Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forAugust, 2005 | back to home

25 August 2005

Just to be l337 I have turned this blog into an instant podcast thanks to Talkr which essentially reads out the text as MP3s on demand – the results are not bad, I think. You can click on the individual audio links or copy this link into your podcasting software of choice. I have recently been trying out quite a few podcasts so expect to hear about more good podcasts shortly…

18 August 2005

The American consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports recently published a online hazards survey which found:

  • 33% of those surveyed said a virus or spyware caused serious problems with their computer systems and/or financial losses within the past two years.
  • 50% reported a spyware infection in the past six months. Of those, 18% said the infection was so bad they had to erase their hard drives.

    To avoid spyware, 51% of all online users reported being more careful visiting Web sites, and 38 % said they download free programs less frequently.

  • 64% of survey respondents said they had detected viruses on their computer in the past two years. 4% found them at least 50 times.
  • Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20% of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years, compared with 66% of Windows PC owners. Just 8% of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54% of Windows PC users.

To this I would add that my guess is that a fair amount of the virus reporting by Mac owners is probably "false positives" – people whose Macs stopped working for some unrelated reason and they blamed it on viruses. Ditto for spyware. I don’t think viruses or spyware aimed at current Macs are still around outside of the labs of anti-virus software companies.

There are some good recommendations linked alongside the report but interestingly it fails to mention one of the best ways to reduce the incidence of viruses and spyware – don’t use Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer. It’s not that they are bad in themselves (though I would argue the free alternatives like Eudora and Firefox are better) – it’s that virus and spyware writers tailor their programs to work with the most popular email and web browsing programs out there.

A note about computer literacy – 17% of respondents weren’t using antivirus software and 10% of those with high-speed broadband access–prime targets for hackers–said they didn’t have firewall protection.

Also see two recent reports from the excellent Pew Internet and American Life project:
Spam & Phishing (April)
Spyware (July)

14 August 2005

Laurie Taylor in his excellent Thinking Allowed radio programme recently interviewed Simone Abram at length about her anthropological study of tenants’ experiences of “urban regeneration” in Norfolk Park, Sheffield (she has produced a film about this as well with accompanying website). The programme also features interviews with the residents themselves. Strangely enough she concludes that even with the best of intentions the connection between consultation and results on the ground can be very tenuous – especially when a public private partnership (or a tangle of overlapping partnerships) is involved!

13 August 2005
Visiting the Edinburgh Festival

Visiting the Edinburgh Festival,
originally uploaded by D & D.

This packed schedule gives you an idea of the richness of this amazing event. Of course we won’t be able to see even a fraction of the tens of thousands of performances at this the world’s biggest arts festival. The advent of the Internet has been a godsend in helping to arrange our upcoming visit. Not only can we listen to interviews with the artists and read several blogs by performers and critics but we can access the invaluable reviews by the Scotsman and others mixed in with the comprehensive listings for all five of the currently-running festivals, and read comments by fringe festival-goers as well on the Fringe Festival’s own site. The latter even offers SMS voting for shows. The Stage also has a pretty comprehensive Edinburgh review festival and fringe reviews and listings site. This way we can get some idea of the ‘buzz’ around shows before we take the sleeper up and book what we are interested in – which is just as well since I’m sure a lot of the best stuff will already be sold out for the rest of its run…

10 August 2005
Filed under:Humour & Entertainment at12:13 pm

originally uploaded by D & D.

So I opened a courier package and found it had a courier package inside it containing a box containing a package containing (I trust) a plastic cartridge containing the toner that I need!

9 August 2005
Filed under:Gadgets at5:15 pm

I am thinking of getting an MP3 player and I would like one that could for example keep track of the number of times I had played a particular tune and pass that data on to iTunes when I connected my player back to my Mac. Is that something only an iPod would be able to do or is there software provided with other MP3 players able to do this?

Does Apple make the interface to iTunes for that sort of data syncing available to developers or is it proprietary?

I confess that I am just geeky enough and fashion-conscious enough that I will probably end up spending a little extra and buying an iPod mini if other players won’t let me track my music-listening behaviour…

If the right software did exist is there any other MP3 player around that other people would recommend over the iPod? I wouldn’t mind something with a built-in microphone for recording interviews…

8 August 2005

As a quick glance at the links on the right hand side of this weblog clearly shows I like listening to speech online (or rather I like using Total Recorder to transform realaudio streams into MP3s which I then listen to on my MP3 player). So the increasing prominence of podcasting should be a godsend for me you’d think. Indeed, a few interesting programs I already know like Go Digital have embraced podcasting. But I’m still finding it hard to find anything much out there I want to listen to – I haven’t found a good trusted source to guide me through the profusion of sources out there.

There are 437 “audio blogs” registered with the iTunes podcast directory (which you need iTunes to visit), and hundreds of “technology-related” podcasts, plus 191 “politics” podcasts and 134 movie and television podcasts but seemingly no way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Apple provides a Top 100 podcast list but without reviews, and there is seemingly no way to get to their list of “top n” by category (plus there is some suggestion the ‘top lists’ can be manipulated). Random sampling of ‘top’ podcasts recommended by sites like Podcast Alley was at first disappointing.

Fortunately, I have started to find the odd interesting podcast at last. Resonance FM an experimental station in London featured quite a funny mock-lecture by Kevin Eldon, This is England by a pair of Brits features interviews with random people doing interesting jobs in the English countryside, “Escape Pod” – a podcast of SF authors reading their short stories (excellent idea – I want to find more free short story feeds – preferably of classic and/or out of print authors) and best of all Ewan Spence and a gang of colleagues are doing a daily podcast from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which will be very useful for keeping up with what’s hot and not over the coming weeks.

I would be interested in anyone else’s recommendations either for individual podcasters or for sites that help you find the best ones. It will be interesting to see whether podcasting gets to be as big a phenomenon as blogging. Speaking seems to be a more ‘natural’ way of communicating with people than typing does but it turns out that making something that people will actually want to listen to is even more difficult than writing something because editing audio is a lot harder to do…

6 August 2005
Filed under:Current Affairs (UK),Privacy at9:41 pm

When fighting a ruthless enemy there is always a danger that democracies can lose the moral upper hand through over-reaction. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was bad enough but the latest UK government anti-terrorism proposals (full statement here) seem to be going a long way too far in an attempt to curb terrorism. Making “justifying or glorifying” terrorism anywhere an offence and “automatically refusing asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism anywhere” seem OK on the surface but are rife for misuse. As our mayor Ken Livingstone points out, twenty years ago these laws could have been applied to Nelson Mandela and his supporters.

The fact that some of the proposed rules may be applied retrospectively is also very alarming. And while many of the most draconian restrictions are applied to non-citizens resident here, Blair envisions the extension of powers to strip existing citizens of their citizenship for being “engaged in extremism”.

As with all such rash laws they may well be used initially to target people most of us would consider dangerous or distasteful (and the blurring of the distinction between the two is an important part of the problem). However there is no guarantee that such laws would not be misused by a future administration.

There has been a lot of alarm raised (by the BBC among others) about sites and people who publicise and glorify the terrorism of Al Qaeda and its ‘fellow travellers’ but rather than trying to stamp them out (probably a hopeless task) and criminalise writers and readers shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on those who are already involved and (as I noted earlier) shouldn’t we be trying to minimise legitimate Muslim grievances so the radicals eventually lose their moral ‘ammunition’?