Monday, December 10, 2007

Why the Internet can be a scary place

Hey Everyone, I am sorry for not posting in a while. I wanted to share a strange experience with you guys. A few days ago, I typed in what I thought was a valid URL. It turns out, it wasn't. But instead of getting the IE 'Can't connect to server' error message, or a Google Search for the domain name, I wound up getting redirected to my ISP's search Page!

So I guess all of the money that I and others pay our ISP each month isn't nearly enough for them - that's why they need to hijack my browser and suggest alternative search results so I click on their advertising links. Yes, I can disable it, but that's not the point. It's just another way that the big ISPs can stick it to the little guy, with the ignorant not knowing that they're being watched.

What makes this really scary is that this can easily be done on their servers without our knowledge. Imagine if you will, a wi-fi network operator does this very thing - i.e. they force a redirect for not found pages and domains to their search engine. Yes, it's a nice way to generate some revenue to support a free network, but at the same time, as a consumer of that service, you need to wonder aloud if there are other things that they can be doing with your network traffic that you don't know about?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Finally the World Has Caught Up

A couple of years ago, I made a comment to the effect of how I was unimpressed with Ajax, to the extent that I had been working with some of the technologies that helped spawn AJAX as early as 1998. In those days (1997-2001) I was jaded, because I worked for a company called Knowledge Strategies Group, and one of my key responsibilities was to live on the cutting edge of technology and how to apply it to both the emerging e-commerce world, but also finding synergies that would tie the e-commerce world to traditional bricks-and-mortar stores. We had all kinds of crazy ideas - some which were ultimately realized, and some which were not, but the bottom line was that all of us working there, from the founders all the way down the totem pole, that it was only a matter of time before companies would create a viable business model to unite the two.


Fast forward 6 years later. I walked into Starbucks this morning, just like I do on many other occasions, but something was very different today. With my overpriced cup of coffee, I also received a little card. The card was good for a download on iTunes. Apparently as part of the new deal between Starbucks and Apple, each purchase at Starbucks will come with a free download from now until November. In addition, Starbucks is opening up its wireless access points to offer free access to the iTunes music store for Computers as well as the iPod Touch and iPhone. The premise of course is to use in-store displays to drive traffic and sales to iTunes. Starbucks has been selling music for quite some time, but can now do so with less production costs, and better support. In fact, I also noticed today that the in-store CD's that Starbucks has been selling for years, have now been replaced with cards to redeem those albums online. Yes, this is reflective of the paradigm shift in music listening patterns, but still, it is an amazing extension of the retail store to the online world, and a brand-booster for both Apple and Starbucks!

What's even more interesting, it seems that the service offered is location-aware too! In the sense that you can see what song is currently playing in-store, and/or purchase recently played songs using iTunes.


I hope that this program proves successful, as I know that it will be the first of many similar ventures coming our way.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And while we're on the topic of Video Convergence

Alienware (one of my favorite computer companies! - if anyone from Alienware is reading this, feel free to send me a laptop!) released it's Hangar 18 media center today. Granted, it is a lot more expensive than an Apple TV, but it is also a lot more full-featured.

Regardless of the flavor of your video, or TV-connected peripheral, it all points to convergence.

My local TV providers - YouTube and Apple!

A the D5 conference last week, Steve Jobs announced that AppleTV will soon release a plug-in to view YouTube videos on your AppleTV. My first thoughts were - big deal, who really cares. If I wasn't ready to plunk down $300-400 for a device that can play iTunes videos, adding little Johnny and Jane's foibles wasn't going to make an iota of difference.

But then today, the Boy Genius Report announced that YouTube is going to begin offering local TV. As I read this, I thought back to a post I made here, more than 3 years ago!

I can now buy an Apple TV, take it anywhere, and it has content on it, and can also access local TV! Its only a matter of time before people start to realize this, and as local TV becomes more available on line.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Palm Foleo - and why don't like it.

Just a few short minutes ago, Palm's Jeff Hawkins announced the company's new Foleo - a mobile companion, if you will. Granted it's still early, but I just don't get it. In a video on the company's site in which Hawkins describes the vision of the Foleo, he states "It's not just an accessory". Personally, I can't see how it is anything more than just that.

As far as I can tell, the folio is simply a wireless keyboard and monitor for your smart phone (Palm or otherwise). Even if it works with 90% of the PDAs and SmartPhones out there (think iPhone, BlackBerry), I can't see it being successful, and here are the reasons why:

  • It's Not Innovative - 4 years ago, I saw a presentation by microsoft illustrating how a PDA would go from someone's home, to their car, to their office. In the home, the PDA information was broadcast on the screen. In the car, voicemail playback was initiated, and information popped-up on an in-dash display. In the office, the PDA synced up with a Keyboard and a 3-screen wraparound LCD. I can already get bluetooth keyboards for most PDAs - Windows Mobile and Blackberry alike - how long do you think it will be before a group of PDA manufacturers come out with a device the size of a USB dongle that can connect to my PDA and allow me to use any standard Keyboard or Monitor of my choosing?
  • Where does it fit in? - I'm not sure who this device is for. Is it for the corporate user who needs a bigger screen and keyboard, but doesn't want to lug a full laptop? There are so many thin and lights on the market today, that I can't imagine that group being large enough. While many users the world over can get buy with just e-mail attachements and web browsing, I can't see them dumping PCs for what is tantamount to an overpriced display and keyboard.
  • Too easy to copy - Patented or not, within 6 months there will be taiwan knockoffs of this, and they'll work with Blackberries and iPhones.
I wish Palm well, but this doesn't seem like it will ressurect Palm from the dead.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

If Michael Dell isn't using Vista why should I?

Someone slashdotted a page from the Dell website that identifies the computers that Michael Dell uses ( . Interestingly enough, not a one of them is using Windows Vista? What does that say when the founder of one of the world's largest PC companies isn't using Microsoft's latest?

He is also using Ubuntu on one of his machines too.

I wonder if Bill Gates is using Vista, or if he is waiting for the first couple of service packs like everyone else.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The bizarre and macabre world of Skype Phones

Okay, so I wasn't too kind to Skype's new Prime feature yesterday, however, I am a big fan of Skype overall. I have now replaced my 'landline replacement' phone service at home with Skype (I am still using an Ol' Skool POTS line for most calls), and I have found the quality to be pretty darn good. Recently, I have been coming across a wide swath of Skype Phones and devices, and they range from the normal to the quite eccentric. While Skype's own Gear Blog seems to provide good insight and reviews on the latest and greatest products for Skype, I thought I would take a specific look at some of the more 'portable' gadgets for Skype, since many of us Skype users travel with our laptops and use Skype to call home from whereever we are at the moment. Obviously, we all like to travel light, so here are some interesting, if not weird options:

1. The Sony USB Mouse Phone (above Right), if you normally lug a mouse with you on the road, this option is essentially a mouse the folds open into a phone. This is very stealthy looking device, and it very sexy and functional in the classic sony style, but it begs the one question: Let's say I'm on the Skype Call, how do I use my computer?

Next up is the Panasonic Skype Router phone. Panasonic followed the lead of others like D-Link and Linksys and created a travel router. These small form factor routers are designed for travelers to create a hotspot out of your hotel room's wired connection. This one also comes with a Skype Phone as well (however, it is unclear to me if this is a true wi-fi skype phone than can be used with any open hotspot, or if it will only work with this hotspot). Again, an interesting concept, complete with a leather travel case, but do you really want to shlep this around on business trips, when you can by the Belkin or Netgear phones for less?

Finally, the Kensington's PC Card phone rounds out this interesting trio. Essentially, this is a bluetooth Skype Handset. No LCD, nothing fancy, just your average bluetooth headset but in a handset form factor. But here is the kicker - it fits into a PC card slot and charges itself off of your computer's battery - I smell a winner.

If by chance you make skype gadgets, and you want me to review one, please feel free to contact me :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

The good and the bad of Skype Prime

Last week Skype announced Skype Prime. In a nutshell, Skype prime allows individuals to run their own pay-per-use or pay-per-minute VoIP services. I have not tried this service yet, but I can already realize how this is both a great and potentially bad thing:

What makes it great? It makes it very simple for you to offer premium phone services to the Skype community. You could offer tech support or homework help for $0.50 a minute or you could offer a daily joke for a $1 a call. Or, you can charge certain people more money to call you so that they don't call you every 3 seconds. While not necessarily good, although not necessarily bad, I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a huge porn venue (heck, you can charge for video calls, I would be surprised if someone didn't start such as service already). But then there are the downsides.

Imagine if you will that you initiate a call legitimately to a 'Prime' provider and you accept their fees, but then feel you didn't get what you were promised? Or you agreed to a high per-minute rate and felt that they were prolonging the call? What is your medium for dispute? How are both buyer and seller protected? (funny, doesn't this sound a lot like eBay issues?)

Worse than that, I am sure that it won't be long before folks find illegitimate ways to profit from this. For example, a malicious user could theoretically force you to download a skype Plug-in that randomly calls a 'prime' service and eats away your credits. They wouldn't even have to rob you blind - they could extract 10 or 20 cents from a few hundred thousand people and still make some serious cash. Or, they could offer prime services in some obscure currency that masks the real rate and makes the service seem cheaper. In the former case, it would cause skype to change the rules and permissions for writing extras, thereby eliminating some of those skype extras that are legitimate.

While I think that this has a lot of potential on the upside, the downside of it is really scary, and I hope the Beta Period Helps Skype figure out how to address some of the security concerns.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

If only it came in my Toyota

BMW and Google announced today that you can now send Google maps directions and info straight from Google Maps to the BMW's Assist GPS system. While the likelihood of me ever owning a Bimmer is slim, this shows that Car manufacturers are embracing technology more and more. C|Net now even offers a Car Tech site, where they review all of the latest in-car technology. It seems that every car now has a factory-installed Bluetooth hands-free option that let's you talk over the stereo system, and many more offer various iPod and MP3 intergration options. Still, the Bimmer is probably one of the first to be net-connected.

Interestingly enough, about 3 years ago, I was at a conference and saw a presentation by someone from Microsoft regarding where they felt mobile technology was going. The presentation showed a demo of someone walking into his car and having it automatically recognize his PDA. The car could read incoming e-mails and voicemails (integrated into one inbox) and could also access the PDA's contact database to make phone calls via voice dialing.

While we are not quite there yet, we've definitely come a long way baby!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tell me something I didn't already know.

C|Net today reports that Symantec has just published some research performed by scientists at the University of Indiana that exposes a possible vulnerability of consumer routers. As King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Since they came onto the market, home routers have had many a security hole. Something that many people have (myself included) have been warning about for years. However, this research simply shows a practical attack that is very simple to pull off.

In a nutshell, they put together some simple JavaScript/Java code that logs on to your router and changes your DNS settings. In doing so, attackers could say, re-route your requests to say, your banks website so that when you type in - you are really logging in to their phishing site, and you wouldn't know the difference, as even most existing phishing filters would be fooled. (You can get a full PDF here: ).

Of course, this is just scratching the surface. For example, there are certain brands of routers that use GPL'd code, and make the source code available on their websites. Are truly enterprising Hacker could - download this code, and use a similar method to upload it to replace your router's firmware. The changes could be almost invisible to the end-user, but far more malicious. Why? Think about what those attackers could do.

They could easily modify the router's code to capture and/or intercept all web traffic coming through the router. On the benign side they could, say, re-write Google's ads with their own. On the more malicious side, they could easily capture passwords, credit card numbers and more. Or find other ways of using your web viewing habits against you. They could also forgo the use of computers as 'Zombies' for DDOS attacks, and put them straight on the router. Even worse, they can make the traffic appear as if its coming from any of the PC's on your network.

What's even worse - they don't need to exploit the default password or an uprotected wi-fi network. They can simply publish their code on their website and tout that they have a
'high-performance' version of the firmware.

Granted wi-fi routers are great, and provide tremendous benefit for their owners, I hope that this research will enable manufacturers to take more steps towards securing them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Yahoo's Big Comeback

A bunch of years ago, before I was introduced to a small project called Google, I used to use Yahoo! for my searching. It was clean, easy and relatively well organized. It also had all kinds of great free services like personals, classifieds, e-mail, etc. But then Google came along, and started to gain steam, and I like many others left Yahoo for Google.

But Yahoo!, it seems, is making a comeback. First they bought Flickr - the photo sharing site, then they announced their new mobile tools at CES - (which alas, isn't available for my blackberry; during CES, they also went to MacWorld, to announce their partnership with Apple on the iPhone), and now they have come up with Pipes.

While Google has come up with tons of innovative ideas lately, this one is one of the greatest I've seen of late. What is pipes? It is a very simple tool that let's you combine website data - visually. For example, pipes can take a bunch of RSS feeds, mix them together and sort them so that you get a giant super feed, without having to a lick of programming.

The potential for pipes is huge, especially because it enables developers like me to do more with less work.

It will be interesting to see how Google answers Pipes!
Go Yahoo!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Data Centers in the Wilderness

Since the dawn of the dotcom days a decade ago, there have been many cities that have sprouted up as high-tech hubs across the country. Most of these cities of course are large cities in general, but their tech-specific growth originally was due to a handful of factors - primary of which seemed to be the abundance of technical talent. For example, places like Research Triangle Park in North Carolina (Duke and UNC are nearby), or the SF Bay Area (Stanford and Berkeley), or Austin Texas (U of Texas).

And along with the tech growth in these areas, all of the major ISPs opened data centers in them or nearby, so that the Tech Giants would be close to their data and that they would rely on someone else to manage it.

But now it seems that the trend is reversing. Recently, companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and Google are opening up data centers in rural Oregon and Washington, and Google recently announced plans to build a data center in western North Carolina, far from the big cities.

Why this boom? Two reasons - Power and Prices. Both real-estate and utility charges are lower in this area. In addition, these areas look forward to cash-laden companies who want to help develop their local economies.

It is also interesting to note that the whole dotcom era practice of using outsourced data centers is seemingly reversing a bit.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Two things people aren't really saying about the iPhone

So apple introduced the iPhone last week. While it has all the makings of a potential hit (even at the ludicrous price point -$5-600 with a 2-year deal), there is a lot of talk about how effective it will be and how it will change the face of telephony.

I am not going to jump into that fray right now, as there are millions blogging and reporting on its features and its future. I will, however point out two things that, if they have been mentioned by others, have not been mentioned with as much fanfare:

1. Palm is on its last legs - While the Treo was revolutionary, it never quite garnered the market for business wireless e-mail the same way that BlackBerry did. So, it quickly became the darling of the Prosumer (i.e. High-end consumer world). While the Q-Phone and Blackjack were starting to take market share away from Palm, the iPhone will ultimately do it in. Palms devices are in a form factor that is already tired and lacking inspiration. Why would I want a bulky Palm 750, when I could have a much more svelte Blackjack or Q-Phone running the same Windows Mobile software? Yes the Treo 680 is a nice consumer phone with a lot of plusses, but how many are they really going to sell? I give Palm about 18-24 months left before it goes belly-up or gets acquired, unless it comes out with something innovative.

2. This iPhone isn't anything more than a stopgap measure - If I haven't learned anything about Apple and the iPods is that the first iteration is just a stopgap to wider innovation. Think about it. The first iPod was only 5GB and retailed for 500, with a mono screen and only connected to macs. Dana Carvey once joked to Jay Leno that he considered buying an iPod one morning, but then decided to wait until after lunch when the new ones came out. The iPhone will hit the street in June, which means the blogosphere will not be buzzing with real-world reviews of it until August - just in time to coincide with the MacWorld 08' rumors. Interestingly enough, the form factor of the current iPhone would make for a good iPod as well, and Flash Memory now comes is sizes up to 32 MB. My advice, unless you're one of the true apple faithful, don't jump on the first iPhone. Wait until a year from now for the next version.