Purple Gates, Cellular Networks and the 44th President of the United States

Today was a legendary day in Washington, D.C. as President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The ceremony itself was largely successful with only a hiccup in the delivery of the 35 word Oath of Office – a snafu that was as much President Barack Obamas fault as it was Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

The inaugural speech was well postured and delivered, worded well in fine Obama fashion, but was not reminiscent, as some expected, of John F. Kennedy who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country” or FDRs famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as he took office in 1933 amidst strong economic concerns in the midst of the Great Depression.

The execution of security and official communications outside the perimeter was abysmal though, ranking extremely low on the Aaron Brazell assessment evaluation of official communications. As West Capitol Lawn ticket holders designated to the “purple area”, we eventually abandoned hope of actually gaining entrance and walked nearly a mile to get obstructed view spots near the Washington Monument shortly before the ceremony began. We were not the only ones affected by the “purple bug” yet we managed to jump ship early enough. Others were not so lucky.

On another inaugural technology note, it seems that AT&T and T-Mobile were mostly down in and around the mall. Sprint customers on the mall complained of spotty issues. As a Verizon Wireless customer, I never had a problem with coverage. Clearly, there is something to be said for a non-GSM network.

Other than that, the experience was a blast, if slightly maddening. History was made. People were mostly friendly and in a good mood which made the experience fun. And of course, I spent the time with my favorite mouthy blogger of all time, Erin Kotecki Vest.

For now, enjoy some pictures I took over the past two days of Inaugural activities.

In and Around the Capitol, Jan 19 2009

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

In and Around the Capitol, Jan 19 2009

Google Predicting the Future?

Geeks among us will recognize the term “chaos theory”. It is a highly philisophical, and yet scientifically unproven, theory of physics that says, among other things, that there is a natural order to the universe that cannot be observed directly, but can be seen in patterns. Popularly known as the Butterfly Effect, it theorizes that though there appears a dissonance and disorder in nature, nature actually behaves in an orderly and predictable way. Examples of chaos can be seen in weather, the flow of currents and even the natural cycle of economic conditions. Though no two iterations of an event happen exactly as they happened before, there is a pattern that is distinguishable if charted or mapped.

Ike Pigott requested my input on a theory he floated last night on his blog. The theory is that Google, in their attempt to meet their stated mission of “organizing the world’s information”, is attempting to predict the future. He framed his argument around the dissolution of many Google services over the past week, in an effort to economically streamline their business and Steve Rubel’s prediction that their Google Reader product is next on the chopping block.

Ike’s argument was that, through Google’s monitoring and recording of key behavioral patterns – such as reading and sharing of stories, commenting, time of engagement, and subscriber base numbers – that Google is able to create a massive database over time that “learns” the patterns of human information engagement. With these patterns (and a nod to Chaos Theory), Google can accurately predict a large number of events, or cultural shifts before they come to be. Additionally, as the only owner of multiple copies of the internet in their massive server farms, Google positions itself to be the one and only benefactor of such information. It could be argued that “the Machine is among us” (in another nod to common science fiction themes),

It has long been my assertation that the tendency of the internet world to easily trust and adopt to Google efforts is a dangerous precedent to set. Increasingly, people rely on Google for mail, calendaring and even productivity. New bloggers tend to setup blogs on Google-owned Blogger and the saturation of video content is due, in no small part, to Youtube. Why? Because Google makes products that are easy and ease of use is more important than virtually any other factor that consumers might think of.

Without raising the alarm bells, folks should be cognizant about entrusting Google with all of their data. Personally, I use Gmail, FeedBurner, YouTube and other services, but the data is yours and should be diversified as much as possible.

Question of the Day: Is this theory of future prediction fact or fiction, good will or conspiracy? Isaac Asimov outlined the rules for robots in his book I, Robot:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Food for thought.

The Best (Accessible) Photography on the Web

It’s no secret that I have been getting very active with photography. In fact, it’s been nearly an obsession as I’ve begun maintaining a photoblog of all my best work. I’ve even written about going and getting your first Digital SLR camera, mainly because SLR photography is becoming very accessible and web geeks love sharing their photos.

Obviously, when learning about your camera and the various techniques, you’ll find people who shoot in such a way that grabs your attention and tugs your emotions. For me, I’ve had several photographic geniuses who have influenced my own style. I try to learn as much as I can from these people and have been known to ask questions.

Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk is one of my favorite photographers ever. His goal is to publish one million photos online before he dies. He published his 20,000th the other day. Thomas has a wide diversity of “types” of photos, however most of his stuff tends to experiment richly with color, motion, low light and patterns. And mostly in San Francisco, where he lives. For more of Thomas’ photography, check out his Flickr and Zooomr.

Danny Hammontree

Danny is a relatively new photographer to me. His style is distinct. Mainly he shoots black and white photography and his niche is protest/social injustice. Therefore, he likes to capture rallies and protests, as well as tell stories of societal failings. Check Dannys Flickr stream for more of his work.

Brian Solis

Brian is one of my good friends and has taken some of my favorite photos of me. That is mainly because Brian excels at capturing people. Typically, people who are socializing and having fun. He tends to shoot a lot of photography at web networking events. For more of Brian’s work, check out his Flickr stream.

Washington Post Breaks the Gender Gap With New Editor

The Washington Post, the stalwart of print journalism in the District of Columbia, made less than impressive news last week when their second in command, Editor Phillip Bennett stepped down from his post. We covered the story, noting that this is the second executive level editor to resign from DC’s grey lady in several months.

The Post wasted no time in hiring two new managing editors. Though we have an inquiry in to the Post for comment, it is unclear, at this time, if these positions are an attempt to replace the two vacancies or if these are two new positions that exist to oversee the merger of the Washington Post print entity and the troubled WPNI, the online arm of the company.
thewashingtonpost
Notably, one of the new editors, Elizabeth Spayd, is the first woman to fill the role of Managing Editor in the history of the newspaper. She has been with the Post for years and will fill the role of covering the “hard news” according to the article published in the newspaper this morning.

Increasingly, the female role in journalism and news is being noticed. At BlogHer, the role of women in all aspects of life is front and center, and the editors and writers – many of whom would qualify under any rational spit test as journalists – had a significant impact on the election as influencers emerged on both sides.

In the District, the role of women in government also is gaining a head of steam. In the new media community alone, influencers such as Leslie Bradshaw and Jen Nedeau are working with New Media Strategies to affect change. Shireen Mitchell, the Vice Chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, is effectively spotlighting women in technology and government. It seems only natural that the most prominent newspaper in Washington would name a woman to one of their top posts.

New York Times Makes Massive Leap in Bringing Congressional Data to the Web

For all the talk in DC about transparency in government, that seemed (at least in my sense) to really come to the forefront of everyone’s attention with the House Rules on social media use issue last July, then escalated with the Senate, the bailouts and finally the election of one of the most social media savvy presidents ever, the status quo has been largely wishing for transparency and talking about it.

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The New York Times decided to take it a step farther today by actually providing data in the form of the Congress API. This data is pulled from the House and Senate websites but I have to guess also includes data that is mined from the Congressional Record, the daily public account of all official business that is still, ironically, published in print form en masse. Up until now, the Congressional Record has been available upon request and is hard to actually get real signal from amidst the noise of process and procedure.

With the NY Times Congress API, it is now possible for developers to build tools that mine the Record for roll call votes, members of each chamber, and information about members including chairmanships or committee memberships.

It will be interesting to see how this data is used and how it can be leveraged to keep the government honest. Developers can check out the technical details here.

Skype 2.8 beta Release Proves It's Not Dead Yet

When I was the Director of Technology at b5media, our staple application (outside of WordPress) was Skype. Don’t ask me why. It was just there when I arrived on the scene a few months after the company launched. I think it had to do with three of the founders being in Australia and long distance calls.

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

However, since those early days in 2005, voice chat has become a staple of any notable IM client. AIM and Google Talk, both among the most commonly used IM apps in the internet world, both support VoIP and now both offer video chat as well. Meanwhile, Skype has become increasingly unstable and unreliable, in my estimation. More often than not, a message delivered by Skype is late – sometimes by days or weeks. I’ve had one message delivered a year late.

When I left b5media, I stopped using Skype for the most part. I still have my account and the Skype client remains open, but it is no longer a main staple of my work. That could change with Skype 2.8 beta for Mac which is now available for download.

A main business application for anyone who has a web startup is “the demo”. You want to show your product to someone or a group of someones for partnership possibilities, general feedback, or to review QA findings with remote developers. Up until now, company would purchase Glance or WebEx accounts to provide this functionality. Built into Skype 2.8 is screen sharing.

Skype Access provides the ability for Skype to connect to Boingo hotspots (somewhat limiting, but a good step) and pay for the access directly from Skype Credit. In order to be truly ubiquitous, though, Skype needs to offer the same ability for T-Mobile and AT&T Hotspots.

For more of the new features, Disruptive Technology has done a great review. Check it out.

Skype for Mac does kind of change the game again – at least for me. I’m more likely to use Skype more often again. I’m more likely because it meets business need that I have. It is not simply a new bling release. It significantly alters the roadmap.

That said, I’ll be curious to see if they have done anything with their back-end infrastructure to make message delivery more reliable, VoIp calls less laggy and conference calling more stable. If anyone has any insight, pass it along in comments.

Update: As an update, Boingo wireless supports T-Mobile, AT&T and other hotspot types so you can pay for your AT&T wifi access with Skype now.

Roadmap to Victory at Washington Post

Early last month, after the Tribune Company announced that it would enter bankruptcy protection, the conversation surrounding the demise of newspapers and the newspaper industry heated back up. Of course, we suggested that there should be an opportunity for new media to emerge in the newsrooms.

Today, the news comes from the New York Times that Phillip Bennett, the number two man at the Washington Post is stepping down joining the former WashingtonPost.com executive editor, Jim Brady, who also resigned recently.

thewashingtonpostThe Washington Post was one of the early newspapers who tinkered with social media tools in their online offering by utilizing a widget to display links to blogs that wrote about their stories. However, since then, they have not innovated all that much. Sure, they have blogs, but what major newspapers doesn’t? And really, does a blog matter if it isn’t compelling?

If I were on the inside of the Washington Post, I’d offer the following roadmap to a viable business entity.

  1. Combine resources of online and print media. No story should be exclusive to one or the other.
  2. Recognize that the business future does not lie in print and print subscriptions, but in online. Change business model to reflect a more traditional online content network. This is a wide swing from a subscription paper model.
  3. Develop content sharing partnerships with other newspapers. Washington Post has already done this with the Baltimore Sun. Suggest the The Times of London, Sydney Morning Herald or the San Francisco Chronicle to round out other-coastly or international perspective. Not sure how this would be mutually beneficial, but each publication will have its own interests that would need to be examined.
  4. Replace the Op-Ed section with blogs but use syndicated content from external blogs. Eliminate home grown blogs altogether.
  5. Develop online video channel on YouTube and bring into the online WaPo offering.
  6. In a related sense, develop a rich media network of content including podcasts – maybe primarily podcasts, due to the lack of exclusive attention required.
  7. Hire internally, or bring someone in from outside, to help the online business adapt to the new and changing landscape involving the internet and social media. The Toronto Globe & Mail did this with Mat Ingram.

I’d like to throw out one self-serving offer, since I know that there are increasingly a number of newspapers who are watching, reading or otherwise paying attention to our content here – I’m happy to discuss opportunities where I can step in and help. Sometimes that outside set of eyes is what is needed. Drop me a line at aaron@technosailor.com or call me at (410) 608-6620.

Twitter Phishing: Protecting Yourself

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Or at least, a funny thing happened over the weekend with regards to Twitter, spam and phishing (from Chris Pirillo). I really had no plans to outline my thoughts on the scam, because it is already being covered ad nauseum. However, I feel like I have to anyway.

The scam operates like any typical Windows worm and begins with a DM from a victimized Twitter follower. That direct message contains a link to a malicious (and unnamed) domain that screams “password stealing”. Nevertheless, gullible Twitter users click on the link and enter a page that looks an awful lot like the Twitter.com login screen (okay, it looks identical). The user enters login information thinking they are logging into Twitter and, in the blink of the eye, a malicious site has access to your Twitter account information.

215693116_8e4a24d11c_mThis is a very important concept to get. The user inadvertently gives Twitter account login information to a malicious site. I will rail more on this concept in a bit. Keep it in your mind.

The malicious site then proceeds to send DMs with the infectious link on behalf of the user. I have gotten seven of these in the past 24 hours.

Folks, Twitter is like email. You can be infected by the innocence of friends, Please be careful. You really don’t want a malicious sites having access to confidential business ideas, your common and unchanging password that you use everywhere, or intoxicatingly passionate messages to your lover. Be wary of this scam and tread lightly. If you get a message like this, contact the sender and advise them to change their password immediately. Unlike email worms, you cannot be affected by merely looking at the DM – only by clicking the link.

There are several problems here, as there are with most internet security problems. One is the technical problem (site can login and perform actions on your behalf). The other is a psychological problem (Twitter users giving away their username and password to untested, unvetted and untrusted third parties).

Twitter promises that they are working on a solution to the technical problem and that it will look like some form of OAuth, an authentication protocol similar to OpenID for application to application authentication. OAuth, when instituted, promises to provide a passwordless trust and authentication framework that should solve the problem that requires third party Twitter apps to request a users login information. However, for all their promises and the urgency that is increasing among developers, Twitter does not seem to be in a hurry to provide this protocol.

Additionally, computer users have been relentlessly brainwashed by anti-virus companies, corporate computing policies and other persistent reminders, to adhere to basic security practices. Don’t open attachments from unknown users. Run anti-virus. Use hard to guess passwords and change them often. And so on. And so forth. Folks, these concepts are basic life-guiding principles and apply on the web too. Don’t give away your username and password to anyone. Ever. Unless they are vetted and trusted by you and you understand what the ramifications are.

In the absence of an OAuth-style technical release from Twitter, and the lack of consistent user discipline, it is my recommendation that Twitter users no longer provide third party apps with their login information, regardless of how compelling the app is. It is not safe and it is an unwise security practice that flies in the face of everything you have been learning for years when it comes to your own personal computing practices. Twitter apps are defined as anything Twitter related that is not directly on the twitter.com domain.

Maybe Twitter will get serious about their security here.

Photo Credit: dinobirdo

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

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Photo of Singapore 2009 Celebration. By Eustaquio Santimano

To my friends and family in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, DC, Florida, California, Colorado, Alaska (Hi, Gov. Palin!), England, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Dubai, Mumbai, Baghdad, Kandahar, Tokyo, Singapore, Brazil, Moscow, and all around the globe – have a very safe, and happy New Year!