Tag Archives: Seattle

Using LinkedIn to Research Spies Like Us

image

Several of the 11 alleged Russian spies leave interesting imprints on LinkedIn, suggesting rewarding pickings for journalists.

Donald Heathfield, for example, had 74 connections.

His specialities sound like they could equally applied to espionage:

Comprehensive management of Risks and Uncertainties, Anticipatory Leadership, Building of Future Scenarios, Development and Execution of Future Strategies, Capture of Strategic Opportunities, Global Account Management

Amusing to hear the recommendations:

“Refreshing to work with him as he puts complexe initiatives together that always fits with the end goal that was laid out as our objective.” November 3, 2008

Gerard Bridi, President, Accor Services WiredCommute
was with another company when working with Don at Future Map

“Working with Don is very enjoyable. He has a pleasant style, whilst always acting professionally. Very results and solutions focused. He does not get flustered when problems occur, patiently facilitating teams to craft a way through to their end goal.” November 2, 2008

Top qualities: Great Results, Personable, Expert

image

Tracey Foley (Ann Foley), Heathfield’s wife, doesn’t have so many connections (20) but she’s a member of many groups—including four French related one and a Singapore group one. We know that Heathfield had connections in Singapore and Jakarta. Something to explore there?

Michael Zottoli appears to have a LinkedIn account, but only 10 connections and hasn’t updated it since his move from Seattle to Virginia. Patricia Mills, his wife, doesn’t seem to have a LinkedIn account.

Mikhail Semenko had 124 connections, a twitter account (10 followers, 3 tweets) and a blog about China (one post talks about the need for greater Russia China cooperation).

Richard/Cynthia Murphy NJ. Cynthia has 98 connections on LinkedIn and is a member of three groups. Christopher Metsos has no LinkedIn page that I could find.

Anna Chapman’s public profile seems to have been removed. But her main profile is still active, (you can also find it here.) and indeed, her company, PropertyFinder Ltd, has a similar name to Ann Foley’s public LinkedIn profile page: homefinder. A link there, maybe?

Her twitter feed stops abruptly on June 26 at 4.46 am (and yet wasn’t arrested until June 28. I guess she took the weekend off.) She was following a lot more people than were following her (687 vs 277, but she was really only just getting going: After tweeting first on March 13, she didn’t do much until June 16, after which she was tweeting every few hours. Could something have prompted her into more frequent updates?)

She also has a number of recommendations, from Said Abdullaev, a VP of Moscow-based Fortis Investments, who offered this:

“Anna’s entrepreneurial flair does not cease to amaze me, she sees opportunities in places were most would not think to look, and she makes them work.” November 24, 2009

Murdoch’s Search Engine

It’s interesting to see how Rupert Murdoch has come around to the Internet, although it does have something of the feel of the late 1990s to it: Bloomberg.com reports that

News Corp., the fourth-largest media company, is in talks to buy a controlling interest in an Internet search engine as the company seeks to build advertising sales on the Web.

The investment would be in “what we think is a wonderful search engine,” News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, 74, said yesterday on a conference call with analysts after the company announced earnings. Murdoch said the price will be  “insignificant’” and declined to identify the business.

This is part of a $2 billion push in into the Internet, which seems to centre on plans for

a site featuring a search engine and links to Web pages focusing on News Corp.’s movie, television and sports businesses, Murdoch said. “We already have the assets to be a dominant player on the Web,” Murdoch said.

That sounds horribly like a portal of old, to me. I do hope Murdoch gets the Internet, and isn’t just grabbing it.

News Corp., Bloomberg says, has bought Intermix Media Inc. for $580 million, owner of the Web sites Flowgo.Com and My Space.com, and has also recently purchased Australian real estate Web site Real Estate.com.au for $92 million, and Scout Media Inc., a Seattle-based owner of 200 sports Web sits and 47 magazines for about $60 million.

Clips In Space

I love Clip-N-Seals. I wrote about them in a column, and bought a bunch from Amazon, and they keep chips (what I call crisps) fresh for months on end. Amazing, really, for two bits of plastic.

Anyway, they’re going to space, according to Seattle PI’s Insider: NASA buys bag clips, but lips are sealed on their use:

TO CONTAIN ALIEN LIFE FORMS, MAYBE?: Textura Design, a home-based startup in West Seattle, since late 2002 has produced a humble but clever device for resealing plastic bags, called Clip-N-Seal. The soft plastic rod-and-clip device has attracted attention from dairies, manufacturers and the military, among other customers.

Now the Clip-N-Seal (three for $4.99, available in four sizes) may be going into outer space, says company founder D.L. Byron, 38. The company shipped a dozen 40-inch-long Clip-N-Seals, at $7 apiece, to NASA earlier this month.

NASA won’t say when, or whether, or how the clips will be used. The next opportunity they’ll have to fly is aboard the shuttle Discovery when it launches sometime between July 13 and July 31– depending on weather conditions — to resupply the International Space Station. “All NASA will say is they’re for a large object,” Byron said.

The British Antarctic Survey is also considering the clips for use on its next mission. “Not bad for something we invented to keep potato chips fresh,” he said.

Excellent. It’s good to see good products go places. Like Space.

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.

The Slashdot Report Part I

This week’s column is about The Slashdot Effect, (subscription only, I’m afraid) which I’ll mention in more detail in subsequent postings. This first supplement is about the commercial potential of blogs, and a case study those of you reading blogs will probably already know about:

Is it possible to harness this new kind of information flow for business ends? You bet. But it’s not easy. Here’s one success story, and it has as much to with patience and luck as budgets. DL Byron, principal of Seattle-based of website designer Textura Design Inc, came up with an idea for a better way to seal plastic bags – the Clip-n-Seal. He used Clip-n-Seal’s own blog to talk about the product, and told one or two of his blogging friends, who blogged and told their friends, until one day they hit the mother lode: Boing Boing, and two similar other big directory sites. Retail sales went through the roof, but that was just the beginning. “Great for traffic,” Byron recalls, ” but what really happened was a new market found us that we never anticipated.” As Clip-n-Seal climbed the Google search page ranks, industrial customers discovered them and suddenly organizations from crime scene policemen to biomedical companies were placing orders. Byron’s conclusion: Better to spend time on getting noticed in the blogosphere than spend money on traditional advertising. “I can say from our experience that a blog post will outsell a ad. Guaranteed.”

Thanks For Reading My Email for 13 Minutes In Wisconsin

Just when I started agonizing about the privacy aspects of MessageTag, a company has come along with a service that makes the mail-receipt monitoring service look like chicken-feed.

MessageTag allows users to see whether and when their emails have been read by recipients. It does this by inserting what privacy advocates called a web-bug into the email — a unique link, basically, that checks back to the MessageTag servers and matches it with the original email. The sender will then be notified as to when the email was opened.

I have to confess I find it an excellent service, and I use it, along with a message at the bottom of each email informing the recipient I’m doing it and offering not to if it offends them. Few ask me to remove them, an indication they either don’t object or they don’t read all the way through my emails. But despite finding it a huge timesaver — knowing whether an email’s landed safely, and whether to expect a reply any time soon makes life a lot easier — I still worry it’s too intrusive. Is it fair to make the process one the recipient must not first approve? MessageTag, to their credit, have acknowledged these concerns and have built in some safeguards, including limiting the service to individual emails. But is it enough?

As I was juggling all this, word comes by of a new service that can tell you not only if and when your email has been opened, but approximately where the reader is located and how long they read the email for. If they open it again, or forward the message, you’ll also be informed (it’s not clear whether the original sender is informed as to who the email is forwarded to). What’s more, DidTheyReadIt is invisible, meaning, in their own words, “every e-mail that you send is invisibly tracked so that the recipients will never know you’re using didtheyreadit”.

Privacy aside, for the moment, you can imagine the social fallout from this. “Jean only read my email for two minutes, and she read it in Utah when she said she was in Seattle. The cheatin’, lyin’ skunk!” Or “Brian has read my email 14 times and he still hasn’t replied! Is he trying to break up with me?” Or “That love note I sent Sandra in personnel has been forwarded to 64 people! I’m the laughing stock of the office!” (OK, there are probably easier ways to find out if you’re the laughing stock of the office. But you get the idea.)

The company behind the service is a Florida-based company called Rampell Software, whose other products include keyboard loggers such as Spector, ”the most advanced computer monitoring application” for Macs (“Spector locally (and secretly) records everything you do on your computer”). Then there’s ViewRemote (“record everything that happens on your computer and watch it from any other computer in the world!”). Clearly Rampell has some experience in the field of stealth software. I can see warning flags being raised all over the place already, and the company’s privacy policy, as it stands, is not comprehensive or specific enough to be reassuring. Perhaps it will be before the official launch.

DidTheyReadIt works slightly differently to MessageTag. Once you’ve signed up and installed the software, you add an extra didtheyreadit.com to any email you send out that you want to track. So joe@sixpack.com becomes joe@sixpack.com.didtheyreadit.com. There’s not enough information on the website to say more than that. Indeed, there’s a lot that’s not on the website, and which I think we need to know before assessing DidTheyReadIt. Such as:

  • How can the user alert recipients to the fact he’s using the service and what it entails?
  • How will the email addresses harvested by Rampell be used?
  • Why is the service invisible by default?
  • How will Rampell prevent this service being used by spammers and other mass-mail marketers?

The service will be officially launched later this month. The basic version of DidTheyReadIt is free, but is limited to 5 messages. Subscriptions cost $10 a month, $40 a half-year or $50 for the whole year.

I’d be interested in hearing from folk (lwire at jeremywagstaff.com) about whether they think there’s a line here that could allow services like MessageTag to thrive without sacrificing privacy — such as allowing users to choose whether they acknowledge receiving an email, without requiring much effort on their part, perhaps– or whether DidTheyReadIt just throws into sharp relief that this sort of thing is unacceptable to most folk and should be stopped. I’ll also forward this to Rampell to see if they have any comments.

Grab Some Joe, Burn A CD

Burn and Foam.

Starbucks is now offering a service where customers can browse music on computers in their outlets and then burn a CD of the music they like. Using its own Hear Music brand, Starbucks has launched the service in its new Hear Music Coffeehouse in Santa Monica, Calif. The service will be extended to 10 stores in Seattle later this year. Customers can browse more than 20,000 full-length albums and hundreds of thousands of songs on 70 Tablet PCs.

I’m afraid the press release, though long on background, is short on specifics about how much the service costs, and what format the music is in. Founded in 1990, and acquired by Starbucks Coffee Company in 1999, Hear Music boasts a catalog of nearly 100 CD compilations, handpicking “songs from new and classic records to create CDs that help people discover music they might not hear otherwise”.

Electronic Voting And The Criminal Connection

The story of electronic voting machines, and the company that makes many of them, continues to roll along. I wrote in a column a few weeks back (Beware E-Voting, 20 November 2003, Far Eastern Economic Review; subscription required) about Bev Harris, a 52-year old grandmother from near Seattle, who discovered 40,000 computer files at the website of a Diebold Inc subsidiary, Global Elections Systems Inc, beginning a public campaign against a company she believed was responsible for a seriously flawed e-voting system., already in use in several states.

Anyway, now she’s turned up more explosive material, it seems. The Associated Press yesterday quoted her as saying that managers of Global Elections Systems “included a cocaine trafficker, a man who conducted fraudulent stock transactions, and a programmer jailed for falsifying computer records”. The programmer, Jeffrey Dean, AP reports, wrote and maintained proprietary code used to count hundreds of thousands of votes as senior vice president of Global Election Systems Inc. Previously, according to a public court document released before GES hired him, Dean served time in a Washington correctional facility for stealing money and tampering with computer files in a scheme that “involved a high degree of sophistication and planning.”

Needless to say this is all somewhat worrying. When I followed the story I tried to concern myself merely with the technological aspects, which were pretty worrying in themselves; The e-voting system being pushed by Diebold seemed to have too many security flaws to be usable in its present state. But Ms. Harris’ digging seems to reveal a company that is, to put it tactfully, less than thorough in its background checks.

So what’s Diebold’s version? AP quoted a company spokesman as saying that the company performs background checks on all managers and programmers. He also said many GES managers left at the time of the acquisition. “We can’t speak for the hiring process of a company before we acquired it”. Acccording to Ms. Harris’ website, however, that’s misleading. Quoting a memo issued shortly after Diebold bought GES in early 2002, Dean had “elected to maintain his affiliation with the company in a consulting role”. Diebold, the memo says, “greatly values Jeff’s contribution to this business and is looking forward to his continued expertise in this market place”. AP said Dean could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon and I cannot find any subsequent report online.

It’s hard to see how Diebold is going to recover from what has been a series of body blows to its credibility in such a sensitive field as voting. The same day as Ms. Harris revealed her latest bombshell, the company announced “a complete restructuring of the way the company handles qualification and certification processes for its software, hardware and firmware”. Diebold hopes the announcement will “ensure the public’s confidence that all of our hardware, software and firmware products are fully certified and qualified by all of the appropriate federal, state and local authorities prior to use in any election”.

Clearly the whole fracas has done serious damage to public confidence in electronic voting. But it’s important to keep perspective. There’s nothing wrong intrinsically with e-voting — it’s a sensible way to speed up the process, make it easier for citizens and, perhaps, to extend the use of such mechanisms to allow the population to have a greater and more regular say in how their lives are governed. But like every technological innovation, it’s got to be done right, by the right people, with the right checks and balances built in, and it can’t be done quickly and shoddily. Most importantly, it’s got to be done transparently, and those involved in building the machines must never be allowed to conceal their incompetence by preventing others from inspecting their work and assessing its worthiness.

For details of Ms. Harris allegations, check out her website Blackbox Voting. A summary of the press conference is here, as are the supporting documents (both PDF files.)

Update: AlphaSmart to go wireless

 The folk at AlphaSmart tell me that yesterday they showed off the next generation version of Dana, the cool word-processing keyboard I reviewed a few weeks ago, at the National Educating Computer Conference in Seattle. (Their website has no details so far.)
 
 
The new model offers built-in Wi-Fi technology (802.11b), allowing Dana users to access email and the Internet wirelessly. AlphaSmart will launch the model before the next school year and hope this will “enhance Dana?s position as a true laptop alternative”. Dana Wireless also offers a better display and additional fonts.