June 26, 2009

"Green Dam" vs Cybersitter

There's a quote attributed to Henry Kissinger about the Iran-Iraq war, where he said, "the ultimate American interest in the war [is] that both should lose.". I feel that way about the conflict with Cybersitter censorware company versus China's "Green Dam" censorware.

I've sat out the whole "Green Dam" China censorware story. There's many prominent organizations doing reports, and an abundance of punditry. There's zero point in at best my duplicating the effort of those with far more resources and reach, and at worst wasting my time (as well as quite possibly hurting my life).

I do want to comment on just one specific aspect, the whine:

This isn't the first time Solid Oak's code has been stolen, Milburn said. In the late 1990s, hackers reverse-engineered CyberSitter, which prevents underage children from accessing pornography or other adult content, to allow users to access such content.

The hackers, as well as other detractors, have previously accused Solid Oak and CyberSitter of censoring the Internet. "That's why we don't want to be associated with it," Milburn said of Green Dam.

I don't think they mean "hackers" in the positive sense of the word. I think a more relevant term is "civil-libertarian software engineer activists" Note reverse-engineering Cybersitter[update: is should be] legal. And Solid Oak had the "CYBERsitter Partners Program"

The new CYBERsitter Partners Program allows concerned organizations to create and maintain their own lists of objectionable Internet sites for either private or public distribution. This gives CYBERsitter users several blocking lists to choose from, selecting ones that more accurately reflect their needs.

Third party blocking lists can be used in addition to the default CYBERsitter lists or as a replacement. Each time users update their files on-line, the index of available lists is updated. Users need only click on the lists they desire to use and they are maintained automatically.

As I've said, from a technical standpoint:

"if parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments will be able to limit what citizens can see. And the other side is if citizen governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 26, 2009 10:05 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson's Nose post revisited

A long time ago, I wrote about Michael Jackson's nose. This was an attempted debunking of extensive echoes that his nose had been butchered from surgery. The nonsense arose from what was just a bad photographic angle of some pieces of tape on his face.

For quite a while, that post was the most popular item on my entire site, since it ended up being highly ranked for a Google search on the words [Michael Jackson Nose].

There's a lesson there.

Now, obviously, people are going to say "What did you expect? Of course writing about celebrities draws in the hits. But did you want to be a gossip-blogger? It's not useful traffic anyway".

Which is all true. But I think it misses the point about incentives, and what's rewarded in blogging. Anyway, I've said it before. But I'll confess curiosity at how this post will fare in terms of traffic.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on June 25, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 17, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on debunking "USB-powered microwave"

"Far too often, new media serves up popularity without accuracy"

"Check your serving of online news for factual accuracy before you give it a taste"

I sadly suspect I'm going to get grief for that title, it was done by an editor. It'll likely set off people's bloggers-versus-journalists reflex. In my column, I specifically wrote "This isn't about bloggers v journalists". But ironically, knee-jerking about that is what's going to bring in the page-views.

What I was trying to illuminate in this column was how the idea of "self-correcting bogosphere" was utter bunk. And, critically, the hucksters who peddle it should have no credibility by now. I'm hardly the first to say that, but there's some value here in a simple case study (that's also not a political firestorm).

It doesn't mean professional journalists were always right (I can see the Attack Of The Strawmen coming on). We knew that already. It means these issues are serious matters that shouldn't be waved away with technomarketingbabble.

On the bright side, I finally got to use a joke I've been wanting to tell for a while.

Blog bonus, here's part of my email to the inventor, talking about the energy issues. He indicates he couldn't discuss the technology in detail, due to various

I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for the energy involved:

1 calorie = raise 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius
1 calorie = 4.184 joules
Snap Pots = 200g of water, as an approximation

200g water * raise 50 C = 10000 calories = 10^4 calories = 4.184 x 10^4 joules
1 watt-hour = 3.6 x 10^3 joules
So 4.184 x 10^4 joules =~ 11.6 watt-hours

Laptop batteries are around 60 watt-hours or so. So while this doesn't break the laws of physics, discharging 11.6 watt-hours from a laptop-type battery in 60 seconds seems problematic. I'd *joke* the microwave part may not work, rather it's in fact the heat from shorting the battery, making this a battery-powered electric oven.

Assuming the battery is in the base, there does seem to be an energy capacity problem.

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein | guardian.co.uk.]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo , press | on June 17, 2009 08:32 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 09, 2009

DEBUNKING USB-powered microwave story

[Original reporting! Not an echo!]

A UK tabloid story has set off a round of uncritical echoing of a ludicrous claim:

It is the world's smallest, portable microwave and can be powered via a link to the USB port on a laptop computer.

The turquoise device - called the Beanzawave - has been created in partnership with Heinz to allow workers tied to their desks to create a warm snack, or hot drink, to see them through the day.

I realize I am expecting too much for anyone in the echoing chain to say "But how is that possible?", as popularity wins over accuracy. But it's still a sad result.

For non-technical people, here's a short description of the problem:

Water takes a relatively large amount of energy to heat up (Microwave ovens typically use many hundred of Watts of power, 1100 Watts is common). USB ports supply very little energy (2.5 Watts of power). Without needing to do any complicated calculations, the scales just don't match.

So I mailed the company and asked them about this:

Dear Sirs

I am a blogger who has read the articles about the "Beanzawave", where supposedly a USB port powered device can heat a small food portion.

"Apart from its size, the key breakthrough is the use of a combination of mobile phone radio frequencies to create the heat to cook both on the outside and within in under a minute."

I don't understand what is meant by this. Even at 100% transfer efficiency, the total energy drawable in a minute from a USB port (which can supply around 2.5 Watts) is not enough to significantly heat even a small food portion.

Assuming that the news reports garbled whatever you were trying to say, would you be kind enough to clarify the idea?

[I received a prompt response]

The USB port is used for control purposes only. Oven is powered by appropriate sized Lithium-ion batteries, which can be mains supplied and/or recharged. It is the mobile phone frequencies that utilise prior long-term existing 900MHz (industrial) and 2450MHz (consumer) ISM approved microwave oven frequencies. I assure you we have sufficient power to effectively heat small type hand-snack food products.

Thanks your concern and interest ... Gordon Andrews

[end reply]

So, there you have it. With some big batteries and high efficiency, maybe they can make it work. But it's sure not going to be using just the power of the USB port.

Tell me again about how expert's blogs are going to rule the media world :-( (as opposed to the reality of "Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest")

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in journo | on June 09, 2009 04:48 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 02, 2009

Harvard Business: "New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets"

"New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets", a blog post at Harvard Business, has some results which are sweet vindication of my recent _Guardian_ Twitter column.

They said it, not me:

"This implies that Twitter's resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network."

The article in parts says (my very loose paraphrase) that Twitter is used by BigHeads to pontificate - they write and the audience reads. The authors seem somewhat surprised at a gender imbalance, but I suspect that's an artifact from most of the BigHeads being male.

My column brought me a lot of grief, and I see some of the same reactions starting in to this piece. Most notably, the you-can-CHAT! chorus. And one answer to that is perhaps in this column by Bobbie Johnson: How much is it worth to be one of Twitter's suggested users?

Plus, some of the resentment is driven - even if they don't admit it - by the fact that a lot of people really consider Twitter as a competition to gain the biggest audience. It's professionally useful to them to have more followers than other people - and, in many cases, they believe that they are being cheated out of their rightful position inside the social network. ... [snip]

And some have too much of their personal or professional reputation staked on being successful in these sorts of arenas. Hard to sell yourself as a social media guru if any old celebrity can get more Twitter followers than you without even trying.

A few days ago, I did a brief appearance on a talk-radio program (the Angie Coiro show), being critical of Twitter. She wondered if I'd feel the same way about Twitter in a year. I replied approximately that I almost certainly would, as I'd gone though the delusions of blogging, and I wasn't going to get fooled again.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 02, 2009 06:27 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)