, they’re not. In most cases the company or institution behind it has much less interest in the suitability of the project than their own internal goals — publicity, places to dump money that’s already been earmarked for corporate social responsibility, even just testing out technology in new environments. Rarely, if ever, are the local people consulted and their wishes really listened to and taken into account. Of course, knowing whether these projects are worthwhile in the long run would require independent folk — journalists, academics — visiting them and measuring their progress or lack of it against the original targets. But most of us can’t afford to do that, so we rely on the companies or institutions themselves to post updates.

It’s telling, to me, that most don’t. I found it very hard to get a sense, an honest appraisal, of what had happened to the projects I looked at. Which to me is evidence that a lot of these projects can’t be considered a success.

Digital Deliverance – WSJ.com

The Hotel Wi-Fi Pit

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I’ve never had a really good experience with hotel Wi-Fi. The connections are slow, inconsistent and quite often just not there. Seems like I’m not the only one. Why is this? And why do hotels persist with offering only wireless when most of them are fully equipped with cable outlets too? How can you tell before you check in whether a hotel’s Internet connection is worth the name?

Hotel To Guests: Use Skype

It seems that hotels are finally making the best of a bad thing and realising the old days of fleecing their guests with overpriced phone calls are past. In fact, one hotel is suggesting that in fact it is on the customer’s side, if this ad from today’s IHT by Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels is anything to go by:

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The wording is “Consider subscribing to Skype – the free Internet vocal communications service. It could save you a small fortune in long-distance mobile phone charges.” Note the ‘mobile’ inserted here, implying that it’s mobile operators who alone have been the culprit. Indeed, it would be interesting to see whether this isn’t some fiendish plot to get guests to pay for in-room Internet services.

Staying at the (otherwise magnificent) Conrad in Bali’s Nusa Dua a few weeks back (yes, it’s a hard life), for example, I was surprised by having to pay about $10 for an hour’s Internet connection which was slower than a blood-drunk mosquito. (Tip: just piggy back the lobby Wifi if you can. It sucks, but no more or less than the connection in the room):

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I’ve asked the Shangri-La’s PR for details about the Skype ad and their Internet charges (if any.) I’ll post their comments once I hear back.

The Defense Minister’s Blog

I’m much amused that news that Juwono Sudarsono, a lovely man and Indonesia’s defense minister, has started blogging has hit the blogosphere. This from Shel Israel, co-author of naked conversations:

Yesterday, I wrote a piece about politician blogging. Today, I realized how very myopic that post was because I wrote only about American politicos and cited Independence Day. This came to my attention today through the Jakarta Post, where reporter Ong Hock Chuan mentions Naked Conversations in an article about Indonesia’s Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has started a blog.

Sudarsono’s most recent post deals with striking candor of the challenges of getting bureaucrats who clicked their heals in obedience under past government dictators to move with efficacy in the new democracy. His language remains a bit formal, but the content is pretty impressive stuff.

Blogging really is changing the world. I’m happy to be reminded of how much.

This even got picked up by a blogger at the World Bank (yes, I know! Whatever next?) who says it might be a hoax. It’s not; it’s legit. The site is held together by one of Juwono’s sons.

Actually, it is an important development, but with all due respect to Shel, Ong (who started all this discussion) and to the Bank, it’s probably a bit early to cite it as an example of blogging changing the world. Juwono is a very well respected figure in Indonesian politics, but he has always trod a lonely furrow. As far as I know he’s the first senior figure in either business or government in this country who has embarked on this initiative, and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops. He is engaging a young Indonesian audience and a foreign readership who remain understandably skeptical of the country’s leadership and direction. What he is not able to do through a blog is to engage the 200 million odd Indonesians who don’t have access to a computer, an Internet connection or English lessons. What is impressive, however, is that Juwono has replied to those people commenting on his blog (twice, on this post) so this is a good start. Congratulations, Pak.